Interviewer vs. Interviewer

Interviewer vs. Interviewer
( Click on picture to view) Elizabeth Lund--Host of Poetic Lines interviews Host of Poet to Poet-- Doug Holder

Thursday, November 13, 2008

NOV 18, 2008: Boston Poet Laureate--Sam Cornish

Nov. 18 5PM my guest will be Boston Poet Laureate Sam Cornish:

Boston's poet laureate of the people
For Sam Cornish, sharing is the key
By Tania deLuzuriaga, Globe Staff | January 20, 2008

Back in the 1960s, poet Sam Cornish used to wander the streets of Boston with long hair and bare feet. Though he's a bit more distinguished looking today, in thick glasses and often sporting a jacket and tie, his free-spirited nature endures.

"I'm not a snob," said Cornish, named last week as the city's first poet laureate. "I like Rachel Ray and westerns, I collect comic books. I don't mind getting drunk on occasion, not intentionally, but because I like whiskey."

Mayor Thomas M. Menino announced Tuesday that Cornish, a former Emerson College literature professor, would be the first to fill a post the city has never had before.

"He has not just a great literary background, but a real commitment to promoting poetry across the city," said Alice Hennessey, who oversees special projects for the city, including the poet laureate selection committee.

City officials see Cornish as a poet of the people, someone who will reach across racial and socioeconomic lines to promote literacy through poetry.

After moving into his office at the Boston Public Library, Cornish's first duties will include organizing a poetry workshop for teens and putting together an event for Black History Month in February.

"I want to do a tour, but instead of bookshops and universities I want to go to neighborhoods, school rooms, living rooms," Cornish, who lives in Brighton with his wife, said in an interview yesterday. "Highly visible artists are too rare. 'Rare' is good for wine, but it sucks for an artist. . . . My work comes out of Boston's daily experience, I want to be able to share that with my own."

Cornish, 72, said he started writing as an angry teenager, living in the poor black neighborhoods of Baltimore. Inspired by the likes of E.E. Cummings and T.S. Eliot, he abandoned the notion of poetry within the confines of rhyme and meter, instead writing streetwise observances of his world in free verse, a practice that continues today.

He moved to Boston in the 1960s, after serving in the Army Medical Corps. He traveled back and forth between Boston and Baltimore for the next decade, settling here in the mid-1970s.

"Boston was a horror show when I first came here," he remembered, referring to racial tensions in the city. "But it was better than Baltimore."

Much of Cornish's poetry embodies the African-American experience of the past 70 years, dealing with themes such as slavery, kinship, and civil rights, in language as tough as life on the streets.

"My mother's back is bleeding/ like the avenues and streets/ of American cities is dark/ & red like barbecue," reads a poem called "The Beating," published in 1996.

While Cornish's work often deals with the black male experience, he blurs the lines between autobiography and fiction.

"Ninety-five percent of it is not me at all," he said. "I use my life as a source, I represent the story through people who resemble - but who are not - me."

When City Councilor John Tobin introduced a resolution last year to create the two-year post of poet laureate, Cornish said he turned his nose up at the prospect.

"These things usually go to people who are well connected," he said. "I am not connected. I don't give safe interviews, and I work very hard not to give any impression of intelligence."

Cornish eventually gave in to the urging of his friends and applied for the position, which pays a corporate-sponsored $2,000-a-year stipend. Hennessey said the selection committee was taken with his commitment to education and the broad spectrum of ideas covered in his poetry, choosing him over 15 other applicants.

In announcing Cornish's appointment, Menino called him "an accomplished poet who will honor our city's rich literary heritage."

In addition to working with the city's youth, Cornish hopes to hold readings and workshops for senior citizens and put a spotlight on the city's underground arts scene.

"There's a lot going on that no one knows about," he said. "In Boston you have a wonderful cultural mix. Sometimes it's a little hectic, but it's all there."