Tuesday, August 8, 2017
I grew up in San Francisco, knew the old California of cities with limits, bare brown hills dotted with live oaks, glorious orchards, and deep dark redwood forests. San Francisco’s fog, shifting beauty filling voids, never either hot or cold, chilly often, no more. The smell of ocean sweeps through the gate, tumbles over the hills. North end bars filled, fifty years ago with poets, before money came.
My old California no longer, I depart, return
to my New England home, to the marshes,
granite ledges of the older sea. (Kent Bowker, “The Hand Off”)
John Donne wrote that every death diminishes us. I thought of Donne’s words after a mutual friend emailed me on June 24 to report that Kent had died at 7 a.m. that morning at Kaplan House, following complications from a pacemaker procedure.
I had known Kent for nearly thirty years. We’d sailed together, dined with our families, and worked together on the board of the Charles Olson Society. In recent years we met regularly for lunch and conversations that ranged from the day’s pressing political issues to Kent’s years in Berkeley during the 1950s, where he studied physics and became friendly with some of the Bay Area’s finest writers, including poets Robert Duncan, Robin Blazer and Jack Spicer, during the era known as the San Francisco Renaissance.
Kent really was the “Renaissance Man” that his Gloucester Times obituary and the family’s Facebook tribute describe him as being. He’d studied theoretical physics at the University of California in Berkeley and worked at the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory, where the Manhattan Project had originated. Concurrently, he painted and wrote poetry at a time when writers like Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Michael McClure, Gary Snyder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Kenneth Rexroth, John Wieners, and Charles Olson were either living in San Francisco or passing though.
After Kent moved to the Boston area to work at the Lincoln Laboratories and Itek, he continued to write, adding sailing to his repertoire. He designed the house in Essex he and his art historian wife Joan lived in. Filled with books and paintings and situated on a hill surrounded by fields, forests and wetlands, it was an ideal place for meditation and creativity. After he retired he devoted his entire time to painting and writing—when he and Joan were not sailing or traveling. Kent was also a superb cook.
When I first walked into Kent and Joan’s house for a Christmas party, I was attracted to Kent’s impressive library. Personal libraries tell us much about the person who has created them. As soon as I discovered the collected poems of Charles Olson on the bookshelves, along with those of the San Francisco poets Kent was close to, I knew that I had met someone I could talk with about the things that meant the most to both of us, not only poetry but the larger cultural and social issues the poets we both admired addressed.
Kent was always modest about his learning. Berkley at the time Kent was a student there, along with Gloucester novelist and playwright Jonathan Bayliss, and woodworker/sculptor Jay McLauchlan, was arguably the most exciting place to be in America, especially if you were a writer. New York, yes—and always. But there was an atmosphere in San Francisco the likes of which we had never seen and, sadly, would never see again. The Pacific light, the blue ocean itself, the astounding Bay and its iconic bridge were part of that atmosphere, along with North Beach bookstores like City Lights, cafes and housing that was affordable to writers and artists.
But Kent did not engage in nostalgia. He did not romanticize Berkeley. He lived in the present, depicting the marshes and woods around his house, the beaches of Ipswich and Plum Island he sailed past; himself and family members.
When we started Enduring Gloucester five years ago I asked Kent for a poem. It would be the first of many he contributed—wryly humorous or passionate. Poems about the passing of time, the changes in nature; about Gloucester lobstermen and the sea itself.
Kent was a Progressive long before those who use the term today. A conversation with Kent was like his poetry—articulate, knowledgeable, and deeply humane. We will miss Kent while cherishing the gift of his poetry.
Peter Anastas, editorial director of Enduring Gloucester, is a Gloucester native and writer. His most recent book, A Walker in the City: Elegy for Gloucester, is a selection from columns that were published in the Gloucester Daily Times.
Saturday, May 20, 2017
In 1908, my father arrived in America wearing his mother’s shoes. He had come to join his father, who was working at the Massachusetts Cotton Mill in Lowell.
He was wearing his mother’s shoes because he didn’t own any. When the officials at the port of Piraeus saw that my father was barefoot, they refused to let him on the ship to America. It was then that his mother took off her own shoes and handed them to her son. He never saw his mother again.
