The Arlington Commission for Arts & Culture (ACAC) is co-sponsoring an Artist Talk on February 27 with visiting artist Charles Coe scheduled for February 27. This event is organized to support a new archive project — a collaboration between Robbins Library and the Town’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Division — “Elevating Arlington’s Voices of Color” that was announced recently dedicated to collecting, sharing, and preserving the experiences of people of color. The February 27 talk will be followed by a Q&A session with the audience, and a separate writing workshop will follow on March 6, open to people of color ages 16 and above. Details about registration for the event are below.
ACAC’s Art Curator Cecily Miller interviewed Mr. Coe to give readers a taste of what to expect for the upcoming event.
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Interview with Charles Coe
Charles Coe has been a poet since he was a teenager growing up in Indiana, although his youthful “excessively earnest poems will fortunately never see the light of day,” he explains with a deep laugh. In his twenties, Coe shifted his love of words into songwriting, and for years was a busy working musician – a vocalist in blues, jazz and rock bands. His current musical interests illuminate his adventurous, omnivorous nature; his repertoire has expanded to include Tuvan throat singing and playing the indigenous Australian didgeridoo – not, of course, at the same time.
Music interwove with other work to pay the bills. He managed restaurant and catering kitchens, cooking in a wide variety of styles from Middle Eastern and West African to Italian and classic deli. Guests at his table and his occasional literary gatherings can attest that he is still a master at the stove. But living in Boston he gravitated towards a position as Program Officer at the Massachusetts Cultural Council that fulfilled his many interests, traveling the state for 18 years to counsel the board, staff and volunteers of countless cultural organizations in a range of issues. Currently retired from that position, he has time to engage in an array of special projects close to his heart, including serving as an Artist-in-Residence for the City of Boston and teaching poetry and non-fiction in a low-residency MFA program at Salve Regina University in Newport, RI.
So, how did poetry re-enter this rich and storied life?
In the 1990s Coe tells me, he had the kind of “defining moment” he often challenges his writing students to describe, a seemingly ordinary moment when everything shifts. Waiting for a friend before a movie, casually browsing an anthology, Coe opened a page to a poem by Robert Frost, and was struck. “I read that poem and felt a shock of recognition and realized that this was what I wanted to do.” Pressed for more detail he explained “To tell stories that matter to me, about my own life or the lives of others, in plain language with as much craft, honesty and authenticity as I could, so that readers would recognize things in the work that were real. And in that moment of recognition feel seen, understood, less alone.” His poems are widely praised for the powerful insights revealed in everyday experience; sometimes the stories and observations offered in carefully chosen words are poignant, sometimes humorous, but always wise.
In the years that have passed, Coe has garnered awards and accolades, published three collections of his poetry, and taught his craft to people of all ages – “from 2nd grade to ‘where’s my cane?’” as he says with a laugh. Participants in Coe’s many workshops and classes have, of course, sharpened their writing skills. But they have also discovered the pleasures of language and probed the mysteries of self-expression; they have joked and laughed; and they have shared truths about their lives with each other in powerful moments of fellowship.
On the #1 Bus
The very large man
who squeezed me against
the window of the #1 bus
at 7:15 on a Monday morning turned to ask
if I wanted to see his pet rattlesnake.
“It’s very friendly,” he claimed.
“It only bit the mailman twice.”
“Thanks anyway,” I said,
“but I only look at snakes on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”
This seemed to satisfy him. A bit later
he asked, “You know what would really
liven up this bus? If ten thousand
killer bees suddenly poured through the door
and swarmed up the center aisle.”
“Hmmmm,” I replied. He did have a point.
At the end of the day on the return ride
a young woman hopped up to leave the bus
and her wallet, with keys dangling,
fell to the seat.
I grabbed it and tapped her on the shoulder.
“Excuse me Miss, did your drop this?’
She looked wary for a moment
then her face opened like a flower.
I tucked her smile in my pocket
to warm the walk home.
– Charles Coe
(from Picnic On the Moon, Leapfrog Press 1999)
REGISTRATION AND OTHER DETAILS
- Register for Charles Coe’s February 27 reading here.
- Register for Charles Coe’s March 6 writing workshop (via zoom) here. This event is open to people of color, ages 16 and older. No writing experience necessary.
- You can read more about Charles Coe’s work at his website here.
- Read more about “Elevating Arlington Voices of Color” a new collection created to give voice to the experiences of people of color in Arlington, in the Robbins Library Blog here.