Bringing a dose of sunshine to the local bookselling scene, Publishers Weekly announced that Porter Square Books has been named the 2020 Bookstore of the Year. Selected out of a group of finalists from around the country, the Cambridge store was cited for the overall strength of its bookselling as well as for its innovative Writer-in-Residence program and adult book fairs. It’s the first time in over a decade that a bookstore in New England has taken the title. “This has been a moment of validation for Porter Square Books,” said writer and bookseller Josh Cook. “Not just the award, which we greatly appreciate, but also the many people who have left comments in their orders that say, essentially, ‘I’m buying from you now because I want or need you to still be there when this is over’.” Cook spoke of the strange imbalance in receiving the honor in this moment: “It’s the kind of validation you want to celebrate … but that’s hard when every day you watch things get worse.” During the Covid-19 closure, Porter Square Books has amped up its already intelligent and irreverent online presence, and customers far and wide are urged to buy gift certificates and to order and pre-order books online. They’ve also started a “daily(ish)” newsletter called “Shelf Stable” to “help break the isolation of social distancing.”
Laurels for Delbos
Poet Stephan Delbos has been named the first Poet Laureate of Plymouth, Massachusetts. The two-year role involves elevating poetry in the community, and Delbos, a native of the town, already has plans underway for how to do it. He’s collaborating with the Poet Laureate of Plymouth, UK, on a call-and-response poem that they plan to publish online as it develops over the course of the year. And he’s just announced the Plymouth Poetry Contest in collaboration with Inky Hands Printshop and Gallery in downtown Plymouth. Submissions are open now through then end of the month, for poems in English that “engage with Plymouth in significant way,” with preference being paid towards poems that speak to the town’s 400th anniversary. The winning poem will be hand-printed at Inky Hands, and the resulting broadsheet will be available at a subsequent reading and at the gallery. “We’ll have the reading and reception whenever things get back to normal,” he writes in an email, and is hopeful about the possibility of a reading series, as well as other programs and events, in the future.
Poetry for now
Mass Poetry is proving a force of both action and solace in this moment. The organization has long featured a “Poem of the Moment” on their website and shared with newsletter subscribers, and for the first time they’re soliciting poems that reckon with the Covid-19 moment specifically. They note it can be a poem you’ve written since all this started unfolding, or something from years ago that feels newly resonant. “We are interested in poems from different perspectives, in a variety of genres or styles, that speak to the experience of the pandemic in Massachusetts and beyond.” Submissions that are selected will appear in a new weekly Poem of the Moment newsletter, and depending on quality and volume, they note the possibility of creating a publication. For more information, and to submit, visit masspoetry.org/poemofthemoment.
“For Joshua” by Richard Wagamese (Milkweed)
“Lake Like a Mirror” by Jo Sok Fong, translated by Natascha Bruce (Two Lines)
“Why Fish Don’t Exist” by Lulu Miller (Simon & Schuster)
Pick of the Week
Brenna Bellavance at the Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, Vermont, recommends “The City We Became” by N. K. Jemisin (Orbit): “Fans of David Mitchell, Haruki Murakami, and Neil Gaiman will love the careful overlay of the surreal on the familiar, but it’s the thrumming, fierce passion of this ;warts and all’ love (and hate) letter to New York City that makes this something special. A talented world-builder, Jemisin accomplishes something new here: she layers her New York so skillfully over the reality, it’s hard to know where one ends and the other begins. Thrilling.”
Nina MacLaughlin is the author of “Wake, Siren.” She can be reached at email@example.com.