When my father arrived in Lowell, he discovered that his father had died from consumption, his lungs packed with textile fibers. Dad was 9 years old.
A year later, my father was hawking newspapers on the corner of State and Court streets in Boston. When he had earned enough money, he bought a shoeshine stand. At night he taught himself English using Webster’s New International Dictionary and the Boston Evening Transcript. I still have that dictionary.
At the age of eighteen Dad enlisted in the army and was sent to Europe as a medic, where he remained for the duration of the First World War. After the war, Dad began to pursue his dream of owning his own business. He entered the wholesale candy business, eventually coming to Gloucester where he and a partner bought Johnny’s Morgan’s Candy Company on the Boulevard. When the city took the properties to create an esplanade for Gloucester 300th anniversary in 1923, Dad relocated the business to the corner of Western and Centennial avenues, calling it the Boulevard Sweet Shop. In 1949 he sold that business and we moved to Rocky Neck, where Dad opened a luncheonette and S.S. Pierce gourmet grocery store called Peter’s. The store, which for many years became the social center for Rocky Neck life, exists today as Sailor Stan’s.
Years after he had come to Gloucester, Dad continued to speak English with a strong accent. I remember once when Eddie Bloomberg, whose father owned Bloomberg’s clothing store and the Strand Theater on Main Street, joked that Dad, like his own father, “murdered the English language.”
“I’d like to know what you would do,” Dad shot back. “Alone in a strange country and no one to turn to.”
My father never went beyond fourth grade in school, but he valued learning. He sent my brother and me to college, not because he wanted us to do better than he did, but because he wanted us to become “educated,” as he often said. When I was studying Greek in college, Dad and I used to translate The Iliad together. He hadn’t forgotten the Ancient Greek he learned in grade school and he could still recite from Homer’s great epics.
After Dad sold the store on Rocky Neck in 1964 and retired, he spent most of his free time collecting and reading books about Greece, where he and my mother traveled in 1966.
I have a photograph of my mother’s family. It was taken in front of the Fitz Henry Lane house, where they lived. It is dated April 6, 1914. The photograph shows the entire household, my maternal grandparents, all my aunts and uncles, except my uncle George Polisson, who wasn’t born yet. There are other people in the picture, relatives from Boston and a couple of the men who boarded with the family.
Everyone in the picture is Greek. Two men are seated playing “bouzoukia,” Greek mandolins; another holds a pitcher of wine and a tray with glasses. Still, another holds a whole leg of lamb on a skewer. It is Greek Easter. It says so in the lower corner of the picture. In the upper left corner it reads, “Christos Anesti,” which means “Christ is Risen.”
The people in the photograph are “different,” the men swarthy, the women exotic with long dark hair done up in buns. They are holding objects from their own culture, the wine and the lamb, the “bouzoukia.” The writing on the photograph is in Greek.
I didn’t think I was different until once, in Miss Parks’ second-grade class at the Hovey School, we were asked where our parents were born. When I told the teacher that my mother had been born in Gloucester but that my father came from Sparta, Greece, one of the kids (I’ve never forgotten her name) piped up: “Sounds like a can of grease.” After that my brother and I were called “Greasy Greeks” or “Greaseballs.” When I went home crying one day, my father said, “Tell them that you’re proud to be Greek. Tell them that the democratic system of government they live under was invented in Greece.” This happened during the Second World War and I cannot help but think that the war had colored people’s attitudes toward immigrant families like my own.
In the Gloucester of my childhood one heard many different languages and smelled many different kinds of cooking on the way home from school: Italian, Portuguese, Greek, Yiddish, French Canadian, Finnish, Polish and Russian, among others. Our grandmothers learned enough of each other’s language to converse over the backyard fences. Growing up down the Cut or at the Fort, we and our friends had a working knowledge of Italian, exchanging some pungent swearwords in Greek and Italian. The first African-Americans I saw were jazz musicians, who came to perform at the Hawthorne Inn Casino, in East Gloucester, beginning in the early 1950s, when my brother and I sneaked up the back stairs to listen to this wild new music, which we soon began to play ourselves. It wasn’t long before we heard Spanish on the street and even Vietnamese and Cambodian. Though it has always been a cosmopolitan city due to its many ethnicities and art culture, Gloucester has continued to change. Yet the incredible diversity that defines us has remained the same.
