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Harris Gardner

Photo: Elizabeth Doran

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Credits: The Jewish Advocate; The Harvard Review; Midstream; Cool Plums; Rosebud; Fulcrum; The Aurorean; Providence Journal; Spare Change News; Endicott Review; Ibbetson Street Journal; City of Poets Anthology; Main Street Rag; Facets; Poesy; Vallum (Canada); Pemmican; The New Renaissance (forthcoming); WHL Review; I Refused to Die-A Holocaust Study by Susie Davidson; and about fifty other publication credits.

Co-authored with Lainie Senechal a volume of poetry: Chalice of Eros; his next collection: Lest They Become (Ibbetson Street Press) 2003. New Collection: Among Us (Cervena Barva Press) November, 2007. Host of two poetry venues; founder of Boston National Poetry Month Festival, 2001 to the present; Co-founder (with Doug Holder) of Breaking Bagels with the Bards, a weekly poetry community; Poet-in-Residence, Endicott College, Beverly, MA. 2002 –April, 2005.

Nominated for Pushcart Prize – Fall, 2005

Honorable Mention- Boyle-Farber Prize ( New England Poetry Club) 2004

Where are some of the places that you like to write?

I write wherever and whenever possible. A lot of poets like a specific room. Some of my more obvious locations include my bedroom, sometimes late afternoon, early evening, and sometimes as late as 1:00 A.M. I also write on the commuter rail and park benches at the Public Gardens and Boston Common, as well as Starbucks, 1369 Coffee House in Central Square; once in awhile at the library. I do not usually bring pen and writing paper into the bathroom; however, sometimes, a poem gets started in my head there (Pun not necessarily intended).

You started The Bagel Bards writing community with Doug Holder that meets every Saturday. Please discuss why you both started this. What do you get out of this community?

You asked about the Bagel Bards Writing Community that Doug Holder and I started over three years ago. It had its origins in Saturday morning coffee get togethers that Doug and I had at Finagle A Bagel in Harvard Square. Another poet, Douglas Worth, contacted Doug and complained about a lack of community outside of Academe. Doug (Holder) contacted me and said he invited Doug to join us for coffee. Doug Holder asked me what I thought about forming a community to meet every Saturday in lieu of just the two of us getting together... As Doug likes to say, I was on it like a moth on a cheap wool suit, or a street dog on a meat truck. Doug credits me as co-founder of the Bagel Bards, so I accept that description with gratitude. Soon Irene Koronas found us and Steve Glines. I think Molly Watt was one of the early "members" as well. In six months we had regular attendance of six people. Bagel Bards grew rapidly from that point. We now have an average of twenty-two attendees every Saturday; our full roster is about 45 strong. We meet at the Au Bon Pain in Davis Square during the Summer months; starting in the Fall, we meet every Saturday alternating between Davis Square Au Bon Pain and Central Square Au Bon Pain. In the beginning, we read poems to each other for general feed back. Because of our rapid growth, we invite people to read when requested.

We are a very energized community with a lot of interesting, animated conversations each week. We have a very diverse community of a few academics mixed with many "town" poets. We also have fiction writers as well as a plethora of poets, including two small press publishers. I have also done quite a bit of pro bono editing for the Bagel Bards upon request. The Bagel Bards publishes an annual anthology for the past three years, edited by Molly Watt and Mignon King. The Technical editor is Steve Glines. We also have two regular "scribes" that we have named "Word Catchers"- Irene Koronas and Mike Amado. Also, The Wilderness House Literary Review, an on-line zine, also has an affiliation (loose) with the Bagel Bards. The Review evolved from The Wilderness House Literary Retreat, a brainchild of Steve Glines. Irene Koronas is the Poetry Editor, Tim Gager is the Fiction Editor (Julia Carlson was the previous fiction editor), Steve Glines is the publisher, tech editor, and wears many other hats as well for the Wilderness House Literary Review. There has been a lot of media coverage of the Bagel Bards, from the Cambridge Chronicle, The Alewife, The Boston Globe, etc. We always welcome new affiliates; there is always room at our tables. What I get out of this community is camaraderie, a lot of positive creative energy, friendships, networking, an opportunity to use my editorial skills, upon request and pro bono, and some interesting group discussions or is that many interesting, simultaneous discussions.

