During April, the American Academy of Poets and the American Poetry and Literary Project will give away 100,000 books of poetry in celebration of National Poetry Month. Since declaring April National Poetry Month in 1996, the Academy and the APL Project have sponsored national, month-long campaigns to promote poetry appreciation and literacy. However, neither organization has ever sponsored an event as extensive as The Great APL Giveaway.
This month, Andrew Carrol, the executive director of the APL Project, is driving a Ryder truck from New York City to San Francisco distributing the 100,000 free books of poetry in The Great APL Giveaway. While en route, he has given away books at locations ranging from supermarkets to schools, prisons to post offices and hospitals to hotels. When he reaches San Francisco, Carrol will have distributed books in twenty-nine cities. Tuesday morning, he distributed books of poetry at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, one of the nation’s largest maximum-security prisons. By evening, he will be in Houston distributing books to guests at the Doubletree Hotel.
The American Academy of Poets was founded in 1934 to support both published and unpublished American poets and to encourage a greater appreciation of poetry within the American public. It is the largest organization dedicated to poetry in the nation. The American Poetry and Literary Project is a not-for-profit organization that was founded in 1993 by Carrol and Joseph Brodsky, a former U.S. Poet Laureate.
Locally, no one is giving out thousands of free books of poetry. However, there are a number of events being sponsored in conjunction with National Poetry Month. Papyri Books, a used bookstore in North Adams, is celebrating National Poetry Month with a series of poetry readings. The readings, which are held Thursdays at 8 p.m., feature talented local and national poets. On April 16 the featured poets will be David Raffeld, Barry Sternleib, Emily Rechnitz and Eileen Gloster.
Williamstown resident David Raffeld is the author of several volumes of poetry including a new work entitled Into the World of Men. Of the poems in this collection, poetry critic Seth Rogovoy wrote, “They have universal significance,” which distills “the dark, quiet corners of existence.” Into the World of Men includes selections from “The Isaac Oratio,” a verse play which the Williams Theater Department produced in 1994 when Raffeld was a writer in residence at the college.
Author Richard Stammelman praised Raffeld’s first book of poetry, The Ballad of Harmonica George, stating, “These are great poems. They build powerfully, muscularly, tensely, yet never do they come apart. Never do they explode before they need to.” In addition to Williams, Raffeld has taught at Colgate University and the University of Denver.
As editor of Mad River Press, Barry Sternleib has published poetry by Gary Snider, Richard Wilbur, Louise Gluk, and W.S. Merwin. Sternleib has written several collections of poetry including Thoreau’s Hat and has been published in dozens of magazines, literary journals and anthologies, including Yankee, Wilderness, Poet & Critic, and The Great Machines: Poems of the American Railroad. Sternleib lives in Richmond Virginia.
Emily Rechnitz has been published in several literary reviews and magazines including Poet Lore, Southern Poetry Review and The New Yorker. A Colorado native, Rechnitz graduated from New York University in 1996 with a degree in creative writing. Currently, she lives in Berkshire County and is employed by Community Access to the Arts, a not-for-profit group, which fosters interaction between artists and individuals in the community who are physically, mentally, and emotionally challenged.
Eileen Gloster, a North Adams native, whose poems have appeared in The American Literary Journal and in After Art, After Nature and Poems of Berkshire County, is co-owner of Papyri Books. Gloster received her MFA in creative writing from American University in Washington D.C. After graduation she taught composition at American for two years.
Papyri Books hosted the first two readings of its poetry series on April 2 and 9. Both events were well-attended and well received by the audience. The final three readings promise to be just as enjoyable. On April 23, poets Abbot Cutler, Sandra McDowell and Ben Jacque will read selections of their works. Cutler and Jacque are both professors at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams. On April 30, Stephen Philbrick, Colin Harrington, and Rosemarie Starace will be the featured poets.
The National Poetry Month readings are not the only events open to the community that Papyri Books has hosted since November 1997, when the bookstore opened for business. During Women’s History Month in March, Dana Biscotti Myskowski, a fiction writer from Clarksburg, Massachusetts, and Rachel Barenblat, whose book of poetry, The Skies Here, was published in 1995, gave readings of their works at the bookstore.
In May, Papyri Books will host Paroles, which has been held at both GreenRiver Books and Water Street Books. Paroles will feature the writings of both local and national authors and poets. Each week, after the featured writer has read, there will be an open microphone where members of the audience will be able to share their poetry and short stories or read a work by a favorite writer. Currently, Eileen Gloster and Karen Kane, the owners of Papyri Books, are still engaged in the final planning for Paroles, which is to be held on Saturday nights beginning in May. Another activity open to the community that Papyri Books hosts is a weekly creative writing group which Gloster leads. Every Monday at 7 p.m., participants work on creative writing exercises and then share the pieces they create with the group for discussion.
By getting the community involved with literary events at their bookstore, Gloster and Kane want to increase community appreciation for literature. They also want to provide a space where people enjoy spending time due to a community atmosphere. That Gloster and Kane have been successful in developing that atmosphere is evidenced by Papyri Books’growing clientele, which includes college students and grandparents alike.
Papyri Books has an informal setting with comfortable couches and chairs placed in several locations. Free coffee, tea and hot cocoa are available for those browsing, or for those who decide to sit and read. The store carries a wide and frequently fluctuating selection of used books, which are purchased from Berkshire-area residents. For Gloster and Kane, searching for books that will improve their store’s selection is an ongoing process, as is expanding the store itself.
Kane, who is an artist living in Williamstown, has created a small gallery artwork in the store. She plans to increase the space devoted to art in order to provide local artists with a place to display their work. In the next year and a half, Kane and Gloster plan to expand their bookstore by adding a coffee shop and more community space for literary events.
49 Main Street, North Adams
For event information call: 662-2099
Hours: 10-6 Mon.-Wed., Fri.& Sat., 10-9 Thurs., Sun. 10-4.