We are all superficially different, and we all came from someplace else. What brings us together are the stories we tell. The people in those stories may have different names or speak in languages we do not know, but the tales of arrival and loss, of recognition and assimilation, pain and joy, are uncannily alike. And so are we fundamentally.
Peter Anastas, editorial director of Enduring Gloucester, is a Gloucester native and writer. His most recent book, A Walker in the City: Elegy for Gloucester, is a selection from columns that were published in the Gloucester Daily Times.
Saturday, April 8, 2017
Peter Anastas, Charles Olson and Vincent Ferrini, 1964 (Mark Power photograph)
From the correspondence of Peter Anastas and Joseph Garland
Paper Trail: A Personal Journey through the Archives of the Cape Ann Museum
According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, an archive, which has its root in the Greek word archeia or “public records,’ is “a collection of historical documents or records, providing information about a place, institution, or group of people.” In keeping with its mission “to collect and preserve significant information and artifacts, and “ to foster an appreciation of the quality and diversity of life on Cape Ann past and present,” the Cape Ann Museum has long maintained its own special set of archives, which I hope to acquaint you with today. I will also be sharing some stories about my experience of cataloging my papers, while becoming familiar with the papers of Gloucester writers, Barbara Erkkila, Vincent Ferrini and Joseph Garland, which were donated to the Museum by the writers and entered the archive before mine. When we refer to someone's papers, a collection might include correspondence, family records, diaries, scrapbooks, school reports and certificates, photographs, newspaper clippings and keepsakes like Bibles, or other books and documents that have been passed down through the generations.
Let me begin with some background.
For years I have been fascinated by archives and what they contained. As an undergraduate at Bowdoin in the 1950s, I worked nights on the circulation desk at the Hawthorne-Longfellow Library, its atrium walls hung with massive portraits of the two great writers, who had graduated from the College in the same class. One of my privileges was gaining access to the library’s Rare Book Room, which also housed the Special Collections that contained, among letters home and records of expenses incurred by the two writers (including Hawthorne’s laundry bills, which his family was obliged to pay, and Longfellow’s grades—which were better than Hawthorne’s), the papers of Maine historical novelist Kenneth Roberts, whose books are now sadly neglected [image 1.Bowdon rare book room],
Before this, I had never looked at or even considered what writers left behind, so I began poring over the drafts of Roberts’ novels (Arundel, Oliver Wiswell, Lydia Bailey) until I discovered another treasure trove containing the correspondence between the controversial American writer Henry Miller and Bowdoin alumnus and rare book collector, Robert L. Swazey, the heir to an Ohio manufacturing fortune, who had been Miller’s patron and whose letters, along with signed copies of each of Miller’s books, he donated to the Bowdoin archives.
Reading these letters about Miller’s difficulty finding a publisher for his books, many of which were considered scandalous and therefore unpublishable in the US, and his consequent lack of money, it occurred to me for the first time that I had my hands on literary history. I was, in effect seeing it unfold in front of me as I touched the very records that documented it.
I experienced the same revelation when I traveled in 1978 to the University of Connecticut library at Storrs, to write an article for North Shore Magazine about the collection of Gloucester poet Charles Olson’s papers, which had just been opened to the public after extensive cataloging by its curator, the late Olson scholar George Butterick (image 2.George Butterick]. One could literally walk into the massive archive (image 3.Olson archive]) and find oneself among such artifacts as Olson’s old Royal manual typewriter (image 4.Olson’s typewriter and research materials], at which he composed his Gloucester epic, the Maximus Poems, and the more than 3,500 books in his personal library that had been transported from his home at 28 Fort Square to the university for safekeeping and study, along with the poet’s manuscripts and correspondence in over 100 cartons. (A duplicate collection of the books in Olson’s library now exists at the Ralph Maud/Charles Olson Library at 108 E. Main Street; created by the Gloucester Writers Center, it is open to the public [image 5.6.Olson’s books at Maud Olson library].
