Poet’s Day Off: A Writer’s Eye on Downtown Gloucester

September 29, 2022 / A Local Favorite, Art and Music, Food and Drink, Good to Know, History/Maritime, Outdoor Adventures, Things to Do & See

Poet’s Day Off: A Writer’s Eye on Downtown Gloucester | Adam Tessier

I learned quickly, as almost every aspiring writer does, that I’d probably never earn a living from poetry. Almost no one is a full-time poet. But the fantasy is potent: to travel through life collecting images, words, experiences, and then transform them into Art! In my fantasy, a full-time poet lives above the workaday problems of the world. Enveloped by a haze of mystic thought, brow permanently furrowed in consideration, a full-time poet responds to a higher calling—to see and make sense of things, to articulate the perfect word where others fall silent. Oh, to wake and live for the distillation of experience into lines and stanzas…

…and to drink so much coffee it’s a wonder my heart doesn’t explode! 


Luckily, Downtown Gloucester is the perfect place to channel that part of me that is fully a writer—if not a writer, full-time. When the air chills enough for flannels and watch caps, I’ll take my day off and live disguised, even to myself, as a poet. Join me for the day! 


First, I jostle among the regulars seeking hot drinks, sweet treats, and news of the morning at Caffe Sicilia, a storied local spot. I call out my order—double espresso macchiato—over the marvelous din of music and chatter in English and Sicilian. Once it’s ready, I stand to the side and drink it quickly, eavesdropping for inspiration in the conversations around me—waterfront workers trading stories, locals gossiping and making plans, bumping into neighbors and friends.


Catching a look at myself in the window, though—something is off. I leave my demitasse in the bus bin and head out onto Main Street. My next stop is Bananas, right around the corner, to supplement my poet’s uniform. Whatever your writer’s aesthetic—dark and brooding, understated, flair-forward—Gloucester’s second-hand shops have you covered. I like Bananas’ extraordinary costume jewelry and rare, funky vintage items. (I’ll grab a hat and some sunglasses, it’s a bright fall day). For a big selection, including designer finds, hit up the Dress Code nearby. Cape Ann Thrift Shop, on Middle Street, and 2nd Hand HoE, on Main have variety galore. (Further afield, Second Glance on Pond Road, is a local thrift favorite with regularly-changing inventory and long lines on days when the stock turns over. Perfect for people watching and character studies.) 


Fedora and sunglasses on, back to the street where I reach into my pocket and realize I left my notebook at home. A real poet needs real hardware to get the job done. goodlinens stocks unusual, high-quality notebooks and pens from around the world (along with beautiful made-on-site linens and a variety of other great home and personal goods). I hustle down Main and pick up a pocket-sized journal and splurge on a beautiful Kaweco pen from Germany—you’ve heard, of course, that you’ll write more, and better, with a pen you love.


Because I’m a writer, I love books as much as—probably more than—most people. Right next door to goodlinens, thousands of new friends await at Dogtown Books, downtown Gloucester’s dizzyingly well-stocked used bookstore. Run by writers, the space is cozy and welcoming to all. Perhaps too welcoming—it’s been more than an hour that I’ve spent slowly traveling from section to section, browsing a selection that ranges from local history to pulp literature and everywhere between. I linger at the shelves dedicated to Cape Ann writers’ publications—how nice to rub elbows across the generations with the likes of Vincent Ferrini, Gloucester’s first poet laureate. (His home on East Main Street is now the nonprofit Gloucester Writers Center, where I now work.) Books by area poets working today are in steady supply, too. I pick up a copy of Jim Dunn’s This Silence is a Junkyard, and a Dogtown Books postcard. I’ll write my own poem and send to a friend later. 


It’s noon already, and a poet’s gotta eat. For more than sixty years, writers and fisherfolk alike have sustained themselves on the Saint Joseph sandwich, made with Virgilio’s fresh-from-the-oven Italian roll. I take it to go and follow Rogers Street to Harbor Loop. Here I climb the hill to the imposing stone Fitz Henry Lane House. The son of a sailmaker, Lane became famous as a painter of Gloucester’s harbor in the 19th century—views he captured from a third-floor studio here. (A remarkable fact, given that Lane moved with the assistance of crutches throughout his life.) The sandwich tastes better with views of the harbor, sitting here at a stone table below the house. I make a note of what the harbor holds: lobster traps piled high and out in the water, boat after boat, still, and I don’t know where a single one is going. Time to imagine.


Retracing my footsteps, I head back to Main Street and stop at Mystery Train Records. I need a soundtrack for tonight’s midnight writing session, and here they’ll let me listen to any of the thousands of used LPs before I buy. Pharaoh Sanders emerges from the Jazz section, and a vintage record of Charles Olson, Gloucester’s 6’7” postmodern bard reading his poems from—believe it—a dedicated Poetry section. Not bad. 


To close out the afternoon, I head to the Cape Ann Museum, a short walk from Fitz Henry Lane’s house, and home to one of the best collections anywhere of the painter’s work. “Ekphrastic poetry” begins with a work of art. I’ll spend awhile wandering these gorgeously appointed galleries seeking inspiration from the visual artists who have been drawn here for generations. Though the seascapes and landscapes astound, it’s the portraits that catch my eye and set my mind wild: who are these Cape Anners of long ago? Which will tell me their stories? 


One last stop, in a time-honored literary tradition: I walk once more to Main Street, to Stone’s Pub and Eatery, grab a spot at the back table, pull out my new notebook—now teeming with ideas, snippets of conversation, sketches, words I’ve seen and heard, names, dates… And I order a beer and begin to write.