Friday, April 13, 2007

Plum Island by Marc Widershien

A poem for Jack Powers by Poet Marc Widershien

Plum Island

Here the human is secondary
to the piping plover who lays its eggs
on the beach next to the dunes.

We humans may not cross the wires
strung out down to the shore.
Enough life has been destroyed for sport.

How good to feel a part of the sea beach--
its hunched rocks, and torn seaweed,
instead of its dominant presence.

We see just a scrim of Boston’s skyline,
the city we love but must occasionally flee.
Bird watchers cling to the roofs

of their cars, binoculars in hand.
How lean are the lines of the horizon
meeting the sandbar that protects the shore.

Driftwood pocked and eaten out by the wind and rain,
invite the human eye into the guts of the sacred.
Scrub trees anchor the sand. My steps are casual

but deep in the wavy dunes. I am protected
by the wilderness of red sumac
with their delicate furry stems.

Nothing flies without
the sun’s permission.
We wait for a change of wind.

Plum Island, Massachusetts, April 27, 2001
With Jack Powers

Poet Bob Clawson on Jack Powers

I showed some of my poems to Jack in 1997 and he said I was writing the bestnarrative poetry he'd seen in years. He encouraged me further by giving mea Stone Soup feature at a bar in Cambridge. So, I made up my first (and only) book, Nightbreak, gave a reading, sold a few books, and made $28 from pass the hat. Jack made me a professional. Thank you Jack, and a veryhappy birthday to you.
Bob Clawson

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Childhood by Jack Powers


When I was a child, everything

Was simpler.

No demons possessed me, no ghosts inhabited me.

When I was a child, the only thing that was disquieting

Was the sense of dream bordering

On nightmare,

Still I persisted on my route,

Letting nothing permeate my grandeur

After all this I learned to suffer,


I dared the fates to take me now,

I didn’t know where they would take me,

only to a pure and wholesome space.

We lived our lives believing in possibility

We ended up under the bed,

Hollering for the dad or mom.

I didn’t want this , but was insecure

In the passage.

My hand trembled, as too my soul,

I love you yet,

The magnificence of positive possibility

I have a cross to bear

As my savior before me.

Yes, I believe in magnificent

Dwelling place.

It will all come or come out.

We were born to joy,

Let us have it!

Jack Powers on Ferlinghetti

Stone Soup To City Lights: Jack Powers on Lawrence Ferlinghetti with Doug Holder

* this excerpt originally published in Poesy Magazine (2000)

Jack Powers is the founder of Stone Soup Poets, a venue of readings and publishing in the Boston and Cambridge area for over thirty years. He has provided a space for open poetry readings from poets from all walks of life. He has also published poetry books for a variety of known and unknown poets, including: Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who was a major player in the Beat Poetry Movement on the West Coast in the 50's. Jack recently visited Ferlinghetti in San Francisco where he still runs City Light Books. City Lights, the first all paperback bookstore, was founded by Ferlinghetti in 1953. Shortly after he formed a publishing house, creating his renowned Pocket Poet Series. Among the poets he published were: Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Jack Kerouac, Dianne DiPrima, to name just a few. I spoke with Powers about his recollections and his recent meeting with this legendary poet.

Doug Holder: Jack, you have told me more than once that Lawrence Ferlinghetti brought you back to poetry. What is it about the man that drew you to him?

Jack Powers: I think people of my generation were scared into a stasis in post-war America. I was turned on to Ferlinghetti when I read one of his books from the Pocket Poet Series Howl and other Poems by Allen Ginsberg. I came across it in a little bookstore at the corner of Mass. Ave and Huntington in Boston. In the late 50's I went out to San Francisco with a dear friend and discovered Ferlinghetti's City Lights Bookstore. I didn't actually meet Ferlinghetti until 1975. I was attracted to Ferlinghetti's poetry because it was written in the vernacular; he wrote about "high" things in the common tongue. Now in his 80's, he is still a very formidable presence. I feel he will be recognized as a great poet in his own right, beyond his role as a guru of the Beat Movement.

Doug Holder: Ferlinghetti, along with Peter Martin, launched the first all-paperback bookstore in 1953, and later formed a publishing house, starting with their Pocket Poet Series in 1955. Was your own publishing house, Stone Soup Publishing, modeled after Ferlinghetti's and Martin's efforts?

