Paul Lewis, a professor of English at Boston College, visited the Central Library in Copley Square on May 9, discussing his book The Citizen Poets of Boston, which originally began as an exhibition at the Boston Public Library in 2012 titled The Forgotten Chapters of Boston’s Literary History. Lewis began by thanking staff of the Boston Public Library, who were instrumental in assisting him with his research; the book would have been very difficult to produce without databases and BPL resources that provided the images and text of the poems. The poems in his book are a compilation of “citizen” poems from 1789-1820. At the time, there were hundreds of magazines throughout the country, and quite a few in Boston; they would invite readers to submit their poems, hence “citizens,” which could refer to any resident of the City at that time. This time brought forth much interaction from writers to editors and editors to writers, and between readers and writers.
The poems revealed the culture of the time, and of what people were thinking about and feeling in post-revolutionary Boston. Poems included thoughts by a seamstress wanting to get married, a 21-year-old complaining about aging, a formerly enslaved man striving for freedom, a young woman protesting marriage, and a poet describing his love for books. The sections of the book are broken down into categories: “Coming to Boston,” Men and Women,” “Politics,” “the Family,” “Jobs, Shops, and the Professions,” “Pleasure and the Good Life,” “Rebusses, Riddles, Anagrams, Acrostics, and Enigmas,” and “Death.” Lewis was joined by students from Boston College to read some of these poems, as well as City of Boston Poet Laureate Danielle Legros Georges. Lewis indicated that this type of project could potentially be replicated in cities such as New York and Philadelphia.
The BPL’s Author Talk Series continues on Wednesday, May 11, at 6 p.m. in the Commonwealth Salon with Joseph Bagley as he discusses A History of Boston in 50 Artifacts.