Poems, In Film, Novel: Trio of Belmont Authors In the Spotlight

Photo: A trio of authors are in the spotlight.

Three Belmont authors are in the spotlight for works being recognized, in progress and transformed into another art form.

Stephen Burt‘s collection of poems, “Belmont,” is named one of the 50 best American Poetry Books of the decade so far by editors of Flavorwire, which covers “the best in cultural news and commentary.”

“Known principally as a brilliant and generous critic, Burt also released one of the decade’s finer collections,” said the editors of the Harvard professor. 

• The first trailer from the upcoming movie, Black Mass,” has been released and is causing considerable buzz for the film based on the bestseller of the same name by Dick Lehr and co-author Gerard O’Neill. The 2011 book chronicled mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger’s alliance with the Boston office of the FBI and how he manipulated that relationship.

Here is the trailer with Johnny Depp as Bulger: 

• It’s been less than half a year since his last novel – “The Medallion” – was introduced, but nearly next month, Len Abram will see his latest book released.

Debris” focuses on the sinking of the Lusitania, the sister ship of the Titanic, by a German U-Boat off the coast of Ireland, the passengers on board and the three spies who coordinate the attack. 

The publication date of the novel, May 7, corresponds with the centennial of the Lusitania‘s sinking.

Memorial Day: Loving Country, Comrades More Than Life Itself

By Len Abram

“Patriotism,” Samuel Johnson said to his friend and biographer Boswell in 1775, “is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” What Johnson had in mind was false patriotism, the sort of politician who runs the flag up the pole and while the citizens are saluting, the scoundrel fleeces them.

No one is sure if Johnson had in mind any person or state in his view of patriotism. It might have been the new American republic, whose rough birth Johnson observed with concern from London. Johnson disliked Americans for their treason against the English crown and Parliament. If the American colonists wanted self-government, he complained, let them move back to England. Besides, Johnson was an abolitionist ahead of his time. How could the colonists talk about liberty when they enslaved a people? The question bothered the Founders and many a patriot as well.

Johnson did not live to see the 1860s, to witness the former colonists suffering through a Civil War with 600,000 dead – a quarter of South’s young men – to purge country of the dreaded slavery. It is a tragedy of American life that the Founders, who created the most successful republic in human history, had not solved the predicament of slavery in 1776 or 1787.

In 1864, the price of union and emancipation was so high that until Lee’s surrender Lincoln worried that the public would demand a halt and compromise, which may have left the South and slavery in place. General Grant delivered to Lincoln victory.

The gavel in court may remind us that behind the law, not above it, but behind it, is force, the power to compel others to do what is right when they refuse. To carry out that terrible decree, we most often ask our young to bear the burden.

Navy Seals are required to swim 50 meters under water with one breath. An Army infantryman or a Marine on patrol carries 60 pounds in body armor and equipment, sometimes in 120 degree heat. That’s a young person’s game, so when there are casualties, the dead and the wounded, the loss is suffered twice, once for the individual and another for how his or her young life was cut short and unrealized.

At this time of year, between Memorial Day and July 4, Independence Day, between the beginning of the summer season and its hot midst, we celebrate patriotism, flags and fireworks. Love of country is unlike love of family or place or home. It is all of those, but greater, because it blends the personal with the abstract, ideas and ideals.

It’s about our country, what it stands for: Our rights as citizens are undeniable, granted not by men, but by the Almighty as the Founders conceived of the deity. Freedom is the natural order of the universe. We are born equal and free. Whatever our circumstances, often inherited, we are in charge of ourselves, to realize our own potential, to pursue our own happiness.

“What changed the immigrant into a new man a half hour after landing in New York City?” asked the 19th-century historian Henry Adams. We know. 

The Biblical prophet told us where we should go and what we should do. To embrace peace and turn dreadful weapons of war into farming tools, pruning hooks and plows. We are not there yet, though we try. Memorial Day honors those who have loved their comrades and their country more than life itself.

Abrams is a long-time Belmont resident whose short story, “Cup of Kindness”, appears in the third volume of “Fenway Fiction” an anthology about the Red Sox and Fenway Park. His first novel is in pre-publication.

Philbrick: ‘We Americans are not done yet with our Revolution’

Belmont author Len Abram interviewed Nathaniel Philbrick, whose book “The Battle of Bunker Hill. A Siege, A City, a Revolution,” is this year’s One Book One Belmont selection.

