Boston’s first poet laureate will make his Jamaica Plain debut the first week in May—not once, but twice.
Sam Cornish will kick off the 2008 Word on the Street series on Thurs., May 1 and close out the Poetry in the Chapel 2008 series on Sun., May 4 by reading some of his acclaimed work.
When the City of Boston decided to create the Poet Laureate position last fall, Cornish, a Brighton resident and a working poet since the 1960s, seemed an ideal choice.
Mayor Thomas Menino announced his appointment first thing in his State of the City address in January.
Born in Baltimore, Cornish has lived in Boston since the 1970s, where he published poetry, worked for Newton’s Education Development Center and eventually became a professor of literature at Emerson College.
Much of Cornish’s poetry is focused on the African-American experience, as in his most famous work, “Generations,” published in 1971. His work has covered, in various ways, the lives of black Americans of the past century, with poems about Martin Luther King Jr., Frederick Douglass and Malcolm X. He also uses personal experiences and those of his family as material.
Written in a colloquial free verse, his poetry embodies much of what has been happening to America and Boston in recent history, all told honestly, directly and unabashedly.
Though Cornish’s acclaim and experience are important for any poet laureate, another qualification he brings to his new post is his commitment to promoting literacy and poetry.
He has said he envisions “a world where poetry is not an obscure, near-obsolete form of expression, but one in which families attend poetry readings together.” He said he believes in the universal nature of poetry. Cornish plans to organize not only a poetry workshop for teens, but also readings for senior citizens.
Cornish will read as part of JP Centre/South Main Streets’ First Thursday arts evening at Word on the Street on Thurs., May 1. The reading from 6:30 to 8 p.m. will take place in an emergency location—the trailer at the site of the First Baptist Church at the corner of Centre and Myrtle streets—due to the recent closing of Sweet Finnish, the venue in previous years.
Appropriately for May 1, International Workers’ Day, Roslindale (formerly JP) poet Lisa Beatman will read from her recently published book “Manufacturing America.” Her book describes the lives of factory workers, many of them immigrants, and the fates of factories here, based on first-hand experience.
Also on the bill will be local City Councilor John Tobin, who first proposed the creation of the poet laureate position last year at the request of constituents led by local poet Joe Bergin.
An open mic is a significant part of this popular series. Audience members are invited to bring a poem of their own or someone else’s to read aloud.
Cornish will read more extensively from his work at Forsyth Chapel at Forest Hills Cemetery on May 4. Poetry in the Chapel is a five-year-old series that is a collaboration between Forest Hills Educational Trust and Tapestry of Voices, an organization run by Harris Gardner.
Poets Danielle Legros Georges, Lainie Senechal and Afaa Weaver will join Cornish as each reads for about 20 minutes.
An immigrant from Haiti, Georges often deals with the duality of American immigrant existence, as in her book “Maroon.” She cites Weaver as one of her favorite writers. Her father is buried at Forest Hills Cemetery.
Senechal has been writing poetry since the 1960s. Many of her poems deal with nature and have been featured in many anthologies. She is the co-author of “Chalice of Eros,” which she wrote with Gardner.
Like Cornish, Weaver, now a Boston-area resident, was born in Baltimore to working class parents. He is the author of nine books of poetry and was the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts grant. Internationally lauded, Weaver’s poems, from the spiritual to the absurd, reflect the hardships and joys of coming of age and maturity.
The writer is on the staff of Forest Hills Educational Trust. Sandra Storey of the Gazette staff, who acts as host of Word on the Street, contributed to this article.