Monday, October 21, 2013

Dead Poets Remembrance Day - October 6, 2013

Part I - Forest Hills Cemetery - Jamaica Plain, Mass.

While driving the 92 miles from home to Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain it was a sunshine-pretty and blue-sky-pretty kind of day. Within a moment of parking at Forest Hills it began to rain. Dead Poets Remembrance Day is one of my favorite events and occurs in my favorite season; sunshine is nice but poetry sounds good in the rain too. And everything gets filmed for a potential documentary. Film credit today: Lisa Shields.

Lisa Shields as filmist ...

Lisa Shields as poet ... author of The Ultimate Charm of Firefly Glow

First stop was at the grave of e e cummings. I had the pleasure of reciting one of my favorite poems; I'd kept tucked in my wallet for 40 years a copy of this poem, but lost it to a pickpocket in Paris a few years back.

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings;and of the gay
great happening ilimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any - lifted from the no
of all nothing - human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

Walter Skold at grave of Eugene O'Neill

I didn't know that the playwright Eugene O'Neill wrote poems. But what all don't I know? ... lots! It is said that you're smart when you know how much you don't know.

                      ALL NIGHT I LINGERED AT THE BEACH            
            by: Eugene O'Neill (1888-1953)
      LL night I lingered at the Beach
      And trod the board walk up and down--
      I vainly sought to cop a peach.
      I had prepared a charming speech,
      To woo the fair ones of the town--
      All night I lingered at the Beach.
      Quoth I "Sweet damsel I beseech
      That you will smile on me," poor clown!
      I vainly sought to cop a peach.
      With the persistence of a leech,
      I clung to every passing gown--
      All night I lingered at the Beach.
      I swore my love to all, but each
      Passed me the haughty freezing frown--
      I vainly sought to cop a peach.
      I prayed to all, both white and brown--
      They only "kicked my dog aroun."
      All night I lingered at the Beach--
      I vainly sought to cop a peach.

I've learned that James Freeman Clarke (1810-1888) was a Unitarian minister, a tireless abolitionist, and that he attempted to start a Utopian community at Brook Farm in Brookline; I've been told he was a poet but cannot find a single poem by him.

On a path near Anne Sexton's grave a young woman astride a bicycle stopped to stare at our little group. I motioned for her to join us. The concept of visiting the graves of poets seemed new to her, and indeed Anne Sexton is a poet she loves. She recited something -- I wish I could remember what -- from The Awful Rowing Toward God. Her name is Marie Carnegie and she is readying a set of her own poems for publication. A native of Belfast, she spoke so fast and in such a heavy accent that she might actually have said she was readying a pot of tea for public consumption; but my ears heard 'poems' and 'publication.'

Walter Skold adorned Anne Sexton's gravestone with two of her books and a black feather boa. I think Anne would have, on occasion, been a boa-wearing gal. My favorite Sexton anecdote is that when she, Sylvia Plath, and a few others, after attending a session of Robert Lowell's poetry seminar, went out for a drink in the bar of one of Boston's ritzy hotels. Anne regularly parked her beat-up car in the Loading Zone. "Why not?" she reasoned, "We're going to get loaded."

Lisa Shields turned the filming over to Walter and read:

Ringing the Bells

And this is the way they ring
the bells in Bedlam
and this is the bell-lady
who comes each Tuesday morning
to give us a music lesson
and because the attendants make you go
and because we mind by instinct,
like bees caught in the wrong hive,
we are the circle of crazy ladies
who sit in the lounge of the mental house
and smile at the smiling woman
who passes us each a bell,
who points at my hand
that holds my bell, E flat,
and this is the gray dress next to me
who grumbles as if it were special
to be old, to be old,
and this is the small hunched squirrel girl
on the other side of me
who picks at the hairs over her lip,
who picks at the hairs over her lip all day,
and this is how the bells really sound,
as untroubled and clean
as a workable kitchen,
and this is always my bell responding
to my hand that responds to the lady
who points at me, E flat;
and although we are not better for it,
they tell you to go. And you do.

And that, so far as any of us knew, was it for poets in Forest Hills ... just four. And sometimes I'll take a picture of a marker just because it's extra beautiful or unique, like the one above.