You run two reading series. Please talk about these two series and give their names and locations.

I run two poetry series in Boston, in addition to producing Boston's Annual National Poetry Month Festival. Borders Presents a Tapestry of Voices is in its eighth year. It is a monthly program that takes place the second Thursday of each month except December. Occasionally, it takes place on a different date either because of the Jewish High Holidays or because Borders occasionally asks me to have it on a different date because they are having a major book signing. We have either three or four featured poets each month. who read fifteen minutes each. The featured poets are followed by an Open Mike. The program starts at 6:30 P.M. it concludes by 8:30 because the store closes at 9:00 P.M. We have been priviledged to have the who's who in New England as our Features from X. J. Kennedy, Peter Davison (Late); Franz Wright, Fred Marchant, Peter Covino, Joan Houlihan, Gloria Mindock (I had to sneak that one in); Afaa M. Weaver, Don Share, Joanna Nealon, Walter Howard, Lainie Senechal, Doug Holder, Tim Gager, and over 300 other major and emerging poets. The other venue is the Poetry in the Chapel Series at Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain which is entering its seventh year. That is an amazing joint collaboration between The Forest Hills Educational Trust and Tapestry of Voices (my organization) We have four feature poets per month. Each reads twenty minutes and gets paid fifty dollars from the Trust. Some of the months are themed and some are open (non-themed). Some of the featured poets have included Afaa M. Weaver, Diana Der Hovanessian, Franz Wright, Thomas Lux, Charles Coe, Danielle Legros Georges, Regie Gibson, Rhina P. Espaillat, Fred Marchant, Jennifer Barber, Robert K. Johnson, Robert Clawson, Victor Howes, Joanna Nealon, Sam Cornish, Lainie Senechal, Harris Gardner, Molly Watt, Joan Houlihan, Cathleen Aguerro, the late Sarah Hannah, Doug Holder, Ifeanyi Menkiti and and about 265 other poets. The Boston Globe called The Forsyth Chapel "the coolest place to hear poetry."- and I must humbly agree.

Each year, you organize the Boston National Poetry Month Festival at the Boston Public Library. How long have you been doing this? Talk about this major, exciting community event.

I co- founded the Boston National Poetry Month Festival with Lainie Senechal over eight years ago. It is entering its ninth year. I produce it in partnership with the Kaji Aso Studio and The Boston Public Library. In 2009, it will take place on Saturday April 4th from 10:00 A.M until 4:45 at the Boston Public Library in Copley Square. This year and 2009, the Festival has opened with six High School Students from Boston Latin High, Boston Arts Academy, and Walnut Hill School for the Arts. The main part of the festival with 56 professional and emerging poets will begin at 11:00 A.M. with Sam Cornish. Over the years and including the present, the Festival has been blessed to attract many of the best poets from Massachusetts, as well as a few from Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Vermont. We always have both published and some of the best emerging poets. The largest number have come from Eastern Massachusetts: Diana Der Hovanessian, Doug Holder, Fred Marchant, Franz Wright, Maxine Kumin, Gloria Mindock, Rhina P.Espaillat, The Late Sarah Hannah, Susan Donnelly, Tom Daley, Tim Gager, Danielle Legros Georges, Charles Coe, Afaa M. Weaver, Regie Gibson, The Late Peter Davison, Joanna Nealon, Lainie Senechal, Harris Gardner, Walter Howard, Don Share, Tino Villanueva, Diana Saenz, CD Collins, Robert Clawson, Robert K. Johnson, Marc Widershien, and hundreds of professional and emerging poest have graced the festival over the years. Other ingredients in the festival include a very popular Open Mike and a very active books table manned by wonderful volunteers. Our committee includes about twelve volunteers each year for hosting, publicity, and the book table. I am the sole fundraiser most years; however, Stuart Peterfreund has been co-chairman of the finance committee the past two years. I raise on average $11,000 to 12,000 per year which is what it takes most years to cover the expenses of the festival. Over half goes to pay the participants. Each featured poet has read twenty minutes except for 2008 when they read for ten minutes to fit all the poets in on Saturday. I also collect in-kind donations for the reception that we hold at the Kaji Aso Studio Art Gallery the night before the actual festival. We have 5,000 twenty page programs printed and distributed each year. We also have 150 posters printed and distributed in five neighborhoods on Both sides of the Charles River. We also do a major mailing both to the printed media and online. The festival is a constantly growing tradition. We have about four hundred-plus attendees each year. It is about community, camaraderie, neighborhoods, and POETRY.