Subsequent to that revelation, Museum curator Martha Oakes and I traveled to the Beinecke library at Yale in 1985, when we were preparing the catalog for the Museum’s first exhibition of the Dogtown paintings of Marsden Hartley. To have the experience of asking to examine copies of letters that Hartley had written describing his first experience of Gloucester in the 1930s, and a hand-written first draft of his autobiography Somehow a Past, was a moving experience. Here is a copy of a postcard I discovered that Hartley sent to the photographer and gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz, from Florence, in 1924, 35 years before I was living there myself [image 7. Hartley in Florence].
Among the papers archived at the Cape Ann Museum are those of sculptor Al Duca, writer, art historian and former curator and president of CAM, Professor Alfred Mansfield Brooks, Samuel Sawyer, benefactor of the Sayer Free Library, Captain Ben Pine, Gloucester Times photographer Charles A, Lowe, Col. Leslie Buswell of Stillington Hall, Mayor Robert French, Gloucester Times editor Paul Kenyon, musician Sylvester Ahola and writers Samuel Chamberlain and Virginia Lee Burton, to name only a few of those who papers comprise the Museum’s collections.
The papers are cared for by staff and volunteers, with new accessions catalogued under the supervision of archivist and librarian Stephanie Buck and assistant archivist/librarian Linda Anderson. Volunteers Bing McGilvray and Ann Siegel, process the artist files; Bing also cataloged Joe Garland’s papers. Mary McCarl is working on the Sawyer journals. Sam Ciolino transcribes log books and accounts and Judy Bannnon types them. Jane Mead is compiling a time-line of local businesses, while Anthea Brigham is working on Victorian Trade cards and Holly Clay, on materials related to the history of Annisquam. Amanda Santoriello is also helping to process the collection. Howard Thomas and Judith Nast are working respectively on Vincent Ferrini’s papers and books. Fred Buck is the archivist of the Museum’s large collection of photographs. It has been a tremendous experience for me to work with and learn from this amazing team. I might also add that we have a great deal of fun working together, breaking the isolation of a life largely given over to writing after my retirement from more than 30 years of social work and college teaching .
Here is an inside look at the archive storage facility. Materials pictured include the papers of Barbara Erkkila and Joe Garland, Vincent Ferrini’s papers and his entire personal library, the papers of former curator Carrie Benham, documents from Mighty-Mac and other local businesses and banks, art books and children’s books [images 184.108.40.206.12 of archive storage facility at CAM]
Let me now turn to the writers whose papers have most recently been accessioned, writers with whom I have had the pleasure of a personal relationship: Barbara Erkkila, Vincent Ferrini and Joe Garland.
I first met Barbara in 1956, when we worked together at the Gloucester Times [image 13. Barbara at a local granite quarry]. Home after my first year in college, I was hired as editor of the Cape Ann Summer Sun, along with being the relief reporter when the regular staff members went on vacation. Barbara was one of two feature writers, the other being Doris Berthold, otherwise known as “The Lady with the Feather” because of her habit of sticking bird feathers in her hair each day. Doris was a transplant to Rockport from New York’s Greenwich Village, where she and her former husband owned and operated a book shop. She covered Rockport, writing up art shows and interviewing artists. She did not own a car and went everywhere by bus, which you could do in those days up until the last Cape Ann Auto Bus round-the-Cape run at midnight.
Though she had been born in Boston, in 1918, Barbara grew up in Gloucester mentored by a grandfather, who had worked in the granite quarries back of the Cape and knew the industry and its culture intimately. As a reporter and feature writer, Barbara was unequaled. She would be given an assignment by editor Paul Kenyon—Old Ellery House opening, Annisquam Village Fair waxworks show, trumpeter extraordinaire Sylvester Ahola—and before day’s end she would return with copy so expertly written, either at home or on one of the newspaper’s old Remington manual typewriters, that it would only require a headline from Paul or myself, if her piece were slated for the Sun. She would also research and write amazing stories about Lanesville history, the granite quarries, and the people whose lives had once depended upon them, stories that became part of her definitive history of the industry, Hammers on Stone, published in 1980. Barbara also took her own pictures, de rigueur at the time for reporters, and she began collecting the artifacts from the industry—a blacksmith’s chest, a pair of safety glasses, hammers and chisels.
