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Poets add rhyme, reason, humor to camp

Susie Davidson was one of the local poets who launched the readings at the protest site three weeks ago.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

At Dewey Square Plaza this week, Don McLagan of Sudbury read a poem titled “The Very Hungry Bank,’’ his homage of sorts to “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,’’ the Eric Carle children’s book. Alice Rogoff, who was visiting the area from San Francisco, recited “Why a Workers’ Mural Hangs On,’’ one of many poems she has composed with a staunchly prolabor theme.

John Bonanni of South Yarmouth presented several of his poems, including one that began with a bank repossessing his house.

“All my poems are about desolation,’’ he explained afterward. “Part of being a poet is being broke and poor.’’


To the motley collection of tents, food kiosks, bulletin boards, clothing bins, yoga classes, and medical facilities that have sprung up at the Occupy Boston site, add one more echo of bygone protest movements: poetry readings.

By week’s end, more than 60 poets will have participated in the OccuPoetry series, which wraps up today. Organized by a trio of Boston-area poets, the public readings have aimed to capture the encampment’s antiestablishment spirit, employing an art form that some sympathizers felt had been neglected amid all the political discussions and musical jam sessions.

“We’re showing another form of protest, the power of the word,’’ said Susie Davidson, a journalist, poet, author, and filmmaker who helped organize the readings.

Davidson, along with fellow poets Peter Desmond and Robyn Su Miller, held the first read-in three weeks ago. On Wednesday, a dozen military veterans read poems and autobiographical essays thematically connected to Veterans Day. Those reading included Roxbury native Irving Smolens, a D-day veteran, and Pat Scanlon, a decorated Vietnam War combatant. Disabled veteran Janice Josephine Carney of Beverly read several of her compositions, too, one a meditation on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington.


Poets have been lending their voices and verses to protests for decades, if not far longer. From Carl Sandburg and Langston Hughes to Allen Ginsberg and Robert Bly, they have tackled such issues as social injustice and economic inequality with intensity rivaled only, perhaps, by their artistic cousins, the protest singers.

During the Arab Spring, poets were often heard from as well, as was the case in Egypt, when Mina Danial, a young activist killed during the street protests, was celebrated in a lengthy poem that gained widespread circulation among his countrymen.

Poetry, said McLagan, a retired high-tech executive, “captures emotion, and emotion more than anything else drives Occupy Boston.’’

“There’s no real theme here, no PowerPoint presentation,’’ he said. “But there’s some feeling that we ought to do better, that what we’re doing is not right. That’s what you hear reflected in the poetry.’’

In McLagan’s “Hungry Bank’’ poem, it’s not a ravenous insect but a local lending institution - specifically, BayBank - that keeps engorging itself, swallowing or being swallowed by a succession of other banks until it grows big and fat.

“It built a forty-five-billion-dollar safety net,’’ the poem concluded, “called a TARP around itself, and stayed inside for a number/of months. Then it nibbled a hole in the TARP, and pushed/its way out. Alas, it was not a beautiful butterfly.’’

After listening to McLagan and others, Susan Monsky of Brookline said their words and passion added something special to her experiencing Occupy Boston in person.


“Poetry is the spoken word, and the word is the truth,’’ Monsky said. She added, “Looking at this whole little city here is a moment of truth, really.’’

Joseph P. Kahn can be reached at jkahn@globe.com.