Abram: Revolution patriots appear heroic in a Copley painting. Others, however, beat, scalded, tarred and feathered, and nearly killed loyalist John Malcom. Some patriots dumped British tea into the harbor. To the English, were  Americans thugs and savages, who only understood violence?

Philbrick: We have the impression that the American Revolution meant war, but not the climate of violence of so many other revolutions. Not true. In Boston, armed gangs fought each other in annual anti-papal  demonstrations; in protesting the Stamp Act, crowds broke windows and damaged furniture at the home of Governor Hutchinson; the patriots of the Boston Tea Party destroyed thousands of pounds of English property. By the way, civil unrest and violence were taking place in England too.

Boston in the 1770s had a civil war, loyalist against patriot. John Malcom was a loyalist, tarred and feathered and terrorized. He eventually left for England. His brother Daniel, however, was considered a true Son of Liberty, and is buried at Copp’s Hill. It is said that British regulars practiced their muskets with Daniel’s tombstone as a target.

Q. Liberty is the epic theme of your history. One Lexington veteran said his militia fought to keep British regulars from taking away their freedom.  Where did Americans, even Boston children sledding in winter, get this sense of autonomy ?

A. Children were sledding down School Street by the home of a British officer. They complained to the officer that throwing fireplace ash onto their path slowed down their run. The officer mentioned the apparent rudeness to General Gage. Subduing this colony was so difficult, Gage observed, because “even their children insist on their rights.”

The pursuit of liberty was not just the passion of high-minded political theorists, but shared by the general populace, including children, and those farmers with their muskets who rushed toward battle.

Q. Your  vivid description of the fighting in 1775 carries with it sorrow, the grievous costs, culminating in the battle at Bunker Hill. Could the two sides have avoided  bloodshed for the same political results?

A. If both sides knew that an eight-year struggle of such high costs in blood and treasure was ahead, they would have reconsidered. It is tragic that they found no other way to settle their disputes.  Not all the patriots were in favor of independence, while some English, even in the military, were sympathetic to the American cause. Against the French, the English and the colonists had once been allies.

Both sides, however, were entrenched. The British felt they had already backed down enough with repealing the Stamp Act. It was time to punish the colony, which acted like bullies, into submission.  Once the colonists had declared independence, it was too late. The Battle of Bunker Hill and the war did have lessons for the British to learn. They did. In the next century, Britain would keep Canada, and acquire one of the largest empires in history.

Q. Colonial marksmen could hit targets at 200 yards, you note, impressive for smooth bore muskets. The American sharpshooter  – Natty Bumppo and Sergeant York are examples — is legendary.  Why do you think Americans were good at it? Does this skill suggest anything about American national character?

A. Americans have a relationship with the wilderness and the sea, almost spiritual, in which handling violence is at the core of American experience. Every farmer had a gun and knew how to use it  for hunting and protection.  Like the whalers from Nantucket, Americans wrested a bounty from nature through skills in using tools, such as musket and lance.

No doubt, marksmanship from ordinary citizens helped devastate British professional soldiers taking the heights at Bunker Hill. When Americans moved westward, they brought those skills, which helped them conquer a continent.

Q. George Washington  praised the poetry of Phyllis Wheatley, the African-American woman slave freed by a Boston family. Other blacks fought and died under his command. Yet Washington and Jefferson owned slaves. Did excluding  blacks from liberty undercut the American Revolution?

A. When the monument for  the Battle of Bunker Hill was commemorated in 1843, John Quincy Adams complained that the work of the American Revolution  was not complete, not until the emancipation of slaves in America.

Washington and Jefferson saw the inconsistency of proclaiming freedom for their citizens, but excluding blacks. If American patriots of 1776 or 1787 had settled the slavery issue, it could have avoided war in 1861.

Q. Henry Ford knew how to build automobiles, but considered history bunk, useless. Are there lessons from the Battle of Bunker Hill that apply to our times?

A. The Battle of Bunker Hill may teach us how messy and difficult life is. The people we meet in 1775 are full of petty jealousies, concerns, flaws and failings. Joseph Warren, a physician, volunteered to face the British regulars at Bunker Hill and was killed. Henry Knox, a bookseller, brought cannon 300 miles to force the British to evacuate.  In many ways , they were ordinary men, but they were moved to join in a great historical event, a milestone of human development.

The patriots of 1775 are not unlike who we are today. We Americans are not done yet with our Revolution. We keep trying, to realize its ideals and our purpose.