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New England Literary News

Spotlighting Cambridge’s Blacksmith House Poetry Series, Dan Levitt’s ‘What’s Gotten Into You,’ and a new Eric Carle exhibit

Illustration from "Where Are You Going? To See My Friend!" by Eric Carle and Kazuo Iwamura.Orchard Books, Collection of Eric and Barbara Carle

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Cambridge’s Blacksmith House Poetry Series

“Toiling, —rejoicing, —sorrowing,/ Onward through life he goes,” writes Longfellow in his poem “The Village Blacksmith,” set “under a spreading chestnut tree” in the heart of Harvard Square, the site now of the Blacksmith House Poetry Series, which has been bringing poets to Harvard Square each week for half a century. Poet Gail Mazur founded the series in 1973, wanting to give established and emerging poets a place to gather and read when the Grolier stopped running its own series. Over the years, the series has been host to titans of the poetry world: Seamus Heaney, Major Jackson, Rosanna Warren, Lloyd Schwartz, Louise Glück, and Mark Strand, among others. In honor of its 50th anniversary, the Cambridge Center for Adult Education is hosting a series of readings this spring, for an array of toiling, rejoicing, and sorrowing. The next one takes place on March 27 with Regie Gibson and Bianca Stone; April 3 brings Fanny Howe and Eugene Ostashevsky; Henri Cole will read with Warren on April 10; Eileen Myles and Anja Konig will read on April 24; and May 1 will see Ilya Kaminsky and Katie Farris. All readings take place at 8 p.m. at 56 Brattle St. in Cambridge. Tickets are $3. For more information, visit


New book explores the science and philosophy of what we are

In “What’s Gotten Into You: The Story of Your Body’s Atoms, from the Big Bang Through Last Night’s Dinner” (Harper), Cambridge-based documentary filmmaker Dan Levitt wonders, with infectious curiosity, what we’re made of, where what we’re made of comes from, and what that means, both physically and philosophically. He tracks the “dramatic odyssey,” starting at the beginning of time, of the catastrophes of evolution that brought us here. “You are an ever-changing mosaic,” Levitt writes, “a colony of thirty trillion cells, each made of over a hundred trillion atoms that are dancing in riotous vibrating shuffles.” The warm and accessible book offers a slew of cocktail party fodder facts (a 150-pound person contains enough iron to make a 3-inch nail, enough chlorine to disinfect a few swimming pools, and about 60 elements found on the periodic table), as well as broader and longer-view philosophical and metaphysical musings. Levitt reminds us “that all the particles within us were born in a single instant,” and details the bravery and creativity required of scientists who speak out against prevailing wisdom to advance the field, and the biases that limit how we understand the world, the universe, and our origins in it. One need not be physicist or physician to find Levitt’s book mind-broadening and thought-provoking.


Exhibit showcases Eric Carle’s artistic relationship with Japan

In 1969, famed illustrator Eric Carle’s editor wasn’t able to find a printer in the US who could affordably print Carle’s iconic children’s book “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.” She took the project to Japan and a publishing house there printed the book, which would go on to become one of the most recognizable children’s books around the world. And so began a relationship with Japan that would last the rest of Carle’s life. He visited the country five times, and the picture book museums he visited there served as inspiration for the founding of the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. A new exhibition there celebrates Carle’s relationship with the country. “Eric Carle [heart emoji] Japan,” which runs through Aug. 20, includes handwritten notes and photographs of Carle’s visits to Japan which have never been exhibited before, as well as the original illustrations for “Where Are You Going? To See My Friend!,” a collaboration between Carle and Kazuo Iwamura. There’s a Japanese quilted version of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” as well as illustrated haiku, Japanese word collages, and prints that the Chihiro Art Museum donated when the Carle Museum opened in 2002.


Coming out

“Y/N” by Esther Yi (Astra House)

“Ten Planets” by Yuri Herrera, translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman (Graywolf)

“Flux” by Jinwoo Chong (Melville House)

Pick of the week

Phil Lewis at the Bennington Bookshop in Bennington, Vt., recommends “The River” by Peter Heller (Knopf): “[The book] is a gripping story of survival in the wilds of nature. Heller’s love for the wilderness comes through in his vivid descriptions of the river. His depiction of water, of current and flow, is masterful, putting you right there with Wynn and Jack as they guide their canoe down the river. He summons up the splash of sun on water at a certain time of day, the tug of a fish at the end of the line, and the power and awe of nature. ‘The River,’ both a thriller and a wonderful meditation on the natural environment, is a very satisfying read.”