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A collection of works by Helena Minton, a 20th anniversary edition of ‘Freedom Dreams,’ and a program of spoken word poetry for teens

Beacon Press is reissuing Robin D. G. Kelley's book "Freedom Dreams."UCLA

Poems of painters and more

Helena Minton’s poetry career spans over forty years, and “Paris Paint Box,” a collection of new and selected poems out from the Amesbury-based Loom Press serves as a welcome retrospective of her powerful and understated work. Minton, based in Andover, Massachusetts, writes poems that are delicate, sensitive, and steel-eyed, too, possessing a distinctly New England point of view and a highly attuned power of observation and insight. The book opens with a series of poems on the French artist Berthe Morisot who takes “no monsieur’s nom de plume.” Minton gives her voice, as she addresses Manet: “we are colleagues. / A brush weighs the same in our hands; a pair of industrious / demons, we meet eye to eye.” In “Goldilocks,” the heroine “wants someone to tell her / what kind of animal she is.” The local and the quotidian are given honed attention, too — a visit to the city clerk (“bureaucracy is about getting along / at noon in the middle of the week”), a visit to the morgue (where bodies “glow / in their greenhouse of flesh”), and the mill towns along the Merrimack (“no one knows where the river / ends, the ocean starts”). As a child, the speaker believes she could locate the seam where river joins with ocean, like finding “the place one falls / in and out of love: now sharp, / now sweet, the wrists / plunged in, the same / steady pressure of longing or regret.”


20 years on, still dreaming of freedom

Robin D. G. Kelley’s “Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination” first came out in 2002, and Boston-based Beacon Press is releasing a 20th anniversary edition with a new introduction from Kelley that looks back on the last two decades, moving from the eve of September 11th when he was initially working on the book, through the murder of George Floyd and the protests and public outcries that followed that spring and summer, and what happened after that. For Kelley, “it is not enough to imagine a world without oppression.” We also have to understand what systems and processes not only “reproduce subjugation and exploitation but . . . render them natural or invisible.” The book, he writes, is not a manifesto or a road map, and optimism and pessimism are not his concerns. Instead, it’s an argument for the necessity of a collective imagination that “conjures and sustains visions of freedom even in the darkest times.” In a new epilogue, Kelley also calls attention to individuals — artists, poets, musicians, activists — and organizations driving movements forward, the ones doing the work to turn “dream into action.”


Poetry is in the air

Mass Poetry has recently announced a new, city-wide program of spoken word poetry for teens that will launch this fall and take place at Grub Street’s headquarters on the waterfront. The program will include paid stipends for teens, a series of community dinners, well-known spoken word poets leading workshops, and monthly open mics on the Calderwood Stage at Grub Street. Mass Poetry has asked that teens interested in becoming involved by participating in the workshops, serving on the teen council, or otherwise being excited to be part of it fill out an interest form online. For more information, visit masspoetry.org. Additionally, Porter Square Books Boston outpost is hosting its inaugural Open Mic Night this Thursday, August 25 at 6 p.m. It’s open to poets, comedians, storytellers, and performers of all stripes. It’s free and open to the public and takes place at 50 Liberty Drive in Boston. For more information and to sign up for a slot, visit portersquarebooks.com.


Coming Out

My Government Means to Kill Meby Rasheed Newson (Flatiron)

Afterlivesby Abdulrazak Gurnah (Riverhead)

Bad Fruitby Ella King (Astra House)

Pick of the Week

Jack Higgins at Still North Books & Bar in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, recommends “Such Color” by Tracy K. Smith (Graywolf): “After reading Smith’s poem ‘Duende,’ I remember looking up from the page and thinking, ‘It almost feels dangerous that something so powerful can just be casually bought at a bookstore.”

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