new england literary news | nina maclaughlin

Lyrical memoir of Haiti; pairing poets and sculptors; grisly Harvard murder

Creating with words

In carving a piece of marble, in making a sculpture, the artist removes anything that isn’t the sculpture to create something concrete. In writing a poem, the poet adds words to words in an act of accumulation that is ephemeral. These two forms inform, inspire, and influence each other in a new exhibit at the Boston Sculptors Gallery. “Breath and Matter,” which runs through Aug. 12, joins two dozen pairs of writers and sculptors who’ve made new work in reaction to their partners’ work. Former US poet laureate Robert Pinsky, teamed with sculptor Murray Dewart, writes of the “Hammer/that makes the hammer that homes/ The spike that frames the house.” Responding to Roz Driscoll’s sculptural play of light and shadow, poet Oliver de la Paz writes of a “boy in a labyrinth” who “swims in a somnambulant glaze.” Other pairs include poet Danielle Legros Georges with Donna Dodson, Mary Bonina with B. Amore, Chard DeNiord with Nancy Winship Milliken. Boston Sculptors Gallery is at 486 Harrison Ave.


The poetry of ‘Unseen Worlds’

“Lightning struck the tall tree sheltering my father’s tomb in the garden of my childhood,” opens Marilène Phipps arresting, bewitching new memoir Unseen Worlds: Adventures at the Crossroads of Vodou Sprits and Latter-day Saints’’ (Calumet), and the sentence holds in it the mystery, power, and poetry that unfolds. Phipps, a poet, painter, and writer who lives in Cambridge, writes of her life in Haiti, of the deaths of her father, her brother (“the first gentle moon I knew”), her husband, Ali (when he dies of lung cancer she “lit a candle and howled under the swimming pool”). She writes of Catholicism, Islam, Vodou, of a tarantula in her crib, of the way death, “the great scandal of our lives,” does and does not end us. We are given a history of Haiti as well as the crumple and collapse in the aftermath of the earthquake in 2010. Phipps’s language is lush, sinuous, each paragraph holds poetry, and her “Unseen Worlds’’ is undeniably a memorable memoir.


Crime in the halls of Harvard

A grislier side of Harvard is on display in Paul Collins’s pacey and engrossing new true-crime book,Blood & Ivy: The 1849 Murder That Scandalized Harvard’’ (Norton). It’s macabre from the start: a crowbar on a worksite flies through a man’s skull (he lives); local graveyards overflow, and the stench of decomposing flesh becomes a problem in the city; Harvard’s medical school keeps a disposal zone for dissected bodies, which features in the murder of George Parkman, one of the wealthiest men in the city, who donated the property on which the medical school was built. The book is as atmospheric as a novel by Dickens (who happens to make a cameo on the scene, along with Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and other era luminaries). Collins paints a rich portrait of Cambridge, Harvard, and unspools a mystery that gripped the country. Collins will read and discuss the book on July 25 at 6 p.m. at the Mass Historical Society, 1154 Boylston St. and on July 26 at 7 pm at Porter Square Books in Cambridge.

Coming out

The Story of a Marriage’’ by Geir Gulliksen, translated from the Norwegian by Deborah Dawkin (Hogarth)

Floating Notes’’  by Babak Lakghomi (Tyrant)

The Blue Clerk: Ars Poetica in 59 Versos’’ by Dionne Brand (Duke)

Pick of the week

Betty Sudarsky at Wellesley Books recommends Remember Me Like This’’ by Bret Anthony Johnston (Random House): “Texas can be just like any place when it comes to family, community, unspeakable acts, and redemption. This book is a warm and wrenching tale of a family whose connection defies attack. The brothers are so perfectly drawn, you’ll think they are your own children. Johnston writes like a dream.”


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