Or sometimes I'll photograph a grave stone just because I share the last name of the deceased, and I think I'll go home and research the guy's history, but usually I don't get it done, or, just as usually, find that, such as in this case, there are one hundred or five hundred John Edward Fitzgeralds to sort through, and I throw in the towel.

Oliver Kenison joined us again this year; we met him on 2012's Dead Poets Remembrance Day at the grave of his uncle, Buckminster Fuller in Cambridge's Mt. Auburn Cemetery. I like Oliver. He's got a brain brimful with knowledge, particularly of the history of Boston and its citizens, and I love listening and learning. Last year he recited as much as he could remember of a limerick his Uncle Bucky would say to him when Oliver was a youngster. Back home I easily googled up the entire lyric and sent it to Oliver. Somehow this led him to learn and memorize not just the names of the four provinces of Ireland (Leinster, Ulster, Munster, and Connacht) but also the names of the 32 counties and which province they are a piece of!

Gravestone of John Boyle O'Reilly
After lunch at a hole-in-the-wall in a non-descript strip-mall on Boyleston Street in Brookline, which just happened to have the best chicken pot pie I've ever eaten, Lisa, Walter, and I made our way to the nearby Holyhood Cemetery because Walter wanted us to see the mammoth gravestone of John Boyle O'Reilly, an Irish-American poet. I have since acquainted myself with the biography of O'Reilly; he was a Fenian (a precursor of the IRA), an Irish patriot, and I am in love with Ireland and with my Irish heritage, which means he's now one of my new heroes. Besides being a fierce Fenian he wrote lovely poems; here's a sample of his style:

''The red rose whispers of passion,
And the white rose breathes of love;
O, the red rose is a falcon,
And the white rose is a dove.''

John Boyle O'Reilly
(This comment is pretty much neither here nor there, perhaps just a sad commentary on what trivia I've filled my brain with over the years, but when we were approaching Holyhood Cemetery I recognized the stone wall as being the same one I noticed in the 1984 television coverage as the hearse carrying the body of David Kennedy, the son of Robert and Ethyl, who died at 28 of a drug overdose, approached this cemetery. And, indeed, David Kennedy, as well as his grandparents, Joseph and Rose Kennedy, are buried in Holyhood Cemetery.) 

Part II - Hope Cemetery - Worcester, Mass.

You probably wouldn't expect Worcester to be the hotbed of poetry it is; a good number of renowned poets have come from there, and an organization called The Worcester County Poetry Assn. is very active.

As in previous years, we lovers of poetry gathered at the grave of Elizabeth Bishop. But even on this hallowed ground I am distracted because I am glancing regularly toward the corner of the cemetery where the father of Stanley Kunitz is buried. (Shouldn't I just call Kunitz my favorite poet for life, and be done with it?) I marvel over and over again, for ever and ever, at the stunningly beautiful and poignant poems Stanley Kunitz crafted from tragedy.

Pay attention, I tell myself, there at Bishop's grave. In the above picture a local woman named Lynda Johnson is reciting some poems that came from the hand of her friend -- Louise Monfredo, who lies buried in the Catholic cemetery, behind us, across Webster Street. The poems Lynda Johnson reads are beautiful and witty, and also, sometimes, really funny. I want to read more of Louise Monfredo.

As usual, other poems by Worcester poets are recited. Above Carle Johnson reads someone ... I'm staring towards the far corner, distracted again, and don't remember whose work Carle is reading ... and then the woman in the red coat, named Fredda Levine, reads one of her own poems, and her recitation is followed by a chorus of "You need to send that out, you need to get that published!" And, finally, Carle and I recite -- each saying every other line -- Elizabeth Bishop's "The Bight". Normally everyone in the group would speak lines in turn but because of the rain we had to be umbrella-ed, and there's not room under an umbrella for more than a couple, and, anyhow, we had but one copy of the poem.

So ... another great Dead Poets Remembrance Day has come to an end. Several are heading to a restaurant for a meal, but I need to head for Holyoke. I do not know it as I head west on the turnpike, but I'm about to meet a man in Holyoke who's going to become a friend. This is remarkable only because the older you get the rarer it is that you make a new friend. That only makes it more wonderful.


  1. My goodness! Wonderful narrative!
    Hope we will see you in April for the "mini marathon!"

  2. thanks. great post. it is very helpful for affordable grave markers. I am glad to read it