"Nowadays, the people you see at the Grolier are..."

Elsa Dorfman, in 1968, wrote a piece for the Boston Globe about the Grolier, an all-poetry bookshop in Harvard Square, Cambridge. The shop’s still there. Any poet who ever set foot inside comes out mythologizing the place. Poets young in the 1960s – early 70s especially mythologize Gordon Cairnie, its original proprietor, who opened the shop in the 1920s. He’s either a curmudgeon or a generous true friend of poetry. Dorfman chose to begin her article by portraying him as the latter:
I do remember going in once when I was a sophomore at Tufts. I opened the door and asked the old man sitting on the couch if he had Steppenwolf. No, he didn’t, he replied flatly. Did he know where I could find it? No. He had no idea at all.
I think it’s fair to say he was being an ass, but being rude is often romanticized by artists, and so it was by Dorfman and many Grolier regulars. She was smart enough to know this, and wrote, “Gordon’s irascibility isn’t an act, but it’s only part of the story. There’s also his legendary generosity and kindness.” (Probably just a thoughtless use of cliché, but note “legendary.”)

 “Nowadays,” Dorfman wrote, “the people you see at the Grolier are…” and Paul Hannigan is in the list that follows. She mentions that “[Bill] Ferguson printed ‘The Other End of the Couch,’ a collection of poems by Gordon’s friends.” The title is a reference to the red couch Gordon had in the store, a less enduring bit of the myth. (I’ve not seen the collection—I don’t know if it includes a poem by Hannigan. Let me know if you know.)

Louisa Solano took over the Grolier in 1974. She is the proprietor my generation talks about, often with little affection, though she kept the place going, and was kind to me when I came in ignorant, asking after poets who were names-only to me, but were people she knew. My sister used to go in there and buy me presents. Solano retired in 2004. I’m working with the current proprietors to set up some kind of reading with them to celebrate the Hannigan selected and its Cambridge roots. When I've news you'll know.

[Photograph by Damien Weber, sign for A Sing Economy reading with the Grolier, February 2008.]