What are you working on now?

At present, I am working on a full poetry manuscript. It is titled, No Time for Death. It is in three parts: An Argument with Time; Contemplating Mortality Instead of My Navel; Negotiating with G-D for An Afterlife. I have about 75 poems covering those themes, so far. When I have about twenty more, I will trim back to about 80 poems. When it is "done," I plan to hopefully "not" go broke and will submit it in competition in search of a prize and publication.

Cervena Barva Press published your chapbook, Among Us. Talk about how this chapbook idea about angels came to life. Talk about your poems. Discuss the response you have received.

Among Us Chapbook

Among Us is my most recently published chapbook. It contains twenty-four poems in 39 pages. It was published in November, 2007 by Cervena Barva Press, Gloria Mindock, Publisher. All the poems involve the subject of Angels, with such influences as The Old Testament, Milton, Charles Simic, Billy Collins, and includes people's attitudes today, both skepticism and acceptance of the possible existence of angels. The emotional range is from serious to humerous. There are also provocative, contemplative,and controversial treatments of the subject. There have been three wonderful reviews, so far. On line by Elinor Goodman; One in the Post-Gazette a hundred year old newspaper which originated in Bostons North End and now reaches all of New England, (Paid circulation-15,000) and Presa Press out of Michigan. The Genesis of this collection was generated about two years ago during a conversation about Angels at the Bagel Bards. There were three or four of us out of about eighteen people who were present on a sunny February day (or maybe it was overcast). I happened to have my ever-present briefcase with me in which I haul around the typical self-promotion that any poet worth his or her salt carries: Cookies and candy, no, really, a plethora of poetry. So I stuck in my thumb, well, no it was my whole hand and pulled out a couple of Angel poems and showed them to Gloria. She asked me how many of them did I have, I replied that I thought that I had about twelve Angel poems out of 400 poems. She said when I had written 24, if they were all that good, she would publish them in a chapbook. Well, later, I rushed home and sifted through my mountain and came up with six. The mothers were more about conversations with G-d, or were they complaints. Whatever! Over the next year or eighteen months, between a lot of other themes, I wrote eighteen more Angel poems, Each Saturday I would eagerly show them to Gloria almost wiggling in my enthusiasm like a puppy in a pet store window. When the twenty-four were completed, I formatted it, with the help of my sister, collected blurbs from Charles Coe, Afaa M. Weaver, and Hugh Fox, as well as a three or four paragraph "blurb" from Rhina P.Espaillat that became the book's introduction. The magnificent cover art was done by William J. Kelle. I also had two extra pair of editorial ears: Joanna Nealon and Lainie Senechal. This exciting collection (If I do say so myself, and I do) burst upon the world November, 2007 to great, if modest acclaim. I have had eight or so features with this collection, and counting. I am being interviewed on Cape Cod T.V. June 27th partly to promote this collection and to promote a six hour, one day workshop in connection with the Cape Cod Writer's Center that I am scheduled to do August 22 with Lainie Senechal.

Discuss your literary organization, Tapestry of Voices.

My organization, Tapestry of Voices is nine years old. There are at least 150 affiliated poets. Over the years we have done readings at colleges, Universities, bookstores, senior citizen homes, libraries, coffeehouses, museums, churches, festivals. We did two major benefits: One at The Cathedral Church of St. Paul (Near the Boston Common) after 9/11 and at The Old South Church in the Back Bay for the Massachusetts Red Cross Katrina Relief Fund, also every year, for the past nine years, Tapestry of Voices has done an annual joint reading with the John Greenleaf Whittier Home Association in Amesbury, MA and for the past five years, an annual joint reading with the John Greenleaf Whittier Birth Place Club in Haverhill, MA. So, yes, we do get around.

I have also been a featured poet through Eastern and Central Massachusetts, and part of Rhode Island over the years, both solo, with others, and paired on innumerable occasions with Lainie Senechal. You might say, "Have Venue, Will Travel."

Harris Gardner
Director of Tapestry of Voices


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