Their numbers are rivaled only by Manhattan. They have been coming here for decades, "not by design but naturally." Looking onto a Union Square street from a coffee shop window, walking on a Davis Square sidewalk, or riding on the 89 bus - they try to capture the city's sights and energy with the written word. (
They are the poets. And soon one could be selected from the ranks to be the city's first poet laureate.
The idea of an official city poet appointed by the local government was proposed last week by Ward 7 Alderman Robert C. Trane. The initial spark came from Somerville News Arts Editor Doug Holder. He said he was recently attending a party for Boston's first laureate Sam Cornish and thought to himself, "Damn! Why doesn't Somerville have something like this?"
Boston has Cornish, Cambridge has a poet populist and Holder wanted Somerville to get its literary due. He raised the issue with Trane at a Somerville News Contributor's meeting, wrote a column stating his case and an official city poet is now a possibility in this city of 80,000 people and four square miles.
"I didn't start this so I would become the poet laureate," he said. "Honestly."
Boston's laureate has a budget of $3,000. In Cambridge it is $1,500. Trane said he has asked a local business to contribute to a budget for a Somerville laureate.
"These are tight fiscal times but I think this is worthy," he said.
Holder said a good poet laureate would "know how to press the flesh."
"We don't need someone who sits in an ivory tower. They need to be able to go into the schools, the nursing homes, the streets and bring poetry to the people," he said.
Among city poets there is excitement about the idea and a feeling that a laureate should have deep roots in the city.
"It would be awful to have someone who's only lived here two months [be poet laureate]," said Gloria Mindock a poet and publisher of Cervena Barva Press who draws inspiration for her work from bus rides through the city.
They say instituting a city poet is long overdue and point to a Granta Magazine survey that said Somerville trails only Manhattan for writers per capita.
"Somerville has a writing scene as active as Cambridge or Boston. They used to look down on Somerville from the other side of Mass Ave. but literary resources have been coming here one by one for years now, not by design but naturally," said Ifeanyi Menkiti owner of the Grolier Poetry Bookshop.
He said walking through Davis Square and witnessing the city's diverse population take on everyday tasks inspires his verses.
Union Square writer Lee Kidd said "poetry is an outlaw thing" and an official city writer should be an "instigator." Kidd said his literary center is Union Square and the poetry written in the neighborhood's coffee shops help shape his city. "Poets are very important to a society. A city without poets has nothing to say."
Trane said Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone has expressed support for the idea. The specific selection process has not yet been decided but he said he wants to organize a committee of local writers to begin nominating candidates soon.
In an interview, Trane was not quick to rattle off names of illustrious poets but said he still had an appreciation for the craft.
"Am I a poetry guy? Not really. But we all understand the written word is a powerful thing."