After a freelance career, writing also for the Boston Globe and Yankee Magazine, Barbara joined the Times staff in the early 1960s, when she became the editor of the paper’s community news pages, once regressively referred to as the “women’s pages.”
I will never forget Barbara’s professionalism. She could interview someone and return with the sharpest quotes, the most perfect apercu. Her leads gripped a reader immediately, and the ensuing story always held your attention. Jimmy Clark, the Times’ city editor once said to me, “Be sure to read what Barbara writes. It’s better than a college education in reporting.”
Of Barbara’s contribution to the Museum, curator Martha Oaks has written:
"In the nearly 20 years since Barbara selected the Cape Ann Museum to be the repository for her collection, other donors have followed her example donating additional items to our holdings. Today, the Museum is proud to have one of the strongest collections of this type in New England," she said.
“The museum as a whole benefited from Erkkila's involvement,” Oaks said: "For many years, Barbara served as an advisor to the Cape Ann Museum's Collections Committee. With her vast knowledge of all aspects of local history, she was a valuable and much appreciated asset to that group.”
In 2014, Barbara’s papers, including correspondence, drafts of newspaper and magazine articles, tear sheets and clippings, and a collection of photographs, came to reside at the Cape Ann Museum. They are not only a tribute to her lifetime commitment to writing, they are also an invaluable series of documents of local history, especially of the granite industry.
On September 27, 2000 Gloucester Poet Laureate Vincent Ferrini [image 14.Vincent Ferrini] wrote me one of his frequent letters:
You find me in a state of separation with my creations—A man from the Historical (which one called the Museum for years) came and left with over 40 bound manuscripts, 20 cartons of correspondence, and 16 of extent books. Harold Bell called a week or ten days ago and asked for my manuscripts.
My house is cleared except for the filing cabinet which I am giving to Dan Ruberti, who has been helping clean the shop [this refers to Ferrini’s picture framing shop, which he opened in 1948 and operated until the fall of 2000, after which he retired to devote the rest of a long life to poetry]
The labor pains are almost gone [Ferrini wrote]; once the shop is demolished I will be free, these are the realities of the concrete.”
I first met Ferrini in 1952, after my first year in high school, during which I began to write for the school newspaper, the Gloucester High School Flash. On one of my regular walks around Rocky Neck, I had discovered a little magazine for sale on the book and magazine table at the Doris Hall Gallery, located not far from the marine railways. Advertising itself as “germinating from one of the most famous islands on the globe,” it was called Four Winds: A Quarterly of Arts and Letters and was edited by Vincent Ferrini, David H. Meddaugh, Ilmi Meddaugh, Mary Shore and Margaret D. Ferrini [image.15. Four Winds]. The only name on the list I knew was David Meddaugh’s, who taught English at Gloucester High School. Among the published poets were Ferrini himself and David Meddaugh, along with Charles Olson, Robert Creeley and Denise Levertov, who would become three of the most distinguished American poets of our time. The list of contributors included Gottfried Benn, one of Germany’s most important living poets, Cid Corman, who edited Origin, a seminal journal of new poetry, and Herbert A. Kenny, a Boston newspaper editor, who lived in Manchester and had already published a volume of verse.
I bought the magazine immediately for 75 cents and took it home to pore over the rest of the day and far into the night. There were short stories by Jerre Mangione and Dan Curly, which I read feverishly, and—a highlight for me— visual art by Albert Alcalay, Stephen Antonakos, Louis Evan and Tom O’Hara. Alcalay, though he had previously visited and painted on Cape Ann, had not yet begun spending his summers in Gloucester, as Antonakos and Evan had. But I was familiar with Tom OHara, who taught at the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston and had been coming to Rocky Neck with his family for some years.
