From the Hotel Vernon
Page Count: 78
Publication Date: Thursday, March 28, 2019
Cover Artwork: Photography: Jennifer O'Leary
About this Book
The poems in this book grow out and around the Hotel Vernon, built at the turn of the 20th century in Worcester, Massachusetts. Once an elegant place for local politicians to make their backdoor deals at the edge of the city, it slowly fell into decline each decade following Prohibition. Despite this, it has always been a space where artists, newspapermen and neighbors gathered at the bar or, after the late 1940s, in its Ship Room, a room purportedly modeled after the second berth of the Mayflower. In its barroom is a 1940s mural of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” painted by the owner’s son-in-law bartender and his friends, including the cartoonist, Al Capp.
In these poems, oral histories are poised between and among flagrant sexuality, humor and abject poverty. Patsy Cline, Babe Ruth, WWI’s “Sacrifice Division” and Roy Orbison inhabit this space alongside the local residents: the Baker, Maurie, Charlie and Stosh. Names of neighborhood places—Rizutti’s Goodnight Café, The Nines, The Greyhound—are recited as both proof and pride in a neighborhood that was diminished through the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act, cutting off foot traffic to local businesses by 1970.
Lea Graham is a writer, translator and professor who lives in Rosendale, New York and Mayflower, Arkansas. She was born in Memphis, Tennessee and grew up in Northwest Arkansas. She has lived in Joplin, Missouri; Perth Amboy, New Jersey; Chicago, Illinois; Worcester, Massachusetts; Santiago, Dominican Republic; San Jose, Costa Rica; Florence, Italy and Quito, Ecuador. She earned her B.A. in English from Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri and her M.A. and Ph.D. in English/Creative Writing from the University of Illinois-Chicago. She is Associate Professor of English at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York where she has been on faculty since 2007.
Graham is the author of the poetry collection, Hough & Helix & Where & Here & You, You, You (No Tell Books, 2011), along with three chapbooks, Spell to Spell (above/ground Press, 2018), This End of the World: Notes to Robert Kroetsch (Apt. 9 Press, 2016) and Calendar Girls (above/ground Press, 2006).
Her poems, reviews, essays and translations have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies that include 3Elements Review, Politics/Letters, Crab Creek Review, Bateau, Poor Yorick, Milk, The Southern Humanities Review, Reflecting Pool: Poets and the Creative Process (Codhill Press, 2018) and The Southern Poetry Anthology VI: Tennessee, Vol. 6 (Texas Review Press, 2013).
In 2018 she won the Literal Latte’ Poetry Contest.
Read a sample from this book
Kelley Square Love Song
I write a poem about eating eggs with you.
One month passes. You tell me you hate eggs—
This woman half-waltzes, half-staggers
into the Vernon. She loves the word gorgeous.
She says gorgeous blonds & we three are gorgeous & this is a gorgeous day.
She has lost a youngest son, a house, land in County Cork.
They say. She wears a peignoir, black & pilled, like a noble obligation.
No panties. Pisses herself standing up.
I forgive your dislike of eggs, recall your fingers poised
before “Sweet Thing.” Before “Thunder Road.” Before “Dream Baby.”
Your perfect pitch: gorgeous gorgeous gorgeous
Ishmael Writes to Debbie Harry
Call me across ocean reveries
Call me from against the spiles
Call me at the Spouter-Inn & to the Whaling Church on time
Call me with side-lunging strides
Call me your top forty hit
Hummed through scrimshaw comb
Beat by pelican foot
Call me the 18th sexiest protagonist
Your blubber-boiler lover
Poet of the Horsehead Doldrums
Call me any time
Sea pen, your fiddle heart urchin
From CBGB’s toilet & graffitied brick
Call me Queequeg’s bitch
Je m’appelle Ishmael
In the voice of Sid Vicious
Call me a Ted Bundy escape plan
An outlier’s alibi
A Nantucket sleigh ride
Roll me in ambergris
From narcotizing sightlines
To Max’s Kansas City
(I’ll never get enough)
As Gericault was called to the Medusa
As Mocha stove the Essex
As dice of drowned men’s bones
Call me to the go-go, the Playboy mansion
Rockaway Beach or rock & roll high school
Before the trill of your high
Call me your number one
Your heart of glass
Your new wave
Your Stubb or Starbuck or Flask
Your three-chord Tashtego
Your dreaming Sunday cannibal
Your 30,000 shark teeth
Your humpback rhyme-master
Breathe like a pod of right whales at midnight into my ear
I could be your stabilitis loci
Your garden of amorphous concealment
Your finny tribe or spiracle, your rapture
April Wedding at the Vernon Hotel
Plastic roses & chicken marsala
& yellow cake. A boombox
on the piano bench serenades us:
“Chantilly Lace” & “Put Your Head
on My Shoulder” & “Young Love.”
The “kids,” on the sly, buy PBR & say:
Our mother’s not a drinker. They’re all
Gray-suited & white socks, hanging
around Millbury Street, leaned up
against Narragansett & blond brick.
In her patent leather pumps & mid-60s,
the bride processes down the Ship
Room to “Let Me Entertain You.”
The groom is a mapmaker.
No dancing except for the toddlers.
They tell me later: Oh we’re wild.
Copyright © Lea Graham 2019
Review: From the Hotel Vernon reviewed by Mark Morganstern for Woodstock Times (April 2019)
One could spend hours wandering through the Ship Room bar, inhaling the stale dollar drafts, roasted peanuts, and distilled decades of sweat at the Vernon Hotel. Captivated by the mural of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner behind the bar you wonder if a bit of the Mariner's curse remains in the room. In the upstairs rooms you sense the passion and struggle that mixed in a human cocktail of sorrow, bedbugs and all. Then you can float through the haunted speakeasy in the basement.
Lea Graham has resurrected a world that requires only a speck of sensibility to gladly reclaim it. And she's done this with dabs of glow paint, blood, urine, sparkle, vintage jukebox picks, and piercing strokes of pencil lightning. Certain of the poems stagger, and make lame the reader by the language knife she wields with precision--Ferlinghetti snapping at the syntax. With great affection and a reed sharp memory Graham has brought back the gut-punched, broken, idiosyncratic, and proud beings who sallied forth, and sometimes crawled, through the Vernon, in and out of luck and love, on the edge of the city of Worcester--a small, but essential universe. These things really matter. Like the Sultan of Swat who reigned at Fenway and frequented the place, a sociable legend, Graham's "From the Hotel Vernon" is a poetic home run.