Thursday, April 12, 2007

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.

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