Jack Powers: It was impossible not to be influenced by something so beautiful. When I went out to "Frisco", and City Lights, I loved the feel of Grant St. ( home of City Lights), and the crazy people. When I say "crazy' I mean the label that mainstream society gave them. Here were these creative people spreading their wings, amidst the stifling conformity of 1950's America. The energy that came from that little bookstore in North Beach was inspiring. Ferlinghetti kept his "tire in track" simply put: he didn't kill himself with booze and drugs, like so many others. Kerouac, for instance drank himself to distraction and died in his 40's. Ginsberg bathed in the Ganges and was a master of histrionics. Ferlinghetti remained the solid core. Ferlinghetti was and is the model of the sober, committed artist. People could depend on him. He was the co-founder of the Beat Movement, but he was solidly planted like a tree. Every time I see Ferlinghetti I feel born again, flushed with new energy.

Doug Holder: Ferlinghetti published Ginsberg's "Howl" You published Ferlinghetti's "Jack of Hearts" Were there any similarities between the books?

Jack Powers: Ferlinghetti publishing "Howl" was a very natural development. He even wrote a poem "The Dog" in his book "Coney Island of the Mind", that was based on the poetical persona of Ginsberg: The Dog trots freely in the street and sees reality and the things he sees are bigger than himself and the things he sees are his reality Drunks in doorways moons on trees I believe Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg belong together. Like two dogs they walked the street and wrote about the stark reality...the wino, the aging drag queen, the ethereal shine of the moon on a tree. They were both living question marks, searching for a common truth.

Doug Holder: During your trip to the Coast you told me that Ferlinghetti showed you the cottage that he let Kerouac use to dry out and concentrate on his writing. Describe the setting, the feeling, the sense of place or presence there. Jack Powers: I remember touching the desk Kerouac did his writing on. I wondered how many words flowed from here. How incredibly privileged I was to be there. I followed a nearby creek to the Pacific. I stood in the ocean and said: "Thank you, I understand." Just like the creek, we start out as a mere trickle and make that universal passage to the sea, the world at large, the cosmos, what have you. The shore puts you in contact with constant reality, like a heartbeat. After I got back to Boston, I had the most remarkable thing happen: I saw my own aura around my arms and legs. I feel Kerouac gave me this gift.

Doug Holder: Ferlinghetti is in his 80's now and you are in your 60's. Will you be able to carry the torch for him? Jack Powers: I feel that I have to continue to carry the torch. I owe Lawrence for teaching me that each individual life means something. You don't have to be a Yale Younger Poet in order to say something. Lawrence believes as I do, that Americans are too into titillation, they don't read things that challenge them. I think the idea of producing challenging art forms is a common goal.

Jack Powers: The Middle Years

Jack Powers Interviewed by Doug Holder: The Middle Years Part 2

This is the second part of a series of interviews that deal with the founder of STONE SOUP POETS INC., Jack Powers. Stone Soup is a thirty year venue of poetry readings and publishing in the Boston and Cambridge area. The first segment examined Jack Powers's early years, from his birth at Boston City Hospital in 1937 to his Jack Kerouac inspired stint in San Francisco in the late 50's. In the following interview Jack discusses the genesis of Stone Soup, his political activism, and life on Beacon Hill in the 60's and 70's.

DH: Eventually you left San Francisco and came back to Boston. How old were you, and what happened then?

JP: I was twenty two. Shortly after returning I went up to New Hampshire to become a sports writer. I lasted about six months, because I couldn't stay out of Boston too long. I had a column in the Claremont Daily Eage, entitled: A SPORTING GLANCE. After returning to the Hub, I worked a thirteen year stint at Goodspeed Bookstore on Beacon Hill. During this time,I met a lot of interesting people , including Edmund Wilson, the literary critic, Red Skelton, the comedian, to name a few. I liked working there. I was a shipping clerk dealing with old and used books , situated in the basement of the shop. There was a pay phone down there, so I could work on my other projects as well. At the time I was dealing with the Anti- War Movement (Vietnam), and the Columbia Point Food Co-op. I guess at the time I felt the world was stalled. Without activism, the underclass was doomed to fall into deep despair and revolution. I didn't want a revolution.

DH: Was the idea for STONE SOUP brewing in the basement of Goodspeed?

JP: I was dealing with expensive books down there. I thought that it would be a good idea for a store where people could meet to exchange ideas, etc... that sold cheap books. When STONE SOUP started in 1971 at the foot of Beacon Hill, it was in essence a used bookstore. Many of the books we got were from friends. I worked full time at Goodspeed to support the store, because the store never made any money. John Lincoln Wright , the progressive country music muscian was our first employee.

DH: At Goodspeed you worked with Louisa Solano, who is now the propieter of Grolier Books in Harvard Square, a very famous poetry bookshop. Can you talk about your association with her.

