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Poetry reading celebrates Dudley, past and present

Sandra Larson
Sandra Larson is a Boston-based freelance journalist covering urban/social issues and policy. VIEW BIO
Poetry reading celebrates Dudley, past and present
Poetry workshop leader Ted Thomas (center) joins Callie F. Cox (left) and Carrie Jefferson, who participated in the seniors’ group of the “Poetry, Please!” project, at a party celebrating the publication of the poems written in the project, held Saturday, June 13, 2009, at the Dudley Branch Library in Roxbury. (Photo: Sandra Larson)

Roxbury residents of all ages expressed their impressions and memories of the Dudley neighborhood in poetic form at the “Poetry, Please!” publishing party held last Saturday at the Dudley Branch Library.

Some of the poets evoked images of the past, including Dudley Station on the former elevated Orange Line.

 “Everybody remembers the elevated train, its screech and roll on the tracks,” read Carrie Jefferson, 77, “our highway to the outside world, destinations known and unknown.”

Audience members sighed with recognition at Jefferson’s recollections of places like the Rivoli and Dudley theaters, Woolworth’s, the Diamond Match Company, the Berwick cake bakery and the shoe factory where her mother worked.

Nadeene Platt read 14 observations about the old train to Dudley Station, including “doors that opened slowly, but closed rapidly,” and “Once tall enough to reach the holding strap, my body swayed as the train rocked back and forth and I felt free.”

Last Saturday’s event, hosted by Boston Poet Laureate Sam Cornish, was the culmination of the Hawthorne Youth and Community Center’s “Poetry, Please!” project, conducted at the Dudley Branch Library this past spring. The project was funded by a Fellowes grant, and also aided by the Friends of the Dudley Library.

Boston poet and teacher Ted Thomas led the project’s writing workshops for seniors, teens and families. Thomas encouraged each of the groups to focus on impressions of Dudley Square or memories of Dudley Station. He taught them to look closely, even at the ordinary things they see each day.

He said he was impressed by their accomplishments in just three weeks.

“They wrote ferociously,” he said. “Once I explained, they took it from there. They were willing to take risks.”

The poets’ work was then collected into an anthology with illustrations and photographs. At the publishing party, Cornish called readers to the podium to read their work, and occasionally gave comments or asked poets to read their work a second time.

“It takes a lot of chutzpah to read your work, even in front of a friendly audience,” Cornish said.

But one by one, or in parent-child pairs, they did read — some shyly, but with smiles of pride as they finished.

Callie Cox wrote about arriving in Roxbury from the South, where she had lived in a farmhouse. She saw “so many houses of so many different sizes and colors,” so close together, that it seemed as if they were stuck to one another with glue.

Sabriah Ahmad, one of two visual artists who assisted in the project, read a poem about Saturday night dances at St. James Church. Ahmad’s words recalled a time when occasional disputes were settled by fistfights — “nothing too serious.”

Poems by teens and children captured the sights and sounds of the neighborhood today, from 8-year-old Ashley Jean-Baptiste’s 15-word poem about storefronts to 19-year-old Sade Williams’s ruminations on Dudley’s “bad rep.”

Some true friendships were formed in the seniors’ workshop, said Jefferson. She hopes to start a senior citizens’ poetry writing group at the Hawthorne center.

Artist Wendy Ellertson worked with the “Poetry, Please!” project, taking photographs and helping participants think visually about their poems. She was struck by the bonding that occurred in the seniors’ group and by the interactions among parents and children in the family group.

“Hawthorne Youth and Community Center has always been about families, and parent participation,” said Ellertson after last Saturday’s reading. “It was fun for the kids to see their parents writing poems — to see their parents continuing to learn.”