Yesterday, en route to meet my friends at book club, I stopped for a short visit at the Grolier Poetry Bookshop in Harvard Square in Cambridge. About a year ago or so, I was browsing at the local bookstore in my town, which is more of a coffee bar with books, but I try to support it when I can — and I was looking through some used books for sale and I found a collection of poems by ee cummings. It was without a dust jacket and said it was a first edition but I think a first edition of a subsequent publisher and not a first run first edition. But I bought it, to give her a sale and as a gift for a poet/friend who loves ee cummings — he no longer lives here, he may visit family and friends but I’m no longer in the inner circle & I guess I never was actually but he was always supportive of my writing.
Thought by purchasing the book, it was a sign perhaps that the universe would bring him back into my life. That was not the case, and after attending a poetry event he is longer affiliated with and did not travel here for — or if he did — well, the universe did not have him reach out to me — I decided it’s enough time gone by.
When I purchased the book, I did read through it, the poems included were from a certain time period, my favorites of ee cummings not among them but I decided to bring/donate the book to the Grolier because they are such a landmark being the oldest, and at times only poetry bookstore in United States. I also had read the current owner had established a foundation for the store to keep it going as times are difficult for all bookstores. Also ee cummings is listed as one of the many poets listed as having connections and being a supporter of the Grolier. Since ee cummings is well known and popular I figured it would be a welcome donation and could perhaps make a good sale for the store.
Over the years, I’ve stopped into the Grolier from time to time. My last purchase was Geography III by Elizabeth Bishop (photo above). And I do have limited bookshelves/space so I have a very small poetry collection. Ironic at my book club, where we share, swap and trade books I’m the one taking home the poetry books. I gather them, read through them, clip the ones I like for posterity and usually release them in a little free library or a special poetry care package request via the troops (this is rare but I have sent out a couple over the years).
Walking into the Grolier, time almost stands still. It is probably the definition of most book lovers idea of a ideal shop, floor to ceiling with books although the front display is also literary magazines. There were two people at the desk/register, a woman a few years older than me, with gray hair and a heavy colorful sweater and a guy perhaps ten years younger than myself in a tee shirt printed with a slogan about indie bookstores in Philadelphia. They greeted me hello as I came in the door, then returned to their own conversation, but after I changed my glasses and approached them the woman asked if I needed assistance and I said: “Yes I was just stopping by but I wanted to ask if the shop is still a nonprofit?”
Well she wasn’t exactly sweet about it and said: “I don’t know the answer to that question. Do you mind telling me who you are and why you ask?”
This is perhaps why the poetry community is considered a little elitist and not welcoming but I plowed on and told her my name and that I wanted to donate the book and handed her the ee cummings. And from there we chatted for a bit, and I told her about finding the book at the local store in my town, she mentioned two (2) poets she says live in my town, including one (1) name with which I was familiar.
She did tell me the current owner had recently passed away but the family was committed to keeping the store open and again she was unsure about the nonprofit status. I did not challenge her about it, but this morning I checked Wikipedia and the article on the store notes the recently deceased owner did establish some sort of a nonprofit foundation for the store in 2013 — I remembered reading the same article cited, etc.
It is sad news he has passed away, I am hoping the family will continue the store or have someone else take over/manage the nonprofit since it is a piece of literary history.
If you are ever in Harvard Square, the Grolier is located on Plympton Street, a small side street off Massachusetts Avenue — look for the Harvard Bookstore (not affiliated with Harvard University–confusing I know) at the corner, that is the corner of Mass. Ave and Plimpton, it is only a door or two down. The Grolier is ADA accessible — you have to ring the bell though for the clerk to open the chairlift — there is a note down by the window.