Four Winds gave me precisely what I had been looking for—new experimental poetry and fiction and stunning visual art, all in 52 pages between tastefully designed covers. The magazine was printed in Gloucester. Listed among its patrons and supporters were Dr. Bernard Cohen, a local dentist and art collector, Harold Bell, who would become president of the Cape Ann Museum, therapist and Lanesville summer resident Dr. Ruth Borofsky, Rockport artist and poet Kitty Parsons Recchia, and Mrs. Alphonse Lagace, a prominent Gloucester businesswoman.
As soon as the summer ended and school began, I resolved to meet Vincent Ferrini himself. One afternoon on my way home from classes I stopped at what I knew to be his picture framing shop at 126 E. Main Street and proceeded haltingly to introduce myself. Ferrini instantly knew who I was because he and his wife Peg, a Radcliff graduate and high school English teacher, came often to my father’s luncheonette at the corner of Wonson Street and Rocky Neck Avenue. Once I had disclosed the reason for my visit, Vincent dispensed with formalities, asking me directly what I was reading. When I told him I had discovered the poetry of William Butler Yeats and Amy Lowell at the Sawyer Free Library, his face lit up:
“That’s a good start,” he said. “But who are you reading who’s living, who’s alive?”
When I hesitated, he reached behind the table saw in his workshop to a shelf full of books.
“Let’s begin,” he said, taking down some volumes of Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams.
This is how our many years of talk about poetry and art began. Through Vincent I met the painter Mary Shore, whose two sons I had gone to the Hovey School with. During the coming year I met English instructor David Meddaugh, another member of the editorial board of Four Winds, spending time in his room after school to talk about new poetry and novels. The following summer, as a result of my experience of working at the Gloucester Daily Times on the Gloucester High School newspaper, which appeared every Saturday in its pages, I was asked by editor Paul Kenyon to become the Rocky Neck correspondent for the paper’s seasonal cultural and entertainment supplement, the Cape Ann Summer Sun, thus beginning my writing career.
My friendship with Vincent continued until his death in December of 2007 at the age of 94. Ferrini was not only a friend but an early and important mentor like Charles Olson, whom I met during the summer of 1959 at the Rocky Neck home and studio of Albert and Vera Alcalay. Many were the talks between Ferrini, Olson and me at Ferrini’s frame shop [image 16.Anastas.Olson. Ferrini], continuing at night at Olson’s 28 Fort Square apartment, often with playwright and novelist Jonathan Bayliss, who was then working as a market analyst at Gorton’s and later to become controller of Gorton’s, and even later treasurer of the city of Gloucester. When I returned to Gloucester from Europe in 1962, Olson had predicted that I would find graduate school at his kitchen table, and he was right. The list of poets, writers, artists and filmmakers who sat at that table—Jack Kerouac, Ed Dorn, Robert Duncan, Leroi Jones/Amiri Baraka, Hettie Jones, Diane di Prima, Michael McClure, Ed Sanders, Gerrit Lansing, Harry Martin, Celia Eldridge, and Stan Brakhage, to name but a few—constitutes a Who’s Who of American avant-garde culture during the 1962.
Some have characterized this period, from the late 1950s until Olson’s death in 1970, as the “golden age” of Gloucester writing. Olson was bringing his masterwork, the Gloucester-based epic Maximus Poems to a climax; Lansing had published The Heavenly Tree Grows Downward, his first collection of poetry; Ferrini had moved from the proletarian verse of his early phase into a poetry that combined the personal and the social; Bayliss was at work on his massive four-volume Gloucester novel; and Garland had written and was just publishing two of his most important books of local history, Lone Voyager, the story of Atlantic sailor and tavern keeper Howard Blackburn, and That Great Pattillo, which he wryly subtitled, “The Merry Misdemeanor of a Legendary Gloucester Fisherman.” Garland and Olson, both historians, had a special if sometimes contentious friendship. And among all of us, writers and artists alike, there was a collegiality that I, as the youngest, found exhilarating. Our regular gatherings in places like the legendary Gallery Seven in Magnolia, where Jonathan and I gave our first readings together at an event presided over by Olson, inspired me to move from journalism to the short story and novel and then to my first book, Glooskap’s Children: Encounters with the Penobscot Indians of Maine, dedicated to Olson [image 17. Glooskap’s Children] whose work and thinking inspired it, and with an epigraph from the poet Allen Ginsberg, who had been one of the pallbearers at Olson’s funeral along with Ferrini, myself, and Ed Dorn.
