One single poem

Poet laureate Sam Cornish isn’t one to commit, but if he cherishes one poem in particular, it would be “The Waste Land” by T. S. Elliot

Oldies but Goodies

When Poet Laureate Sam Cornish isn’t writing, he’s reading. Among his favorite poets: Charles Simic, TS Eliot, Gwendolyn Brooks, Mona van Duyn. “Langston Hughes because of the language and subject matter of their poems. In the case of TS Eliot, the spiritual and intellectual content.”

Shopping words

For the moodiest, broodiest book stores, poet laureate Sam Cornish recommends The Grolier, Symposium Books, New England Mobile Book Fair, New England Comics, Comicopia.

The Grolier
6 Plympton St
(617) 547-4648
Symposium books
526 Commonwealth Ave
(617) 585-6559
New England Mobile Book Faire
82 Needham St # 84
Newton Highlands
(617) 527-5817
New England Comics for locations
464 Commonwealth Ave # 13
(617) 266-4266

Where to write, HOW to write

Two places and only two places, says poet laureate Sam Cornish, “ Café Nation and the subway.” As far as how to let the words flow, “Get a job, have a responsible relationship and do not associate with writers. Have real friends across color and class lines and READ -- prose as well as poetry, diversity (gay, straight, African American/ethnic, etc). Remember Philip Levine and writers who are deeply rooted in the working class. Keep in mind that there's a larger world and bigger concerns out there than the world of writing.”

Poetry Happenings

A couple of gifted local poets inspire poet laureate Sam Cornish to put the pen down: Doug Holder and Harris Gardner. Both appear regularly at poetry slams and readings.

Doug Holder
Harris Gardner

Sam I am
Keywords: Literature

He's easily one of the most unassuming guys you'll ever see. Shuffling down a long aisle in an echoing warehouse, stacks of books in hand, alphabetizing authors through his thick bifocals, Sam Cornish would appear to be an unlikely poet, much less a national-award-winning one, educated at Johns Hopkins. And even less a poet laureate, the city’s first, anointed to promote poetry across Boston.

Until you get him talking. Then, the world of Sam reveals itself. Racism. Womanhood. Music. City life. It’s anyone’s guess what he’ll pop off, really—yet whatever Sam happens to think about and  however he words those ideas, they will be thoughtful and fresh, as much as a delight as finding a twenty-dollar bill on the sidewalk.

Quietly, cautiously, we came to the city.

That line opened Sam’s piece about marching for civil rights on the National Mall in Washington. And it had, in fact, been a quiet, cautious arrival for the young man from Baltimore, who’d been raised by his mother and grandmother after losing his father as a toddler. They lived on welfare, chicken and God, Sam says. He also lived on dreams, mostly found in books, which he devoured. Just as soon as he was eligible, Sam was drafted by the army; he was 90 pounds, black, and sent to very white military enclaves in Texas and Alabama, where he says he faced segregation head on. Once he was served tea in a dirty cup, another time involved direct racial slurs. Sam fought back with words, tougher than his tongue, images stronger than his slight physique.

In Baltimore Ruth Brown sang bad
Songs about her brown
Body but I saw white boys hit
The nigger
Streets looking for colored

Sam exited the military with a few things he knew for sure: education equaled opportunity, and everyone’s voice counts. He threw himself in political activitism, wrote about racism and what it means to be an outsider. He got involved in educational curriculums and wrote one life-changing poem about his experience protesting in Washington, which he randomly submitted it to a writing professor at Johns Hopkins University. He was offered a scholarship.  Since then, Sam has been known as a gifted and, one could argue, unsung figure in the Black Arts movement. Modern, precise, at times harsh, Sam Cornish does not shrink away from big subjects: Martin Luther King’s assassination, slavery, family bonds. For the city of Boston, his job is to make poetry accessible…to encourage us to think, to read, to write, to dream. His is a life that may have begun in poverty but, with a powerful mind, reached other heights.

Then my shoes were holes
Held together by threats
And good luck
But I read Camus and listened



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