JP: Louisa and I worked together for 10 years. She was a brilliant,and gifted individual. She started the Beacon Hill Anti- War Movement on her own. Together we started the Charles Street Fairs, in which we shut down blocks of Charles Street and presented music, poetry, anti-war literature, etc...

DH: What was Beacon Hill like in the 60's? What crowd did you hang with?

JP: I was unconnected to the poetry scene at that time. Poets like Stephen Jonas, John Weiners ( Measure Magazine), Joe Dunn ( White Rabbit Press), introduced me to the players in the literary crowd. The back of Beacon Hill( behind the State House) had an infusion of remarkable energy that was like Greenwich Village of the 30's and 40's. Rent was relatively cheap, and the living was easy. There was a community that was harmonized around issues like world peace, the ending of name it. We articulated the isolation of the individual in society, and moved to the possibilty of communication. I first moved to Beacon Hill in 1961. I became an activist shortly after Kennedy was killed.

DH: When did Stone Soup start publishing books?

JP: This started when Stone Soup began in 1971. The first books we produced were STONE SOUP ANTHOLOGIES. It was our policy that anyone who read at our open mic could submit poetry, and have at least one poem accepted. In this way we would have a record of what went on. We produced probably 30 anthologies, all housed at our U/Mass Boston Library archive. We published some notable people, who went on to significance in the poetry world. We also published 80 poetry titles over the years. Our first book was buy a guy named Dan Shanahan. I met Dan at the Old West Church during an all night Jazz concert. I bought a copy of his anthology that he cheaply made, ROCK VIEW. I read a poem he wrote to his deceased father. It was so moving that I decided to publish poetry myself.

DH: When did you get involved with Boston Mayor Kevin White's administration? DH: There was a beautiful thing named SUMMERTHING, that was started by the deputy mayor, Kathy Kane,in 1968. I became the Beacon Hill/West End Coordinator for this program. We did all these remarkable things, like present string quartets on street corners around the city. Later I was to have the great fortune to be on the founding comittee of FIRST NIGHT( A City Wide New Year Festival). During 71 to72, I was the asst. to the director for CONCERTS ON THE COMMON. From'82 to'89 I was facility director for this series. After Concerts On The Common , I was hired to run the Mayor's Business Resource Bank. I found empty space at the old bakery run by STOP and SHOP, near South Station. We stored and donated million dollars worth of material to non-profits for five years. Eventually I left City Hall when Menino came in. I supported his opponent, so I was shown the door.

DH: You were also involved in the Columbia Point Food Cooperative, in Dorchester. Can you talk about that? JP: Louisa Solano was involved with the BOSTON MOVEMENT COOPERATIVE. I heard about it, I liked it, so I joined. I decided to take their idea that people could create their own food sevices, and empower themselves. In this case the target group was a group of low income African Amercians living in a Dorchester project. We picked up food cheaply at a food bank in Framingham and sold it to residents for half the normal price. The seven founders of this cooperative eventually moved out of the project. I felt we made a difference. These folks realized that they didn't have to stay tied to the tree, they could move on.

DH: You were involved in the Busing Crisis in Boston in the 70's. This was when Black kids in the city, were bused into schools of South Boston, a predominately White neighborhood at the time. Can you tell us about your experience?

JP: The first day of busing I wrote an editorial for the BOSTON GLOBE, THE KIDS DID IT ON THEIR OWN. My point was how sad it was that adults couldn't solve the issues another way. Why did kids have to be crushed into buses, only to be shipped into hostile areas. I worked as a bus monitor for 6 weeks during the crisis. People were throwing rocks at the buses, that were chock-full of Black kids. One husky white kid, was particurally destructive with his rock throwing. He was getting ready to hit my bus, so I jumped out and tackled him, and put him in a head lock. I then lead him to some officers down the block and left him there. Later I had to be present at a hearing for the kid. The judge claimed I used to much force! Talk about irony!

by Doug HolderThis interview originally appeared in Spare Change, Boston MA.

Jack Powers and Stone Soup Poetry

Stone Soup Poetry's 30th BirthdayBy Doug Holder (2001)

