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Farewell, Tom Mofford, Teacher & Poet


Rick Sherburne, Julie Mofford, and Tom Mofford (photo courtesy of Rick Sherburne on Facebook)

We lost a poet today, Tom Mofford, husband of our occasional contributor Julie Mofford, both of them long-time friends of mine. Tom passed away this morning, I learned from Julie’s message to our mutual friend Rick Sherburne. She and Tom had been living in Bath, Maine, in recent years. The three of us worked for a time at the Lowell Historic Preservation Commission, US Dept. of the Interior.

Tom was one of the unforgettable people in my life. I met him when I was a young writer in 1976 through a regional writers’ group called The Poets’ Lab, which was based at the Memorial Library in Andover, Mass. The writers from around the Merrimack Valley met twice a month on Wednesday evenings. Afterwards, a bunch of us would often go for a beer or glass of wine at a local pub off Main Street.

Tom was a literary enthusiast. He was unfailingly encouraging to me, which meant a lot when I was trying to find my balance if not a direction as a writer. He was a teacher through and through and a voracious reader. I recall him saying that he had assembled and broken up four of five substantial personal libraries as he and his family moved around the world, from the Caribbean to Japan to New England. At the time it was so important for me to hear an older guy say, “My heroes are poets.” He always had another poem or poet to tell me about when we were together. A couple of times we went on poetry excursions to Harvard Square in Cambridge where we would visit the poetry shrine at the Grolier Book Shop on Plympton Street. He may or may not have been with me at a reading by Robert Lowell in a packed Sanders Theatre in 1977, which may have been Lowell’s final reading. I’d like to think Tom was there. He valued the poetry of the Beat writers, whom Julie has written about with great zest. Today is also the date of Jack Kerouac’s passing, so Tom is now linked there. And he wrote letters, some of which I saved and have filed somewhere. For about 20 years, I’ve been thinking of writing an essay about the Poets’ Lab. Maybe Tom’s passing is the push I need.

The members of the Poets’ Lab evolved from a workshop structure to a reading troupe. We read our poems up and down the river valley, from Haverhill to Lowell, from North Andover to Dracut. At our debut reading in Andover there were 75 people in the audience. One Saturday afternoon four of us went to read at a scheduled event in the Salem, N.H., public library, but nobody showed up to listen. That was OK. We went out for lunch. In 1978, a couple of us from the group decided it was time to do some independent publishing, so we launched a poetry broadside or poster series. We called the broadside series LOOM, starting with LOOM 1. By that time we were calling ourselves the Merrimack Valley Poets. We chose some poems, typed them on a 8.5 x 14 inch sheet of paper (two sheets for two sides), and made 200 copies at a local quick-print shop. We distributed them at no cost through libraries, bookstores, and art galleries in the area. Poetry wants to be free, to borrow a statement. I think there were 15 broadsides done over three or four years. When I read the news about Tom’s passing tonight, I remembered that Tom had a poem in the series. This is from LOOM 2, April 1980. The title is from the title of a Carl Sandburg book-length poem in 1936.

The People, Yes

The day Carl Sandburg died

I found myself at a taverna in Athens

Reading the Herald Tribune.

“The People, Yes.”

—Tom Mofford

Lowell Sustainability Summit tomorrow

The Lowell Sustainability Council’s 2nd Sustainability Summit will be held tomorrow (Saturday, October 22, 2016) from 10:00 am to 1:30 pm at Enterprise Bank’s Community Room, 18 Palmer Street, 2nd floor (opposite The Coffee Mill). The free event is open to the public.

The Summit will bring together the Lowell Department of Planning and Development, The Sustainability Council and invited stakeholders. Its goal is to engage a more unified body of stakeholders here in Lowell where we have enormous opportunity to fight climate change and effect a more resilient city. Organizers hope that by connecting the dots of the collective intelligence and energy of people, and the organizations and businesses they represent, participants can help move the community forward more effectively.

The event starts with a Keynote Address from Paul Marion. The Lowell Sustainability Council will present an overview and neighborhood planner Yovani Baez-Rose will give an update on Lowell Today, a short presentation on the progress DPD is making against the backdrop of our city’s master plan, Sustainable Lowell 2025. A workshop program will follow with two rounds of breakout discussion and report backs.


Lowell Sustainability Summit

  1. Welcome – Jay Mason, Chair, Lowell Sustainability Council

Keynote Address – Paul Marion

  1. Overview
    1. Mission of the Lowell Sustainability Council- Steve Hattan
    2. Accomplishments- Christina Rohrbacher
    3. Goals for today and goals for the future- Zach Ware
  1. Lowell Today – Yovani Baez-Rose, Neighborhood Planner, Department of Planning and Development
    1. The status of sustainability in Lowell
    2. Lowell’s Sustainability Master Plan – Its contents, development, uses
  1. Sustainability Framework – Quinn Lawrence
    1. Discuss meanings of goal areas
    2. Define actions currently in place to accomplish these goals
    3. Confer ideas to track progress

Master Plan Goal Areas- Workshop

  • Sustainable Neighborhoods/Housing Choice – Thomas Emery and Julia Gavin
  • Mobility and Access – Ruairi O’Mahony and Anthony Nganga
  • Vibrant Urban Hub and Sustainable Local Economy – John Wooding and Kesiah Bascom
  • Resilience (Recycling, Operations/Infrastructure) – Andy Kollar and Gunther Wellenstein
  • Sustained Public Engagement – Rosemary Noon and Luke Bouchard
  1. Report Back with Highlights from Each Group
  1. Lunch Break
  1. Breakout Groups Reconvene – Brainstorm Next Steps
    1. Determine feasibility of top priorities
    2. Identify stakeholders and necessity/sources of funding
    3. Identify existing resources or champions to aid progress of goals
    4. Extrapolate LSC’s role in facilitating and networking during the process
  1. Report Back – Debrief the other groups with proactive measures

Next Steps – Jay Mason, Chair, Lowell Sustainability Council

Justice David Souter Warns About a Political ‘Strong Man’

MSNBC’s journalist Rachel Maddow presented this clip of former Supreme Court Justice David Souter warning about the real peril to our democracy, the arrival on scene of a “strong man” who will be given control of our government. He said this will only happen as a result of “civic ignorance.” Here is the clip.


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