By Victor Chen, bostonese.com
Boston, Sept. 6, 2019, — A good documentary film can bring a topic into focus by the public, and might also save a historical bookstore. On Tuesday this week, the Cambridge Public Library of Massachusetts invited Chinese international filmmaker and director Weiying Olivia Huang to hold a documentary film screening and discussion of “Grolier Poetry Book Shop: The Last Sacred Place of Poetry”. The symposium also invited a well-known poet of Massachusetts, Doug Holder, who is the founder of Ibbetson Street Press, to participate in a discussion with Director Huang after the screening.
Doug Holder(left) and director Huang(right) at the event.
The Grolier Poetry Book Shop is the oldest surviving poetry bookstore in the United States, selling only poetry and poetry-related reviews. Since its inception in 1927, many famous poets have often visited and gathered in this bookstore, such as E. E. Cummings, T. S. Eliot, Allen Ginsberg, Marianne Moore, Seamus Heaney, and Robert Lowell. As the oldest continuous poetry book shop in the U.S., the Grolier was listed in 2002 as a “Poetry Landmark” by the Academy of American Poets.
Ifeanyi Menkiti(middle in the photo above), the owner of Grolier Poetry Book Shop, passed away unexpectedly on June 2019 at the age of 79 without leaving a will. Mr. Menkiti was a Nigerian poet, and emeritus philosophy professor at Wellesley College.
A full audience attended the screening in the Lecture Hall at the Cambridge Public Library. During the discussion after screening, some viewers expressed their willingness to donate to the bookstore after watching the documentary and offered ideas to support the bookstore to ensure it continues.
According to director Huang, the documentary was completed in 2017. The documentary unpacks the Grolier’s rich history and their transformation. Through the film, we hear poets and poetry lovers read and talk about poetry, and share their experiences at the Grolier. Viewers experience writer’s passion for their creative process, inspiration, and the feeling of being at the bookstore. Viewers felt the enthusiasm the shop owners have for their shop, while also sensing the looming financial pressure the Grolier faces. The Grolier Poetry Book Shop is at its heart about a poetry community and a sacred place for poetry lovers.
In the documentary, the enthusiasm of the owner, Ifeanyi Menkiti, comes across, but it also is obvious that the bookstore faces imminent financial pressure. With the sudden death of the owner, the maintenance and management of the bookstore are challenges. Director Huang said that she hopes that by showing this documentary, more people will understand the culture and value of the poetry bookstore and that she hopes to keep the bookstore continuing.
Director Huang talks about the history of Grolier Poetry Book Shop.
“In this era of technology, we can use technology to build new buildings, new stores in a couple of years. However,a bookstore with over 90 years of history, it needs 90 years to build it. This is a history and culture that modern science and technology cannot replicate.” said director Huang.
The owner, Ifeanyi Menkiti, said in the documentary: “This store as a cultural place belongs to all of us.”After the documentary was screened, the audience made comments and made suggestions with enthusiasm and interest in ensuring the store continues operating. Some viewers said on the spot that they would donate to the bookstore so that the bookstore can continue to go on.