The Grolier Poetry Book Shop celebrated its 95th anniversary on Sunday, October 9. Just down the street from the Harvard Crimson, the Grolier stood between the Harvard Book Store and Hampden Hall for the 95 years of its existence. On Sunday, more than 20 poets and friends of the Grolier gathered on Brattle Street for poetry readings and live music.
Boston-area poet and educator Porsha RJ Olayiwola performed several original poems that covered themes ranging from water to the black diaspora. Several poets, including herself, have presented new unpublished poems from ongoing manuscripts. One of the poems Olayiwola performed was a “Eavesdropping Cento”, a collection of quotes inspired by his time in Provincetown, MA last summer.
“As someone who specifically writes poetry, I think it’s imperative to have poetry-specific venues,” Olayiwola said. “Poetry needs to institutionalize itself as an art form, as a literary form, because it is embedded in our daily lived experiences and in the way we perceive the world.”
For Anna VQ Ross, a poet and poetry editor who also performed at the Sunday Street Festival, the Grolier community has been central to her life and work since she moved to Boston more than 20 years ago. . She read pieces from her new collection, which comes out next month – poems that deal with motherhood and school shootings.
“Early on in my teaching career, I had a student, mid-semester, raise his hand and ask, ‘Do people still write poetry? “, Ross said. “I realized that for poetry to be a living art, we have to make sure that our students know that it is present in the world right now. That’s what the Grolier does.
James G. Fraser, who has served as manager of the Grolier since February 2022, said he first came to the store after being asked to help run the store’s poetry festival. He stayed, however, for the poems. “I love books, so naturally it was a great place to be,” he said.
Le Grolier was founded in 1927 by Adrian Gambet and Gordon Cairnie, whose portraits adorn the walls of 6 Plympton St. along with photos of other patrons. According to Fraser, Cairnie ran the Grolier as a bookshop for first editions and rare books and poetry. He established it as a place where local literati would hang out.
“Gordon was friends with Ezra Pound and James Laughlin, and many other Harvard students,” Fraser said. “For example, Frank O’Hara used to come here back then.”
But Fraser noted that the Cairnie shop was not always inclusive: “In Gordon’s time it was known as a boys’ club. There was a couch where the ledger is currently and people were just coming in here and hanging out; Gordon wasn’t really concerned with selling books, he was just giving them away.
It was in the 1970s, when Louisa Solano became the owner of the shop after Cairnie’s death, that the Grolier became the poetry emporium it is today and took on a more inclusive atmosphere.
In 2006, the Grolier was sold to Ifeanyi Menkiti, a poet and professor of philosophy at Wellesley College, who ran the store until his death in 2019. The store is still owned and operated by his family, whose mission is to continue to advance his poetry. to concentrate.
Andrea L. Fry and John M. Fry, two attendees of the 95th anniversary celebration, said they come to the Grolier all the time. The late Ifeanyi Menkiti was Andrea’s uncle.
“Ifeanyi not only kept [the Grolier] alive but made him grow, and he continues to grow under the guidance of his family, his wife, Carol, and their daughter, Ndidi. We grew up with it and it became very important to us,” said Andrea, nurse practitioner and published poet.
Independent poetry shops mean the world to people like John and Andrea. “It is people who organize the thoughts of others; they manage the expectations of others in terms of poetry,” John said. “It’s true in New York as it is in Boston with the Grolier.”
—Editor Karen Z. Song can be reached at [email protected]