Harris Gardner is a force-of-nature on the local poetry scene. He is the founder of the poetry organization “Tapestry of Voices,” that consists of multiple poetry reading venues including: Borders Books in downtown Boston, the “Chapel Series” in Jamaica Plain, “The Mad Poets Café” at the Warwick Art Museum ( Warwick, RI.), and the visiting poet series at Endicott College in Beverly, Mass.
Gardner, a real estate broker on Beacon Hill, has also been published in any number of literary journals and co-authored a collection of poetry with his partner Lainie Senechal “ Chalice of Eros,” (Stone Soup Poets) and a collection released by the Ibbetson Street Press: “ Lest They Become.” But Gardner’s prolific reach does not halt here. His prized brainchild is the ”Boston National Poetry Marathon Festival” held every April at the main branch of the Boston Public Library.
Gardner actually pays, and pays well, 56 established and emerging area poets to read from their work over a weekend span. A slot in the festival has become a well-regarded feather in many a poet’s resume. I spoke with Gardner on my Somerville Community Access TV show “Poet to Poet/Writer to Writer.”
DH: Can you describe the genesis of “Tapestry of Voices,” and its mission?
Harris Gardner: “Tapestry of Voices‘” mission is to give venues for voices of as many quality poets we can fit in. We have a program of “Tapestry of Voices” at downtown Borders Books in Boston the second Thursday of every month and we have the “Poetry in the Chapel Series” in collaboration wit the Forest Hills Educational Trust in Jamaica Plain.
I felt there was a need to start “Tapestry of Voices,” because there wasn’t enough going on, and too few directions. There were certain things I needed to branch out with. The poetry festival being one. The festival and the venues give a broad opportunity for the poets I have discovered over the years.
DH: The “Boston National Poetry Festival,” has over fifty-six established and emerging poets reading over Saturday and Sunday April 2 and 3 at the main branch of the Boston Public Library. This event is in its fifth year. Not only do you give the poets a chance to read, but you pay them. Can you talk about some of the Somerville poets who will be appearing?
Harris Gardner: We have Suzanne E. Berger who has written 3 or 4 collections of poetry and a highly acclaimed memoir called “Horizontal Woman,” our own Doug Holder, and CD Collins who is a poet and has a Rock band. Two poets who have appeared in “ The Somerville News Writers Festival,” will be reading, Regie Gibson and Ryk Mcintyre.
Regie writes beautifully, he is a performance poet, and he is a national SLAM champion. He is very good on the page and excellent on the stage. Ryk is a performance poet and was in the cast of “Poetry Off- Broadway.” He was in the earliest Slams in Cambridge in the early 1990’.
DH: What kind of poet are you?
Harris Gardner: I am a mainstream poet, with a little performance poet in my blood. I studied theatre at Emerson College in the day. I believe a poem should have meaning and accessibility as well as purpose. I am not a “Language” poet but I do pay attention to how I use the language.
DH: Your partner is Lainie Senechal an accomplished poet and painter. What are the dynamics of being an artistic couple.
Harris Gardner: There is a lot of back and forth.. We listen to each other as far as the poetry goes. She helps me push my poetry in the right direction. Her poetry is very visual, and is nature-based. There is always a constant undercurrent of the human condition present. I think I cover the whole spectrum of the human condition, as most poets do.
DH: Who are your poetic mentors?
Harris Gardner: It is hard to whittle it down to a few because there are many. As far as living mentors there are: Rhina Espilliat, Lainie Senechal and Joanna Nealon. For dead mentors there are: Rilke, Neruda and Rumi.
DH: You write a poem a week. What’s the philosophy behind this discipline?
Harris Gardner: Discipline. I have a very hectic life. I run a small business by day, and I
am involved in the poetry world by night. I need structure for my work. To do that I try to push myself to one “quality” poem per week. I write about 50 poems a year. A quality poem is one that after I put it through the ringer sufficiently, it stands up on its own two feet. I doesn’t need props to support it
DH: You are a real estate broker. You came back to the poetry world fairly recently What brought you back?
Harris Gardner: I started writing when I was 15. I never really gave it up. I just diversified and diluted my talents. I started out with poetry, and then wrote magazine articles I wrote for a magazine in Boston: “Nightfall” I came back to poetry through the “Stone Soup Poets,” in 1997. I felt I had a calling.
DH: You published a book with Somerville’s Ibbetson Street Press: “Lest They Become.” This collection of poetry deals with your Jewish background Does this often inform your work?
Harris Gardner: It’s reflected in “Lest They Become.” The morality of my roots has a lot of visibility in my poetry. Judaism as a socially conscious religion is a theme in my work.
DH: Do you think poetry can provoke social change?
Harris Gardner: Absolutely. The poets are today’s prophets. Poets should be examples of social consciousness, and awareness. Poets are social critics, and social criticism is one part of the art. Poets are prophets in the sense they are teachers. We are not preachers. We lead with our words, and point in the direction of our beliefs
DH: A lot of people have problems with political poetry. They feel it is more polemic than art. What’s your feeling?
Harris Gardner: Political poetry is only a problem when it becomes a rant. If it is done well, it still is poetry. You can have political poetry that uses metaphor without shaking a fist in someone’s face.
DH: You’ve read in Somerville, Mass many times. What’s your impression of the city?
Harris Gardner: It’s a happening place. Somerville is where Harvard Square used to be before it became a mall. The atmosphere in Somerville seems very conducive to the arts....talking as a Boston outsider.
DH: Where do you see “Tapestry of Voices,’ in five years?
Harris Gardner: I would like to add a day or two to the festival if I could get the funding. I’d like to expand it because we have such a backlist of talented poets who would like to be in the festival. I’d like to have a couple of more colleges for the “Visiting Poet Series.”
Personally, I would like to see another book or two of mine out there.
The Boston National Poetry Month Festival will be April 2 and 3 at the Copley Square branch of the Boston Public Library. Go to
www.tapestryofvoices.com for more information.