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    new england literary news | NINA MACLAUGHLIN

    Celebrated documentary maker and scion of prominent family publishes 1st book of poetry

    Late bloomer poet

    Henry Morgenthau III spent over two decades working as a writer and producer of award-winning documentaries at WGBH (in fact, the new James Baldwin documentary, “I Am Not Your Negro,” uses footage from a 1963 interview he did with the writer). He was cofounder and associate director of the Morse Communications Research Center at Brandeis; in his mid-nineties, he started writing poems. He turned 100 years old recently, and just published his first poetry collection.

    “A Sunday in Purgatory’’ was released in fall by Passager Books, which specializes in publishing the work of older writers. It reveals a probing, sensitive mind. In forthright lines, Morgenthau grapples with not existing, with secrets, with small satisfactions, and lives left unlived. “Behind the shadow of myself,/ forgotten but not gone,/ the secret I dared not expose/I kept while life went on./ I fear, dear one, it’s now too late.”

    Morgenthau’s father, Henry Jr., was FDR’s Treasury secretary, and his grandfather, Henry Sr., was ambassador to the Ottoman Empire during World War I, vocal in his opposition to the Armenian genocide.


    His poems pluck at the tension of what it means to be part of a prominent family, and what it means to be an individual within that. Of death, he writes: “you can only do it once,/there is no looking back.”

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    Morgenthau lived in Cambridge till the mid-2000s when he moved to a retirement community near Washington D.C., to be near family. He told The Washington Post this month that he began writing poems “in sort of conflicting ways. On the one hand it was a way of separating myself from my heritage of a distinguished family.”

    As for how it feels to have his book of poetry exist in the world, Morgenthau replied in an e-mail interview, “It’s very scary, kind of like falling off the edge of the world when it was flat.”

    A whole lot of Fluff

    To plunge a spoon into a freshly opened tub of Fluff, the snow-white, super-sticky marshmallow spread, and spread it over crunchy peanut butter is a singular pleasure. It’s also engaging with a distinctly New England tradition. In her new book “Fluff: The Sticky Sweet Story of an American Icon,’’ Mimi Graney, founder of Union Square’s annual What the Fluff? Festival, tells

    the history of the spread, one that starts a century ago in Somerville with a confectioner named Archibald Query. In 1917, Query came up with the recipe — which includes, then as now, just four ingredients: egg whites, sugar, corn syrup, and vanillin — and sold it door to door. After World War I, he partnered with Fred Mower and Allen Durkee, who produced Fluff in their factory, first in Swampscott, and then in Lynn, where it’s been made for the last 87 years. The book tells the story of the rising popularity of the product, the booming Boston-area candy industry, and various bits of nutritional research. (Graney admits her favorite way to enjoy Fluff is in a cocktail.) And while the calorie conscious may look askance at it, Fluff has no cholesterol and fewer calories than grape jelly, the book notes. Take heart when you spread it on your next sandwich.

    Sidewalk poetry


    Some sidewalks in Cambridge as of press time still show evidence of winter snow. But already it’s lighter longer into the evening, and the sidewalks soon will be lined with crocus buds and daffodils, and poems, too. The Cambridge Arts Council has announced its third annual Sidewalk Poetry Contest. Cambridge residents are invited to submit a poem to be imprinted on Cantibrigian sidewalks. Submissions are open through March 15.

    Coming out

    “Animals Strike Curious Poses’’ by Elena Passarello (Sarabande)

    “Mikhail and Margarita’’ by Julie Lekstrom Himes (Europa)

    “Why I am Not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto’’ by Jessa Crispin (Melville House)

    Pick of the week

    Sophie B. at Harvard Book Store recommends “Herbarium’’ by Caz Hildebrand (Thames & Hudson): “This is a charming encyclopedia of herbs that every gardener, cook, herbalist, or anyone interested in the magic and mythology of herbs will enjoy. With a beautiful design, clever culinary suggestions, medicinal applications, and interesting references to literature and history, this book might surprise you in its extensive appeal.”

    Nina MacLaughlin is the author of “Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter.” She can be reached at