May 20th, 2013
Acclaimed author Paul Theroux visited Lowell a few months ago on assignment from Barron’s online journal. The Medford native rode the train to Lowell, retracing his mother’s route to college in the late 1920s. She earned a teaching degree from Lowell Normal School. Theroux spent a day in Lowell, hosted by Deb Belanger of the Greater Merrimack Valley Visitors and Convention Bureau. The author of many notable travel books and other volumes was much impressed by the transformed textile-factory city. Read his descriptions and observations in a lengthy article released on May 18.
It’s a city of reversals and, for that reason, a remarkable place of proud and engaged citizens–and quintessentially American. That certainly was the message of the most recent movie to be made in Lowell, Mark Wahlberg’s The Fighter (2010), about a Lowell boxer, “Irish” Micky Ward, battling his way back from the brink. Lowell has known the heights of fortune and the depths of economic depression. The mills were still spinning–three shifts in the Boott Mill, 24 hours a day, in 1928—when my mother was taking the one-mile walk from the station to Lowell Normal School, now the vastly expanded UMass-Lowell. Many mills were even spinning when Kerouac was a boy, as he recalls inThe Town and the City and Maggie Cassidy. But soon some transitioned to patent medicine, or munitions, or printing. Kerouac’s father, Alcide, ran a print shop here.
Paul Theroux (web photo by Jason Grow courtesy of online.barrons.com)
May 20th, 2013
“South Campus Sailing” by Richard Marion, Copyright (c) 2013
See more artwork at www.richardmarion.net
The conditions were much better this past weekend for the big rowing competition on the Merrimack. Congratulations for a successful event to the Greater Merrimack Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau (including Tom Golden and Deb Belanger), UMass Lowell, Merrimack River Rowing Association, Lowell High School, and all the organizers and participants.
May 14th, 2013
More than 30 earnest readers of Jack Kerouac books gathered tonight upstairs at The Old Court Irish pub at Middle and Central streets to listen to a reading of excerpts (start to end) of Kerouac’s novel “Visions of Gerard.” The story is a bleak and sweetly candid remembrance of his older brother Gerard, who died of a childhood disease at nine years old when the family was living on Beaulieu Street in Centralville (Kerouac was a few years younger).
The meeting was the final session of a book discussion series about Kerouac’s Lowell writings organized by Sara Marks of the UMass Lowell Libraries with English Dept. professor Todd Tietchen in the lead. Tonight’s event was a collaboration with the city’s anchor Kerouac organization, Lowell Celebrates Kerouac! Mainstays of LCK! made up much of the line-up, including Mike Wurm, Roger Brunelle, Nancy “Nomi” Herbstman, Bill Walsh, and Steve Edington. Funding for the series was provided by Mass. Humanities Foundation and UMass Lowell’s English Dept. and Center for Arts and Ideas. English Dept. Chair Tony Szczesiul and his sister who lives in Lowell (and whose name I failed to write down—she is a nurse and studying creative writing at the University) also read selections from the book. John Sampas of the Kerouac Estate was in attendance, too.
The Lowell community really shines now in its recognition of Jack Kerouac. Just about a week ago, at the East Pawtucketville Neighborhood Group’s Franco-American Festival, the UMass Lowell Downtown Bookstore set up a table display of Kerouac’s writings and Roger Brunelle, inventor of the guided tour to Kerouac’s Lowell places, was on hand to talk about the author’s connections to the neighborhood. A few booths away, near the Franco American Day Committee booth, longtime cultural activist and teacher Roger Lacerte had a table full of French-language books from La Librairie Populaire, his store in Manchester, N.H., including French translations of several Kerouac novels. One can only imagine if the author ever pictured that his books would show up at a local fair in his old stomping grounds 44 years after his passing. The festival occupied the small municipal parking lot at University and Gershom avenues, in the shadow of the apartment block that is the setting for Kerouac’s teenage romance novel “Maggie Cassidy” and smack in the middle of the web of streets that are illustrated as a simple geographical grid in “Doctor Sax,” the story in which the legendary 1936 flood devastates the Lowell of young Jack Duluoz. The brilliant mix of fact and fiction gives Kerouac’s Lowell novels a timeless appeal and infuses the city map with a creative glow—these are special places because of the way they live in literature. Tonight, the setting was Centralville and St. Louis de France parish in the 1920s, when the French-Canadian enclave in that sub-neighborhood was peaking. Kudos to everyone who organized these events and participated.
May 3rd, 2013
Thanks to Dave Perry for posting this scoop on Facebook this morning. The source is deadlinehollywood.com. In the works is another movie based on a novel by UMass Lowell writing professor Andre Dubus III:
“EXCLUSIVE: James Franco, whose film As I Lay Dying screens in competition at Cannes next month, has locked in his next directorial outing. He’ll helm and play a starring role in Garden of Last Days, an adaptation of the bestselling book byHouse Of Sand And Fog author Andre Dubus III. Shooting will begin July 8 in New York. Millennium Films is financing.
“The film is being produced by Gerard Butler, Alan Siegel, Danielle Robinson and Hanna Weg. Weg, who scripted the Michael Apted-directed Enigma, wrote the script. Longtime Franco collaborators Vince Jolivette and Miles Levy will also produce. Pic is a contemporary thriller set in the seamy underside of American life about three interwoven and ultimately explosive stories: A stripper out of options who brings her 3-year-old daughter to work; an angry, lonely man who gets thrown out of the club; and a foreigner with an endless supply of cash on the brink of committing a terrifying act. Dubus set the novel around 9/11, but gave his blessing to set the film in present day New York. This movie fills up the spring & summer calendar for Franco. After Cannes, he will star in Good People opposite Kate Hudson and Omar Sy. And then he will direct Garden of Last Days. Franco is repped by CAA and James/Levy Management.”
