The Word on the Street

Homecoming for Mazur

Poets Gail Mazur and Lloyd Schwartz at a benefit in Cambridge in 1982. Poets Gail Mazur and Lloyd Schwartz at a benefit in Cambridge in 1982.
By Jan Gardner
Globe Correspondent / May 1, 2011

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In talking about her beginnings as a poet, Gail Mazur recalled walking into the Grolier Poetry Book Shop in Harvard Square. “And something just clicked about my life and who I was,” she told an interviewer. While her children were at day camp, she spent afternoons at the Grolier, bringing new poetry books home every day. After proprietor Gordon Cairnie died in 1973, the shop closed, its fate uncertain.

“I wanted to make sure there was some place for poetry,” Mazur told fellow poet Lloyd Schwartz in an interview that appeared in Provincetown Arts Magazine in 2008. “I was thinking I wanted to have a poetry room.” She approached the director of the Cambridge Center for Adult Education and founded the Blacksmith House Poetry Series at the center that same year, 1973. The series, like the Grolier, which reopened under a new owner, is still going strong.

Many poets, local and national, gave their earliest readings at the Blacksmith House, to audiences that have included Elizabeth Bishop, Octavio Paz, Robert Lowell, and Seamus Heaney. One of the things that Mazur, who directed the series for 29 years, most enjoyed was presenting an evening of works by a single poet. She’s also pleased at how the series helped the community of poets cohere.

Mazur returns to the Blacksmith House tomorrow night to read from her new book of poetry, “Figures in a Landscape” (University of Chicago). She wrote many of the poems during the decline of her late husband Michael Mazur, whose paintings grace the covers of her six books. During that time of great anxiety and worry, she said, writing almost felt like an out-of-body experience. Writing poetry helped her look from a great height, from a promontory, at what was happening and it also offered something of a safe haven. The reading begins at 8. Tickets are $3. Details at

Many poets, one poem
In leaving office, Peter Payack, Cambridge’s first poet populist, is leaving behind a newly published book of poetry quite unlike any other. “On the River: The Cambridge Community Poem” is a freewheeling collection of more than 250 poems — many two lines long — written by, among others, schoolchildren, professors, athletes, and nationally known poets. To be updated seasonally with new poems, the print-on-demand book is available at Harvard Book Store.

The last Spenser
“Sixkill” (Putnam), the final and 39th Spenser novel by the late Robert B. Parker, hits bookstores on Tuesday. Parker, a longtime Cambridge resident who is among the nation’s most revered crime fiction authors, began writing his Spenser novels in 1971 when he was teaching at Northeastern University.

Coming out
“If You Ask Me (And Of Course You Won’t)’’ by Betty White (Putnam)

■ “A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mother” by Janny Scott (Riverhead)

“My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business” by Dick Van Dyke (Crown)

Pick of the week
Julia MacDonald of the Yankee Bookshop in Woodstock, Vt., recommends “The Coffins of Little Hope” by Timothy Schaffert (Unbridled): “At the heart of this story is narrator Essie Myles, an 83-year-old great-grandmother who has been writing obituaries for her father’s small-town newspaper since she was a teenager. Far from morbid, Essie is a born storyteller, and she takes the reader on a wonderful journey into the nuances of a small town and its reaction when a little girl goes missing.”

Jan Gardner can be reached at