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Writers celebrating the Worcester Art Museum’s collection, young poets taking on Somerville, and New England recipients of Guggenheim Fellowships

Lloyd Schwartz writes about the Freake Portraits in a new anthology about pieces in the Worcester Art Museum. Pictured: "Elizabeth Clarke Freake and Baby Mary."Worcester Art Museum

Celebrating Worcester Art Museum

When COVID closed the Worcester Art Museum, writer, editor, and professor Heather Treseler invited a number of authors to write about the pieces of art that moved them most at the museum. “Beyond the Frame” (Worcester State University), edited by Treseler, is a celebration of WAM’s collection. Kirun Kapur writes of “Birth of Ghazan Khan,” a 16th century painting designed by Basawan, showing the arrival into the world of a descendant of Ghengis Khan. “You can’t look at this picture and not feel that the world is crammed full of glories.” She distills the experience of engaging with a piece of art: “You are part of a parade winding through the picture plane.” And brings the death of her father into the viewing of this image of birth, a delicate union of past-present-future that art allows. Gish Jen considers “The size of the nipples. The weight of the breasts. The size of the belly,” in Otto Dix’s earthy “The Pregnant Woman” from 1931. “The poor naked mother-to-be seems more burdened than blessed, more quasi-animal than quasi-divine.” Megan Marshall admits to being a reluctant museumgoer in her youth, and tracks her path towards opening to, and being opened by, art, as she considers a carved “Head of a Buddhist Guardian” from the 11th century. “I know now that a trip to a museum is made up of all the visits that come before.” The book includes essays by Lloyd Schwartz, Lauren K. Alleyne, Pablo Medina, Kristin Waters, Anthony Walton, Lawrence Buell, Karl R. Wurst, and Erika A. Briesacher, and includes rich reproductions of the artworks examined.


Verses of Somerville youth

One of Lloyd Schwartz’s goals as Poet Laureate of Somerville was to engage high school kids in poetry. He asked Somerville High students to write about their city, and the resulting poems — honest, spirited, reflective, funny, fierce — are collected in “The View from Somerville,” published by the Somerville-based Červaná Barva Press. The poems cover rich territory: heartbreak, autumn nights, longing, confrontations with history, with themselves. Assembly Row looms large, as does LP Market; looking out school windows continues to offer inspiration. There’s pride, scorn, love, and hate for their home city. “I hate you and thank you for making me how I am,” writes Eliseo Fuentes Alvarez. Jackson Ardolino compares learning to a chicken nugget: “Art class is ketchup ... Geometry is barbecue.” There’s cracked sidewalks, school hallways, and “Drama stories like oreo mc flurries,” as Lobsang Nyima puts it. Jane Paradis writes of a crumbling building, “Its tree branch eyelashes flutter / from the demolition of its body.” Did the poems have to be positive, students asked. No, Schwartz told them, “in a poem you can say anything.” Including the simple truths, as Ray Mason does: “Down porter street / There’s a gas station / With a good deal on energy drinks.”


Area Guggenheims

The winners of the 2022 Guggenheim Fellowships were recently announced, with $50,000 going to each of the 180 recipients in 51 fields, including five New Englanders in the varied literature categories. Peter J. Filkins, a poet and biographer based in Cheshire, Massachusetts, and a professor at Bard, won a fellowship in the biography category. Pulitzer Prize finalist and novelist C. E. Morgan, based currently in Bethlehem, New Hampshire, gained a fellowship in the fiction category. In the general non-fiction category, Cape Cod native Melissa Febos, whose most recent book is “Body Work: The Radical Power of Personal Narrative,” gained a fellowship, as did both Emerson College professor Jerald Walker, whose essay collection “How To Make a Slave and Other Essays” was a finalist for the 2020 National Book Award, and the Providence, Rhode Island, based historian, librarian, and writer Edward L. Widmer, who worked as special assistant to President Bill Clinton from 1997 to 2001.


Coming out

The Facesby Tove Ditlevsen, translated from the Danish by Tiina Nunnally (Picador)

The Memory Librarianby Janelle Monáe (Harper Voyager)

Six Walks: In the Footsteps of Henry David Thoreauby Ben Shattuck (Tin House)

Pick of the week

Jack Higgins at Still North Books & Bar in Hanover, New Hampshire, recommends “Sleepless Nights” by Elizabeth Hardwick (NYRB): “Elizabeth Hardwick: Founding member of the New York Review of Books, Guggenheim Fellow, literary glamour girl... this list goes on. ‘Sleepless Nights’ is her slim but visceral work of auto-fiction filled with musings of fire escapes, Billie Holiday, and her southern-gothic like upbringing. Her sentences are shiver-down-your-spine beautiful.”

Nina MacLaughlin is the author of “Wake, Siren.” She can be reached at