April 11th, 2013
For the best year of ice hockey at UMass Lowell, thank you River Hawks—for the championship season and uplifted spirits.
April 10th, 2013
For those who haven’t heard from other channels UMass Lowell’s Portuguese Center event with poet Frank X. Gaspar that was scheduled for Thursday evening, April 11, has been cancelled due to a change in the author’s schedule! Please stay tuned for details our event with anthropology scholar Cristiana Bastos on April 30 at the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center.
April 10th, 2013
I’m glad I went down to the river last night. The preacher was in town, and the congregation was called to assemble. He made his fourth tour through the city of smokestacks and steeples, the small city with the world on its streets. The people arrived with eager, happy looks on their faces, a blend of loyalists who grew up with the artist and younger adventurers. We had a beautiful scene outside the Tsongas Center as music lovers streamed toward the arena and the regular Tuesday night Riverwalk runners wove through clusters of people on the pathways. I met a woman, whose name I can’t recall, who had been with Dylan on the 1975-76 Rolling Thunder Revue tour from the Plymouth, Mass., concert through Lowell and Madison Square Garden and on to the Zimmerman homestead in Hibbing, Minn. Mysteriously, she said, “I was one of the unknowns.”
A couple of the fans had been to Kerouac’s grave earlier in the day, making the pilgrimage to the grave the same way Dylan himself paid respects to one of the writers who influenced him as a young man. We had a reporter from San Francisco who writes a daily column on Dylan for an online publication. I met a teacher who told me he is the person he is today because of Dylan’s music and ideas. I haven’t seen so many gray ponytails in one place in a long time, probably since the last Dylan concert. I was reminded of the Gray Panthers elder activists from the 1970s. Dave Lewis teaches business at UMass Lowell; he had his green 1965 VW bus parked outside the Tsongas with doors open as a living artifact of the root-times of Dylan. Dave, Mary Lou Hubbell, and I handed out 700 copies of a commemorative pamphlet about Dylan, UMass Lowell, and the city to appreciative concert-goers—an instantly collectible essay by writer Dave Perry with pictures of Dylan in Lowell. In the parking lot, I talked to a guy who had been to the two previous shows, and he extolled the performance: “You’re going to enjoy this tonight, but he will only play about three songs from the old days.” The event had something of a feel of a high-school reunion, a gathering of the faithful for another dose of the sound and the voice that have already gone down in history. In the same way we drop the names of Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Dickens as legendary visitors to Lowell, this man will be spoken of for a hundred years or more when the cultural chronicles of Lowell are mentioned.
Bob Dylan was in good spirits last night on the UMass Lowell stage. I’ve seen him perform about ten times, and he offered a fine show, better in my view than in his last appearance at the Tsongas. He leaned into the songs and honored the words, shaping the phrases to fit his older throat. He opened strongly with “Things Have Changed,” and on the sixth number thrilled the audience with the first notes of “Tangled Up in Blue.” The floor was semi-packed and the seating bowl filled about a third of the way around—not a capacity crowd or even close, but the people who attend now are connoisseurs or new converts; the recreational rubber-neckers have been drained out of the “endless tour.” I understand the reason for the smaller crowds; this edition of Dylan is an acquired taste, and, honestly, I take some of it like medicine now. But it’s a unified field of creative work. You are there because you need to be there now—nobody is “making the scene” to be seen or to chase a celebrity. The preacher comes to town. The congregation assembles. “So let us not talk falsely now/The hour is getting late.”
April 7th, 2013
Ryan Gallagher, Chuck Levenstein, and I had a good afternoon in Gloucester reading poems for about 20 people at the Gloucester Writers Center, which is a small house on East Main Street that was once the home of poet Vincent Ferrini, longtime poet laureate of Gloucester and a disciple of Charles Olson’s.
I’m always impressed by people who can say their poems by heart, and Ryan reeled off several when he got up to present. He even sang a song and turned an old Keats piece into a semi-rap. Later, he read three of his translations of poems by Catullus, brought over into English from the original Latin dating from about 500 B.C. An English teacher at Malden High, Ryan mentioned that his school is all in for the Poetry Out Loud project, a national poetry recitation project that now rivals the national spelling bee. All 2,000 students at Malden memorize poems for the program. Ryan is also co-founder of Bootstrap Press of Lowell, publisher of “Young Angel Midnight,” the award-winning anthology of writing, visual art, and music by younger artists of Lowell.
Chuck Levenstein is a poet and scholar, some of whose poetry falls into the “social practice” zone of creative work that we are beginning to hear more about. His segment of the reading began with a short video made by our host, filmmaker Henry Ferrini, combining one of Chuck’s compositions with black-and-white images made by documentary photographer Earl Dotter—pictures of people suffering from job-related illnesses, like black lung. Chuck is an economist and public health specialist who for many years taught and researched at UMass Lowell. He also read some humorous poems about retirement, one about having a big office and not wanting to be remembered only for that temporary possession. He also read a few pieces from a recent special issue of The Bridge Review: Merrimack Valley Culture, assembled in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Bread and Roses Strike in Lawrence, Mass. Chuck and UMass Lowell history professor Bob Forrant co-edited the issue, which can be seen online here.
For my part, I read selections from my compilation of Lowell writings, “What Is the City?”, and a few other pieces. I opened with a tribute to Charles Olson, reading part of Letter 3 of “Maximus, to Gloucester” from his masterwork called “The Maximus Poems.”