Sunday, April 7, 2013

Charles Coe Reads New Poetry, All Sins Forgiven

Three-year-old $91 million Cambridge Public Library

Charles Coe presented a reading of his poetry to celebrate his newest book of poems, All Sins Forgiven. It was held in the main lecture room of the Cambridge Public Library, on Sunday April 7, 2013. Jazz music played on the lecture room sound system. In the hall outside of the lecture room, I encountered a brief maze. On the right was a table with books for sale. Some people were standing at the table. On my left was a line of three people against the wall. At first they all looked like men. As I approached them I felt as if I was going through a reception line. I asked the first man why no one else was going through their reception line, "Why am I the only one?"  He walked away. I guessed he had no sense of humor. Next was a woman who was dressed with a man's tie and very short red dyed hair. She had loud colors on and I guessed she had a sense of humor. She was more into bashing men. I had just come from an extended laughing period of two hours watching YouTube videos of Henny Youngman, Don Rickles and Milton Berle. I needed to practice some of the new jokes I lifted from the pros. I began with Youngman's joke about a woman who went to a doctor. I told that joke to the custodian as I entered the library. He liked it, but did not laugh out loud. He seldom does to my jokes.

But I got a different reaction from this woman who I thought was a man. The joke goes, A woman went to a doctor. The doctor told her to take off her clothes. When she did the doctor said, "That's the ugliest body I've ever seen." The woman said, "My doctor said the same thing." The doctor asked, "So why did you come to see me?" She said, "I wanted to get a second opinion." Before I could finish the joke this woman, moved away saying "How could you tell me a joke like that?" I knew she was faking her outrage. I shook the hand of the third man in the line, and went into the lecture room. I realized she was a lesbian and later realized she was a feminist.

Sue Katz

The woman from the hall who did not like my latest Henny Youngman joke, stepped onto the stage and went to the microphone. She introduced herself as Sue Katz. (Her blog is at She explained that she is a friend of Charles Coe and that he considered her a tester of his work and would call her at any hour seeking her reaction to his writing. She emphasized she was not his taster. She asked the custodian to dim the lights. He did. Then she asked him to bring them back up. He did. She revealed that she writes short stories about elders having sex. That explains why she was upset with that joke. Ahem!

Sue Katz

She told the audience that it was William Wordsworth's birthday, and more importantly for her, it was also Marvin Gaye's birthday.  I was having trouble keeping all of that in the one mind I have. She said she usually reads Jane Austen and Dickens, but not poetry. She said, that is probably why Coe calls her. She announced that outside of the lecture room there was a rest room at the end of the hall, and another room where there will be refreshments after the reading. She said she noted these items in the order of importance to her. Restrooms first. Does she have prostate problems? She also mentioned the table with books for sale. She said that writers need to support other writers by buying their books.

Sue Katz

She quoted Robert Graves who allegedly said, "There is no money in poetry. But there is no poetry in money." That was just after she urged the audience to purchase Coe's books. No money, poetry, No poetry, money. Buy books of poetry. I am getting more confused the longer she talks.

Katz began introducing Richard Hoffman, who she said is a creative man. He is a writer who was the Chairman of Pen New England for five years. Katz said he writes memoirs, fiction, essays, poetry. She compared him to Anton Chekhov, and added he is a college teacher. I mean this was just the preliminaries. What if Susan Flannery the Library Director had introduced Katz? Gasp! I think I would have left. I was thinking about it while she spoke.

Sue Katz

She said it took him 15 years to write his first memoir,  Love and Fury, published by Beacon Press. His second memoir took only 4 years, Half The House. The reason she gave was that his father and his grandson died in the same year.  She declared that both Coe and Hoffman are "down with real life justice." Does that mean they work with or for the Innocence project? Katz said Hoffman is the "most kick ass of contemporary writers." I thought feminists were opposed to violence by men.

Richard Hoffman
His blog is at

Hoffman gratefully spoke briefly. He said, Charles Coe is a "poet of unassailable integrity." He did not say if Coe is a feminist. He explained that he was not going to describe Charles Coe, the man. Because Charles Coe is THE MAN. He read from the prologue called DNA. He quoted James Baldwin who allegedly said, "The purpose of poetry is to excoriate the experiences of the people who produced them." Then it was main event time. Charles Coe took the mic with his booming voice.

Coe's New Book Of Poetry

Coe said some people ask him what the difference is between prose poetry and essay. He added that can be a long discussion, "but we're not going to have it now." There were some giggles from the audience when he told the story about his working class Negro (Coe's word) mother "beating down" a white Nun who took a pen out of Coe's left hand and put it into his right hand. She explained that it would hinder his verbal abilities. His mother put it back into his left hand. Coe said, "I'm still left handed."

He said he does not write in traditional poetic forms. He writes free verse and prose poetry. Much of this discussion and reading was focused on the history of racial segregation in the US. Does he know that Harvard University segregates its housing portfolio keeping out non Harvard affiliates today? Do you think he cares? He revealed that his sister died four years ago from cancer. Then he did a public service spot announcement for the Cambridge Library. He urged the audience to support your library. "Cherish your libraries," he said.

He told a story about a Negro (Coe's word) student who wrote a very good essay for a school class. The teacher wanted to know where he got the information. The teacher was unable to comprehend that a Negro student could do research and write from books in a library.

Charles Coe

He said he does not write "happy endings." Those are where the hero gets the girl and the villain falls to his doom. He read from the title poem, All Sins Forgiven. He was awakened from his dream of life.  The post script is about Christmas Night in 1957. 

A friend of Coe's named Bob sat down directly in front of me, and asked Coe to sing one of his songs. The song was "A Change is Gonna Come." Bob, who said he knows Coe since 1970,  revealed that his family is in law enforcement; city, state and federal. I wondered if any of Bob's relatives participated in the police frame up in Cambridge or any of the 30 years of harassment from black police employees. The song sounded like a gospel song. Coe told of his anger toward his parents. But he said he forgave them, noting it is possible to be angry and to forgive. He recognized that parents do not look at themselves in the mirror and ask themselves, "How can I f**k up my children today?" They try their best to do what is best for their children, which is what Coe said his parents did. 

Charles Coe

About 50 people attended the reading. All except four were caucasian. It looked like a room full of limousine liberals and wannabes. He reported that his mother ruled his home. He never had friends over to his house. He never had a pet or a key to the house. His mother was always home when he got there. He was raised a Catholic, but he said he is not religious and considers himself spiritual. He said there is only retail religion, no wholesale. Mr. Coe signed books at the table on stage when he was done speaking. 

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