Thoughts immediately turn to Jack Kerouac; and although he may be the Mill City’s most widely-known writer, the literary scene in the city today is much more diverse and exciting than it was in the mid-20th century world of Kerouac.
That diversity was showcased last Friday night at the United Teen Equality Center, where the Pollard Memorial Library held its Lowell Reads Micky Ward wrap-up party themed “Lowell Reads What Lowell Writes,” featuring a talented stable of local writers including: Paul Marion, Ryan Gallagher, Ricky Orng, Dave Robinson and Rachel Norton.
There were, of course, reverent nods to Kerouac throughout the evening, beginning with Ryan Gallagher’s impressive and dramatic recitation of one of Kerouac’s most complex works, the poem “Old Angel Midnight,” and continued by Paul Marion’s reading of his own work “Johnny and the Raincoat”; a piece inspired by the day Marion spent with Johnny Depp in 1991when Edward Scissorhands made a pilgrimage to Kerouac’s hometown to buy a memento from his estate.
Gallagher, the co-founder of Bootstrap Press, also read one of his own original works, a piece titled “Cuplets.”
Ricky Orng, the program coordinator of FreeVerse, read a selection of his original works including a poem written in response to a man who asked him, while he was at a film screening in Lynn, if he had lost any family members in the Cambodian genocide.
“There are Cambodians like me born every day with the culture inside of them dead,” Orng wrote.
That piece, coming from deep inside the Cambodian-American experience was an interesting compliment to Marion’s poem about the first city-sanctioned Cambodian New Year celebration in Lowell in 1985, a “new” culture and food experience as seen through the eyes of a French-Canadian Lowellian eager to learn about his new neighbors.
Dave Robinson, author of the popular “Sweeney On-The-Fringe,” published by Loom Press, read excerpts from his upcoming fourth Sweeney book, which is written in the Japanese Haibun style, an intriguing mix of prose and haiku.
While you may have heard of Marion, Gallagher, Robinson and Orng before, it was a newcomer to the Lowell writer’s circle that had the room buzzing.
Rachel Norton is a Lowell High School Junior.
Outskirts Press recently published her novel “Sara’s Song,” the story of a friendship between a jaded teenage girl and her optimistic 7-year-old friend who is battling Leukemia; the story of this remarkable relationship, a piece of historical fiction, is set amid the backdrop of World War II Germany.
“When I started writing and reading in Lowell there wasn’t this sort of depth, there wasn’t this bench strength,” said Marion, adding it has been exciting for him to watch Lowell grow into a literary community.
“To have a mayor that is comfortable around poetry, that says a lot about the community,” he said addressing the extremely well-read Mayor Patrick Murphy, who was in attendance. “Thank you for everything you have done for the community, for people who don’t have a loud voice, for the environment, for the artists. It has been really interesting to have someone with your vision at the head of the table.”
Sean Thibodeau, the Pollard Memorial Library’s Community Planning Librarian, who oversees the Lowell Reads program, said its purpose is simple: “To get Lowell engaged in the same story because the act of reading is often a solitary experience.”
The library obtained 50 copies of “Irish Thunder,” Bob Halloran’s book about Lowell’s favorite boxer Micky Ward and 50 copies of “A Warrior’s Heart,” Ward’s autobiography. The goal was for each copy to be borrowed once – that goal was shattered as each was taken out 2 ½ times.
“We even had some that have been stolen,” Thibodeau laughed.
Thibodeau packed a whole lot of fun into the two-week program including: Wii boxing and Micky Ward trivia for teens, a discussion with Halloran about his book, a night featuring locals who appeared in the Micky Ward biopic The Fighter, a screening of the movie, a discussion about Lowell’s boxing history and a night with Ward’s trainers Arthur Ramalho and Mickey O’Keefe.
Thibodeau opened Friday night’s event with a piece by late Irish poet Seamus Heaney, “Weighing In”, which he said could be applied to Ward’s story.
“For Micky, courage and perseverance are recurring themes,” Thibodeau said. “Both inside and outside of the ring there were 99 ways things could have gone wrong and one way to go right.”
by Seamus Heaney
The 56 lb. weight. A solid iron
Unit of negation. Stamped and cast
With an inset, rung-thick, moulded, short crossbar
For a handle. Squared-off and harmless-looking
Until you tried to lift it, then a socket-ripping,
Gravity’s black box, the immovable
Stamp and squat and square-root of dead weight.
Yet balance it
Against another one placed on a weighbridge—
On a well-adjusted, freshly greased weighbridge—
And everything trembled, flowed with give and take.
And this is all the good tidings amount to:
The principle of bearing, bearing up
And bearing out, just having to
Balance the intolerable in others
Against our own, having to abide
Whatever we settled for and settled into
Against our better judgement. Passive
Suffering make the world go round.
Peace on earth, men of good will, all that
Holds good only as long as the balance holds,
The scales ride steady and the angel’s strain
Prolongs itself at an unearthly pitch.
To refuse the other cheek. To cast the stone.
Not to do so some time, not to break with
The obedient on you hurt yourself into
Is to fail the hurt, the self, the ingrown rule.
Prophesy who struck thee! When soldiers mocked
Blindfolded Jesus and he didn’t strike back
They were neither shamed nor edified, although
Something was made manifest—the power
Of power not exercised, of hope inferred
By the powerless forever. Still, for Jesus’ sake,
Do me a favour, would you, just this once?
Prophesy, give scandal, cast the stone.
Two sides to every question, yes, yes, yes…
But every now and then, just weighing in
Is what it must come down to, and without
Any self-exculpation or self-pity.
Alas, one night when follow-through was called for
And a quick hit would have fairly rankled,
You countered that it was my narrowness
That kept me keen, so got a first submission.
I held back when I should have drawn blood.
And that way (mea culpa) lost an edge.
A deep mistaken chivalry, old friend.
At this stage only foul play cleans the slate.
Mayor Murphy is not only a lover a poetry and a student of literature, he was also a boxer, having first met Micky Ward and his infamous brother Dicky while training at the West End Gym as a kid.
“If you asked me then If I would be here talking about Micky’s writing, I’d be shocked,” Murphy said. “First off that I’d be here, but also that I’d be talking about his writing and not his fighting.”
“Everyone has a story to tell, it is just about how you find the form to tell it,” he added, alluding to Seamus Heaney’s poem “Digging,” about the work that goes into writing. “Good writing takes a lot of good writing itself and it takes a lot of good reading.”
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.
Under my window, a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down
Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.
The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.
By God, the old man could handle a spade.
Just like his old man.
My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.
The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.