A Legacy of Poetry
If there’s one thing as important to Boston
as its sports teams, it is its history. One piece of its literary
history, a poetry workshop almost half a century old, resides in
an ornate building at 5 Commonwealth Avenue, home of the Boston
Center for Adult Education.
The workshop, under the guidance of John Holmes,
was there in the late 1950s, in a room on the second floor, when,
as literary legend recounts, Maxine Kumin and Anne Sexton met and
began their friendship and their poetry careers.
In a telephone interview Kumin said, “We were
just two shy housewives, a pair of closet poets.” They were
also eager students, quick learners whose prodigious gifts ultimately
reshaped the poetry landscape.
The workshop was there in 1962, taught then by Sam
Albert, when Ottone (Ricky) Riccio, joined it. Five years later
Riccio became the workshop’s teacher, a post he held for the
next 35 years, including the years when I was one of his students.
Now two poets, Tom Daley and Jennifer Badot, share the position,
teaching alternating terms.
“It’s an honor to fill Ricky’s
shoes,” says Daley, who had been one of Riccio’s students,
“but it’s a tall order.” Daley’s work has
appeared in literary journals and won the Charles and Fanny Fay
Wood Academy of American Poets Prize.
Badot, who has been widely published in small magazines
and has taught several poetry workshops, concurs. “I knew
that Ricky was a revered master teacher with a devoted following.
I was also aware that this was a workshop with a rich history where
many, many (poets) had honed and polished their craft, discovered
their voices, so I was honored and humbled and wanted to serve the
poets at the table and do justice to the tradition of the workshop
itself. It’s the longest-running workshop in the area (like
the Fantasticks off-Broadway)!”
Daley sees his role as one of guidance and encouragement.
“It’s interesting to watch people evolve over time.
Unlike in a class, the leader facilitates, rather than teaches.
I don’t feel that ‘I, the teacher, am imparting wisdom
from on high’. What I feel I can offer is to understand why
the poet did what he or she did. Regardless of where the poet is
coming from, we need to honor the creative effort.”
He likens the process to learning calligraphy, where
learning to shape the letters is only the beginning.
“You also need to learn to breathe so that
the letters can be fluid. It’s a balance of discipline and
imagination, just as learning to write poetry is. And the goal of
a good workshop is to show participants how to tap into that imagination,
so they can find new ways to articulate the emotions and ideas that
inspire them to write and so they can leave each session feeling
challenged but also encouraged.
“Writing is such a solitary experience. The
workshop gives you a place where, once a week, you can share your
triumphs, your frustrations, have an audience, have a voice, sit
and listen to other people’s poems, get a multiplicity of
Badot hopes the workshop participants will “stretch
themselves and grow as poets. My goal for the workshop is to create
a supportive and artistically rigorous environment where we are
very kind to the poet, yet demanding and exacting of the poem. “
Both Badot and Daley say part of the workshop’s strength lies
in its democracy, the fact that it is affordable and open to all.
Badot calls it “a true poetic melting pot. Beginners and masters
alike can sign up and sit at the table, roll up their sleeves, and
dive into the soup.”
What we’re reading now: Tom Daley is reading
Daniel Bosch's first collection of poetry, Crucible, which he describes
as, “heartfelt elegies, witty, erudite bricolage,” poems
of “passionate, well-crafted music.” Jennifer Badot
is reading Howard’s End, by E. M. Forster, and says,”
it is so virtuosically written that I want to memorize every other
sentence." I am reading This Side of Married by Rachel Pastan.
Her mother, Linda Pastan, is one of my favorite poets, so the name
drew me in, but the book’s charm held me on its own.
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