Boston, Massachusetts | 30 September 2006
When we consider how ‘place’ and poetry interact, we might think of geography or even history. For example, we might wonder how a rich tapestry of colonial American history and a long tradition of great New England writers weigh upon a poet living now. We might wonder how the landscape, the ever-changing weather, the look of the midsummer night sky all touch a poet.
Mark Doty has said his book Atlantis is “a Provincetown [Mass.] book.” He discusses the book’s connection to this place by remarking how the poems are “saturated in qualities of light, and is enormously interested in mutability, which is less true of the work before it…. [T]hings don’t so much vanish as turn into something else.” He explains, “This has to do with living in a place that is constantly being revised. By the in and out of the tide, the shift of the fog, that famous Cape light -- which isn’t steady but instead continually shifts the way we view the world. That fluidity is the ground of the poems’ making.”*
Certainly the poet’s senses are piqued by any and all of these considerations of place, and I hope the poems that LOCUSPOINT showcases from all over the country illustrate some of these concerns. But when I was asked to edit the Boston edition of LOCUSPOINT, I immediately thought of something else that is intimately tied to a place – the character of its people.
When I began soliciting poems and reviewing submissions, I was consciously more interested not in what the poets were writing about (even if it was explicitly located in place), but rather those poems that had an intensity of character that I’ve grown accustomed to from Boston writers.
I was astounded, for example, by Peter Shippy’s ability to produce a loopy, quirky world -- in which a writerly ‘werewolf’ “slings with slang / No one else speaks: This dog has teeth to burn” – that also resonates with a sparkling clarity of emotion and meaning. Shippy effortlessly maneuvers from a finely tuned lyrical strangeness to a reversal that allows the reader a quiet moment to consider the rich metaphor Shippy’s constructing:
For Halloween he goes human, wears a mask
And sits in a rocker on his front porch, still
As a church mouse until a tiny ghost raps
I also found myself attracted to poets’ whose selections told stories, from Kathleen Rooney’s moving poems about a troubled man named “Robinson” to Eve Rifkah’s poems about French turn-of-the century painter Suzanne Valadon. While the other poets I’ve chosen, Wendy Mnookin, Rebecca Morgan Frank and Carrie Jean Preston don’t present such thematically linked work, they all speak with a consistency of voice (for example, Mnookin’s supple, sensuous lines) that radiates a pleasurable sense of unity and cohesiveness.
A few words about Boston’s community of writers: I’ve learned Boston is a bit of a paradox, and an enriching one. It’s a city (no New York, but with a respectable population of 600,000 nonetheless). And yet, this city seems like a small town when it comes to the community of poets. I’ve rarely if ever experienced or witnessed the acrimonious competition I hear so much about in the poetry world; the numbers of colleges and universities means there are always new ideas and new voices percolating in the mix; and the number of readings and poetry groups means that not only is there always something to do; and if you know a handful of people, you may well be connected to the whole community.
* From Outside the Lines: Talking with Contemporary Gay Poets, by Christopher Hennessy
is the author of Outside the Lines: Talking with Contemporary Gay Poets (Univ. of Mich. Press). His poetry, essays and interviews have been published in Ploughshares, Verse, American Poetry Review, Crab Orchard Review, Natural Bridge, and elsewhere. His two blogs are cthonicboom.blogspot.com and