On Oct. 12, the Grolier Poetry Book Shop held a reading that featured four poets: Susana H. Case, Aaron Caycedo-Kimura, Margo Taft Stever, and Mervyn Taylor. Each poet possessed a distinct voice and spoke to different elements of the contemporary social and political landscape.
People of all ages made up the small crowd in the Grolier’s tight quarters. Audience members young and old conversed freely with one another before the reading began.
Poet Mark Pawklak opened the reading with an introduction, providing background information on each of the poets and welcoming the guests that attended virtually. Margo Taft Stever followed Pawlak’s introduction with words about her involvement in the poetry community, including her work at the Hudson Valley Writers Center and Slapering Hol Press, both of which she founded.
Susana Case, with eight books of poetry to her name, read first. She read mainly from her latest book “The Damage Done,” a murder story in verse. Set in the FBI counterintelligence program era of the 1960s and 1970s, the book follows a protagonist that dies at the beginning of the narrative. She also read from her anthology about Marilyn Monroe that she curated with Stever, titled “I Want To Be Loved by You.” Case also read a poem that she contributed to the anthology titled “Atomic Blonde.” This poem portrayed the tragedy of a soured relationship that ended in divorce. In all of her work, Case faces tragedy directly.
Aaron Caycedo-Kimura followed Case, reading from his new book “Common Grace.” The majority of the poems he read explored the nature of his family history and connection. He discussed his parents’ immigration from Japan, their emotionally distant form of parenting, and his navigation of their deaths. His poems tended to follow certain formal structures, including a couple of sonnets and a pantoum, though he playfully manipulated these forms. A painter as well as a poet, Caycedo-Kimura captured the artistic experience in his poem “In the Studio,” gliding between lightness and heavy grief.
Margo Taft Stever read from her latest poetry collection, “End of Horses.” Her poems reflected on the ecological destruction resulting from climate change, as well as social and political upheaval. She opened with passionate words about Roe v. Wade, then moved into her discussion of the sixth extinction. She preceded each poem with context about its content — often an unfortunate fact about the impending extinction of a certain species. Like Case, Stever read a poem from the “I Want To Be Loved by You” anthology titled “Beauty Parlor.” Impassioned and persuasive, Stever described the most pressing contemporary problems with emotion and urgency.
Mervyn Taylor read last from his most recent poetry collection “News of the Living.” Many of his poems focused on the immigrant experience, police violence, and the poetry wrapped up in ordinary experiences. He made the most ordinary moments seem significant, including going to the laundromat. Taylor engaged the audience with his nuanced commentary and spirited reading style.
The event accommodated all levels of Covid-19 comfort, offering a virtual option and requiring masks in person. Audience member Aline A. Dolinh mused about the future of live poetry reading in a post-pandemic landscape. “Obviously, like, it feels a little strange to have some people watching from a screen,” she said. “I think there is something to be said for being able to be in a room with other people… We've been able to make these things happen and, you know, meet people where they're at and make reasonable accommodations. And I see poetry, I don't know, hopefully continuing along the same path of that kind of openness and accessibility.”
In person, poetry lovers filled the book shop. Carmellite J. Chamblin, on the board of directors for the New England Poetry Club, said, “I love poetry, and I'm really big fan of the Grolier reading series so I tend to attend it often.”
The strength of the Boston-area poetry community showed its face in the Grolier Poetry Book Shop, with people convening to support one another and appreciate creative work in a group setting.
Dolinh put it best when she said, “It's nice to feel like I'm part of a community.”