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new england literary news | nina mclaughlin

Cambridge poet at 100; elegy to summer ‘shack’; Nantucket readings

kevin cohen

Poet celebrates his centennial

Cambridge poet Joseph Cohen turns 100 years old on July 13, and part of his celebration of a century on the planet will involve the publication of his second collection of poetry after “A Full Life’’ in 2005.

The clarity and lyricism of “A New Path’’ (Ibbetson Street) belies Cohen’s advanced age. His poems wade into the lofty (love, war, inspiration, art) and the quotidian (a tennis game, a dogwood tree, an elevator). Many revolve around music — his daughter Beth Cohen is a violinist who teaches at Berklee and has performed with Led Zeppelin, Phillip Glass, and Itzhak Perlman; his late wife Sonia was a composer and pianist. The two were married 71 years.

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Many poems reference her smile, the pleasure of listening to music with her. There’s a palpable optimism in his lines as he advocates, directly and indirectly, to turn one’s face towards joy. From the title poem, he argues age need not diminish one’s ability to experience beauty: “Love of music, art, fine literature,/ the visual creations do not demand muscles or speed.” One can sense from this collection, a poet who remains open, eager, and engaged. As he writes, “Never a night without a feast of music.”

The house holds memories

In “To The New Owners,’’ an elegy to a weather-worn house on Martha’s Vineyard, Madeleine Blais writes of the idea of a third space. It is one that is neither work nor home but allows for “an unshackling of our normal reserve and sense of duty, a shedding of some no longer necessary protective hide.” For the Pulitzer winner and UMass Amherst professor that third space was the leaky “shack’’ built by her father-in-law, former US attorney general, Nicholas Katzenbach. (She’s married to thriller writer John Katzenbach). Blais and her family spent a couple of weeks there each year over a series of decades, starting in the late 1970s. The floorboards, walls, and counters absorbed the fog, salt, and memories of the island and the colorful family who made their home there each summer before the sale of the house after Nicholas’s death. She quotes an entry from the house’s log, written by her father-in-law, that captures the melancholy of a season’s – or an era’s — end: “In a way I hate to leave, but it is that time of year, and you can’t fend off the passage of time.”

Page to Stage series

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On Nantucket, the Dreamland Film & Cultural Center has announced the second installation of its Page to Stage reading series, bringing a number of authors to the island for readings and talks. This summer’s authors include Elin Hilderbrand (“The Identicals’’) July 11; Bernie Swain (“What Made Me Who I Am’’) July 28; Mark Halperin (“Double Down: Game Change 2012’’) July 31; Buzz Bissinger (“The Secrets of My Life’’ with Caitlyn Jenner) Aug. 3; Mark Tercek (“Nature’s Fortune’’) Aug. 14; David Gregory (“How’s Your Faith: An Unlikely Spiritual Journey’’) Aug. 15; and Ben Mezrich (“Woolly’’) Aug. 17. Tickets are $25 and talks take place at the Dreamland theater.

Coming out

“Pages for Her’’ by Sylvia Brownrigg (Counterpoint)

“Fetch’’ by Nicole J. Georges (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

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“The Off Season’’ by Amy Hoffman (University of Wisconsin)

Pick of the week

Ernest at Barrington Books in Barrington, R.I., recommends “The Passage’’ by Justin Cronin (Ballantine): “Fast-forward nearly 100 years: 94 people survive in a heavily fortified colony, kept safe from North America’s 42.5 million vampires by a system that eliminates the night. When the community realizes that the power source maintaining its dusk-to-dawn illumination will soon die, a renegade band ventures out into a world it knows very little about in hopes of survival.”

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