For years, when Ferrini operated his picture framing shop I would stop by several times a week for the bracing conversation one always enjoyed with one of the most alive people I have ever known. Vincent and I also exchanged letters, hundreds of them, which are part of my archive here. As I re-read then, they seem like a running commentary on local life and national events.
I first met Joe Garland [image 18.Garland at wheel of Adventure] at the counter of my father’s Rocky Neck luncheonette and SS Pierce gourmet grocery store. It was during the early summer of 1962 and I was just back from three years of studying Medieval Literature at the University of Florence in Italy. I had returned with the drafts of several short stories, a number of which were subsequently published in the usual short-lived magazines of the time, and the manuscript of my first novel, from which I read at the Gallery Seven reading I have described.
My father had told Joe that I was writing and Joe, on first meeting, offered to do anything he could to help me. It was an offer I never forgot. Joe also encouraged me to continue my pursuit of journalism, sending me notes and postcards every time he read a piece of mine he liked in the Gloucester Times or North Shore Magazine. Joe’s columns for the Times during the 1960s and early 70s inspired my own columns from the late 70s into the 90s.
Joe and I were political allies during the Vietnam years, as members of the Steering Committee of the Cape Ann concerned citizens, a local peace group, as well as working locally on the presidential campaign of Senator Eugene McCarthy. I was always impressed by Joe’s political savvy and organizational sense, gained as a union organizer during his career in journalism. It was Joe who encouraged Peter Parsons and me to apply for a grant from the city’s 350th anniversary committee to prepare an oral history of Gloucester, writing a letter of recommendation for our project and cheerleading us on as we shared with him some of the interviews we were conducting with retired fishing captains, members of the Portuguese and Sicilian fishing community, lumpers, women who worked on the cutting and packing lines, and residents of the city’s once traditional neighborhoods, most then lost to urban renewal [image 19. cover of When Gloucester Was Gloucester]
Joe was engaged in writing his Gloucester Guide, which would also be published for the Anniversary, along with Gordon Thomas’ history of the Gloucester fishing schooners, Fast and Able.
I will always be grateful for Joe’s encouragement. He read and commented on every one of my published books in manuscript and he wrote a comment for the back jacket of my memoir At the Cut, which put the book in a perspective I myself had not even imagined [image 20.cover of At the Cut].
My archive contains our correspondence [image 21.letters to PA from Garland]. I cannot begin to say how much I miss Joe, as does the city itself. He was our conscience, along with Olson and Ferrini, and a writer of rare power and integrity.
It was Joe who encouraged me to donate my papers to the Museum. He told me that since he and Ferrini had offered theirs, it was my duty as a Gloucester native and writer to follow in their footsteps.
I didn’t need much encouragement. Having worked among Ferrini’s papers in 2013, when Greg Gibson and I were preparing Incredible Dancer, an anniversary volume of the late poet’s letters and poems to Cape Ann friends, I rediscovered my old pleasure of being among the documents of a living past—holding, touching, and reading, letters, manuscripts and newspaper clippings and poring over family photographs. Ever since high school I had formed the habit of saving everything I had set down on paper, from my class essays and newspaper columns to letters I had received. Every time I moved house, I realized that my own personal archive was growing. In college I had started keeping a journal, having been inspired by the journals of the great French writer Andre Gide. When I set sail for Italy, in October of 1959, I took with me a black imitation leather three ring binder that accommodated lined pages 5 ½ by 8 ½ inches [image 22. Anastas journal]. It was in this formal journal that I began in earnest to write, often daily. I wrote about what I saw and heard, how I felt about what I was experiencing. I wrote about the books I was reading and those I hoped to write, the people I met and the places I visited. I returned from Europe with several hundred pages of journals, placing them immediately in a safe deposit box in one of the local banks. Over the years I have added to that box and a subsequent locker.
