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    Poetry Month in Harvard Square


    The Harvard Square Business Association
    celebrates Poetry Month in Harvard Square.

    As part of the Centennial celebration (1910-2010) of the Harvard Square Business Association (HSBA), we are focusing on a different essential aspect of Harvard Square each month. Last month our historical research of the HSBA centered on the Women who have helped shape Harvard Square in the past, present and future and we hosted an event in conjunction with Women’s History Month.

    This month we celebrate the influence of Poets and Poetry upon Harvard Square in keeping with Poetry Month. We are fortunate to have the oldest poetry-only bookstore in America in our Neighborhood. The Grolier, founded in 1927, is a longtime member and partner of the HSBA.   

    The story of the current ownership of the Grolier Poetry Book Shop, the nation's oldest poetry-only bookstore, will strike many as a most unlikely story.  Born in Onitsha, Nigeria, Ifeanyi Menkiti first came to the United States to attend college.  A philosopher by training, he has taught at Wellesley College for 36 years. 

    This Saturday, April 17, from 2:00 p.m. until 2:30 p.m. as part of the HSBA sponsored, Bookish Ball, Ifeanyi Menkiti will join Cambridge Poet Populist, Jean Dany Joachim, in reading “Sonnets” at the Grolier.   

    Menkiti has always loved poetry.  While an undergraduate at Pomona College in California, he wrote a Bachelor's thesis on the poetry of Ezra Pound and that thesis received the college's F.S. Jennings Distinguished Senior Thesis Award.  Needless to say, the award encouraged my future journey in poetry.  Following Pomona, he came east to New York and then to Cambridge, Massachusetts to do graduate work in philosophy at Harvard studying with Professor John Rawls, his dissertation adviser and mentor.

    He has now owned the Grolier for four years. Menkiti says for him, the book store is a labor of love. People come from all over the world to this little haven in the midst of Harvard Square, seeking poetry and the companionship of poets.  Since its founding in 1927, the Grolier has had only three owners--Gordon Cairnie, Louisa Solano, and Menkiti.  His hope is that the store and its proud tradition will continue into the next century, and beyond.

    Of the poets who have visited or established a strong relationship with the book shop over the years, including e.e. Cummings, Marianne Moore, Conrad Aiken, T.S. Eliot, Robert Lowell, Allen Ginsberg, Mary Oliver, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Donald Hall, Robert Creeley.  I find it hard to imagine that the spirit of these writers will allow such a thing.  How can we live without poetry shared by word of mouth, in a physical setting, eye turned to page, voice received by ear, and a community of persons taking it all in, and at the end singing: this is as it should be.