Blacksmith House Series to resume Monday

Andrea Cohen takes poetic helm


By Susie Davidson

Advocate Correspondent


Founded in 1973 by poet Gail Mazur, the Blacksmith House Poetry Series is nationally recognized for its innovative program of modern poetry and fiction. Sponsored by the Cambridge Center for Adult Education, the Monday evening forum will resume operation following its annual summer break this Monday, Oct. 20, and continue to Dec. 15.


In May of 2002, Andrea Cohen, a poet, took over as director when Mazur stepped down from the post. Mazur, who is a poet-in-residence at Emerson College and a faculty member in its Department of Writing, Literature and Publishing, has won fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and Radcliffe College’s Bunting Institute. Her books include “They Can't Take That Away from Me,” “Nightfire,” “The Pose of Happiness,” and “The Common.” She and her husband, artist Michael Mazur, have homes in Cambridge and Cape Cod.


"Gail's creation and stewardship of the series have been such a gift to our community," said Cohen, who serves as Communications Director for the MIT Sea Project and its Sea Grant funds, which sponsor marine-related research, outreach and education. "It's a privilege to carry the torch forward," she added. Cohen, who holds a bachelor’s degree from Tufts and a master’s of fine arts from the University of Iowa, has written poetry since she was young. She began helping out at Blacksmith House while in college. "I stood at the door with a basket, taking donations," she said. About a dozen years later, she became fiction coordinator, a position she held for five years before taking the helm.


Cohen grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, where she was bat mitzvahed at Ahavath Achim. Even then, she was inordinately taken with what lay behind the rote nature of the language curriculum. “We were taught to read Hebrew but not taught the meanings of the words,” she said in retrospect. “I like to think the style of teaching has changed since then,” she added.


Blacksmith House, which was acquired by the Cambridge Center in 1972, is also the site of the Dexter Pratt House, where the village smithy and spreading chestnut tree were observed by Longfellow in his 1839 poem "The Village Blacksmith." The Center is preserving both houses, which are in the National Register of Historic Places, as living museums.


Cohen noted that the series has not changed much from her early days. "But now, there are a whole lot more readings in the area,” she said, adding that the $3 donation is now obligatory, so that the readers can be paid.


Fiction and nonfiction are featured on the first Monday of each month; on Nov. 3, Rosamond Purcell, who wrote books with Stephen Jay Gould, will read from her first work of nonfiction, “Owl’s Head.” "It will be particularly interesting for people who are familiar with her visual work to hear her writing,” said Cohen.


"We're fortunate that the series is so well-respected, and that so many

talented writers, both established and emerging, are eager to read

with us,” she continued. “To me, everyone in the fall line-up is exciting. I am

thrilled that Mark Doty is returning in December, that David Daniel

will be reading from his first book, and that Glyn Maxwell and Katia

Kapovich will share the stage in October."


Upcoming readers will also include Peter Shippy, Rosamond Purcell, Shona Ramaya, Susan Wood, Ira Sadoff, John Skoyles, John Fulton, Sue Standing, Alicia Ostriker, and Paul Lisicky. It’s an ambitious agenda, reflective of the depth of devotion of the series’ mission, one Cohen seems poised to further.


“My work with the series is a labor of love,” she said. “I choose poets

and fiction writers I think people need to hear. Helping to bring those voices together with an audience is a privilege.”


The Blacksmith House Poetry Series, at 56 Brattle in Harvard Square, will run on Mondays, Oct. 20-Dec. 15 at 8 p.m. Cost is $3; tickets go on sale 45 minutes prior to each reading. For information, please call 617-547-6789, ext. 1, or visit