I have only published a few excerpts from the journal [image 23. Anastas journal from America One]. But friends have told me that they believe that this record of my own life, lived for 72 years in one place (plus four years in college and three in Italy), including comments on daily life, family history, a running commentary on local politics, national and international affairs, a professional life in teaching, social work and journalism, could prove of interest for those in the future, who might want to know what it felt like, from the perspective of one person, to have lived in a single city through one of the most tumultuous periods in American life—Korea, McCarthyism, Vietnam, Watergate, Iran-Contra, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Middle East in turmoil; not to speak of the social and cultural upheavals of the 60s and 70s. I don’t claim to be an historian like Garland, but I did try to preserve in writing what I saw and felt, and what I thought about it. I also collected hundreds of newspaper and magazine clippings, which are also part of my archive.
The journals were safe in the bank, but the rest of my papers—correspondence with Ferrini, Olson, Garland, and numerous other friends, writers and artists, along with copies of all the newspaper and magazine articles I had published, including published and unpublished essays, stories and books—resided in large plastic bins in our basement. As I progressed into my 70s I realized that this material, whatever its worth, needed a home outside of my own, a place where it could be filed, cataloged and possibly be made available to researchers, especially those who have been working on Olson’s and Ferrini’s years in Gloucester and the history of this remarkable place. I also felt that my work belonged with that of Ferrini and Garland, that our writing complimented each other’s, just as we had, for years, mutually inspired each other. With this in mind, I approached Museum staff about the possible donation of my papers. Not only was my offer graciously accepted, but librarian and archivist Stephanie Buck asked me if I would like to catalogue them myself. I agreed, if Stephanie and the staff would teach me how to do it. They have, and I am just now in the final stages of the job.
What has this work been like, you may wonder? Friends, especially, have asked me what have I learned? What does it feel like going over one’s entire history, literally submerged in the written records of it—high school, college and graduate school essays and papers, long forgotten (often better forgotten) newspaper and magazine articles, published and unpublished books, and letters, hundreds of them, to and from Ferrini, Garland, Olson, Jonathan Bayliss and dozens of other writers with whom I have corresponded over the years; not to speak of those journals. My life stretched out on paper in front of me as I tried to make some sense of it. I was also amazed to discover what a pack-rat I had become from eighth grade on!
While expressing my gratitude to the Museum and Board for accepting my written legacy, let me affirm that it has been a humbling experience coming to grips with a life in writing, a life on paper, especially in an age in which paper and print are giving way to digital technologies and the culture of paper may be imperiled.
Looking back through the pages I have written from high school to the present has been a sobering experience. I realize that I have not written all that I once dreamed of writing. Life intervened—marriage, divorce, parenting, teaching, social work, local activism, writing when I could manage it on nights and weekends. As vital as it may seem, youthful ambition comes at an age when we think we know what we want, but we do not yet know who we are. We can hope that writing—and the living which underpins it—will help to teach us that. Though I cut my teeth on experimental fiction, I did not become a transgressive writer. Charles Olson exhorted me to “stay local,” and local I have remained, writing largely about my home town in fiction and memoir. Living in one place for the better part of one’s life becomes the only life one knows. And yet, the life of a small town, especially a cosmopolitan community like Gloucester, can be a world unto itself, as well as being a reflection of the larger one.
In the end, I have written the books I was compelled to write, books about Native American conflicts in Maine, about the lives of the disadvantaged in Gloucester, and about the struggle over the soul of my hometown as it attempts to preserve its gritty blue-collar identity in the wake of the collapse of the North Atlantic’s fishing stocks. This is the work I have done, and I do not believe I could have done it without the inspiration I gained from working alongside of Barbara Erkkila at the Gloucester Times, or from the friendship and mentoring I received from Vincent Ferrini and Joe Garland. It is humbling to have my papers included with theirs in the Museum’s archive, and for this I am truly grateful.
(Text of talk by Peter Anastas at Cape Ann Museum, Saturday, April 8, about the experience of cataloging his own papers in the Museum Archives. Anastas also shared stories about local writers, including Barbara Erkkila, Joe Garland and Vincent Ferrini, who have each donated their papers to the Museum Archives.)