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New England Literary News

New poetry, new initiatives, new bookshop

Poetry of teaching

Poet and educator Matthew E. Henry’s potent debut collection of poetry, “Teaching While Black” (Main Street Rag), shoulders a seething sense of frustration with deep, if weary, tenderness, concern, and care. Henry, who teaches in Weston and is editor in chief of The Weight, a literary magazine for high school students, writes of the responsibility of steering someone right, of having “forty-five minutes/ to revise their varied endings.” He captures a slice of American teen-dom: a kid on the knife’s blade between private bedroom manifestos and packing a gun in his backpack with his bologna sandwich; first kisses while passed out at a party; Prozac and Zoloft; a “stepfather’s demand/ of a demon’s dowry”; the urgency and danger of calling in a police wellness check on a Black kid with they pronouns who might not make it through the night. Henry’s language is taut, with moments of diamond-hard beauty. “[W]e . . . mourned the hole her grave/ dug in ours.” And from that same poem, “when asked why ‘all lives’ don’t matter,” he writes of “the guilt and shame/ required to derail communal grief and hijack a narrative/ to make oneself more comfortable.” Part of the force is not a matter of punches unpulled, but a mirror held up to reveal a reflection of what many have spent their lives willing and able to ignore. “[S]till employed — picking cotton/ from fresh aspirin bottles after every utterance/ which slices a peace from my soul — and asking questions/ that make them cringe.” Henry shows the casual cluelessness for which failure is a more accurate word than ignorance. “light is unsettling,” he writes in “the surprising thing.” And elsewhere: “be not dimmed . . . increase/ your wattage.” With this collection, Henry shines beaming, necessary light.


Writers for justice


Earlier this month, local author Lise Haines wanted to fight against racial injustice but knew that, because of the pandemic, protesting wasn’t possible for her. She reached out to author Jessica Keener about starting a fund-raiser. They teamed up with four other local writers — Elizabeth Searle, Rosie Sultan, Michelle Hoover, and Delia Cabe — and started a fund-raiser through Facebook using the hashtag #WritersAgainstRacialInjustice, setting a $10,000 goal, raising money for the Equal Justice Initiative which fights against racial and economic injustice. They met their goal in less than a week, and more than doubled it after seven days. As of this writing, they were closing in on raising $27,000, and have set a $30,000 goal with the fund-raiser to end on July 4. “Almost 500 people have donated,” said Hoover over the phone, from across the country and around the world. “It blows our minds.” She talked of people for whom protesting wasn’t an option, for whom the virus is much more dangerous. “This allows them to feel they’re part of something,” she said. She acknowledged, too, that “there’s so much more to do. This is only a drop in the bucket.”

A Beacon Hill bookshop

Plans are underway for a new three-floor bookstore on Charles Street in Beacon Hill. Melissa Fetter bought the building, which used to hold the Hungry I restaurant, last September, and had plans to open Beacon Hill Books this fall. The pandemic has slowed progress, but hasn’t deterred Fetter from opening the 3,000-square-foot shop. With a third-floor devoted to children’s books, and the garden-level serving as a cafe, Fetter hopes the store will serve as a community gathering space for readings and events, and is seeking approval to get an elevator installed to make it fully accessible. As of now, Fetter hopes to open the store in about a year and feels confident that the neighborhood will support it and they’ll be able to make it work despite new social distancing guidelines.


Coming out

“The True History of the First Mrs. Meredith and Other Lesser Lives” by Diane Johnson (NYRB Classics)

“The Great Indoors: The Surprising Science of How Buildings Shape Our Behavior, Health, and Happiness” by Emily Anthes (FSG)

“Mansour’s Eyes” by Ryad Girod (Transit)

Pick of the week

Sam F. at Trident Booksellers in Boston recommends “White Is For Witching” by Helen Oyeyemi (Riverhead): “Oyeyemi reimagines tropes emblematic of the Gothic genre, such as the ‘haunted house,’ unexplained illnesses, unwelcome guests, and troubling family secrets, in a nuanced and thrilling way to bring the Gothic novel into the modern era.”