These days a 30 year old woman or man is still, ( to use the vernacular), "wet behind the ears." However, if you are talking about a poetry venue, you have reached a ripe old age. At the end of April, in what T.S. Eliot called, " the cruelest month," Stone Soup Poetry celebrated three decades of open mike poetry readings and book publishing. The co- founder, Jack Powers ( and Peggy Durkee who was not in attendance), presided at the birthday party of this unique organization, held at the IMPROV ASYLUM, in the North End of Boston. Before the festivities began I spoke to Powers, and other long time friends and cronies, who have made the scene over the decades. Jack Powers, who currently runs Stone Soup Poetry in the basement of the MIDDLE EAST restaurant in Cambridge's Central Square, didn't mince words when he described the significance of the event. As always, he preached the gospel of nonconformity and the power of the "word." His nascent idea behind STONE SOUP was to challenge the ordinary, the status quo, and provide a venue where a person could confidently declare themselves a poet, and proudly pronounce to the mandarins, " I've got something else to say." BUDDHA, a local poet and organizer, of expansive verbal and physical presence, has been connected with STONE SOUP since 1975. He was a member of a folk music collective, and started playing at STONE SOUP in the 1970's. This bear of a man became emotional, as he described the seminal setting on Cambridge Street at the foot of Beacon Hill. He described a bohemian style store front, a mixture of a bookstore and gallery, filled with paintings, shelves of poetry books, and torn paperbacks, sold for a song. Evidently, the SOUP was a place to "hang." It held a constant parade of workshops, readings, discussions, and folk music performances. Buddha, misty eyed, remembered it as, " A real hang out, a genuine BEAT crowd." I asked Jack Powers what was the very first Stone Soup Poetry session was like. Powers told me the original Stone Soup was part of the BEACON HILL FREE SCHOOL, which he founded in 1970. The first setting was at a Cambridge St. store front. Jack lived on the floor above. The first reading consisted of a circle of 14 to 16 poets, of all backgrounds, be it race, gender, or economic status. Powers recalled, during the first years of STONE SOUP, " All these people came down to help and share. The poets... John Weiners ran workshops, Joe Dunn helped out, Carol Weston, so many people sharing, giving of themselves, it was beautiful." Over the years there have been many memories. I asked Powers the impossible question, " Which of them was the most memorable" The founder did not struggle with his reply. He spoke about the first visit from his literary mentor and founder of CITY LIGHTS Books in San Francisco, Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Powers was highly influenced by the Ferlinghetti's collection, CONEY ISLAND OF THE MIND: " Imagine how I felt, when back in 1975, my hero is sleeping in my own place, and reading for the STONE SOUP POETS." Another thing close to this poet's heart was his sponsoring of the Mental Patients Liberation Front : " I just gave them a key to the place on Wednesday nights.. It was a support, and activist group. I freely gave to people who needed a voice." Like any Stone Soup event the birthday reading was peopled with an eclectic mix of poets. Powers lead off with two powerful pieces, one that unapologetically railed against the failings of God, the other bemoaning the fate of a homeless man of his acquaintance. Poet, Carol Weston read a number of beautifully executed poems that touched on the journey through the shoals of an often angst ridden existence. Ian Thal, the secretary for STONE SOUP POETRY, wore his trademark Joker's hat, and voiced a tribute to Jack Powers, by the poet Walter Howard. It heralded Jack as one of "...God's holy fools...his hands reach to the stars..." After JEWISH ADVOCATE reporter Susie Davidson piped in with a poignant piece, a father/daughter team consisting of 16 year old Kitty Glines and her dad added a wholesome familial touch. A STONE SOUP regular Joanna Nealon, proved that even though she is blind, she can see clearly. She dramatically read a hilarious piece, THE PLIGHT OF THE POET. A demure and cultured presence, she had the audiences in stitches of laughter as she put to good poetic use, a commonly used four letter word. Marc Widershien, an editor for the IBBETSON STREET PRESS and THE NEW RENAISSANCE, did justice to Power's poetry, with a skillful rendition of his work. The featured poet was John Weiners. Weiners, is an old friend of Power's and one of the original Boston Beat poets. Allen Ginsberg once referred to him as, "the most lyrical of the Beat poets." He goes way back to the Beacon Hill Free School days, and is firmly rooted with the history of this venue. Weiners is the author of many poetry books, most notably his signature collection, THE HOTEL WENTLEY POEMS. If central casting put out a call for a Beat poet, Weiners would fit the bill. He is a shambling man in his mid 60's, with requisite beard and a long ponytail. He leafed through the yellowing pages of his manuscript and came up with gems. One poem that brought tears to the eyes of an emotional Powers was "PREFACE FROM TRANSMUTATIONS" (1959). This poem celebrates the simple life in Boston in the 50's and early 60's. Weiners lamented, " Oh, for a room with the rent paid." He whispered to the audience about the joys of living on Arlington street in the Back Bay, and writing poems about the Boston Common, before the burdens of time and age took their pound of flesh. I asked Jack Powers what he sees in the future for STONE SOUP. He told me that money is always needed, and that eventually he will have to find a younger person to take over. Poet, Carol Weston summed up the past and hopefully the future of STONE SOUP, " STONE SOUP has saved many by releasing the voice within." Hopefully many more will be saved in years to come.