Gary Lawless '73
The Gulf of Maine Bookstore on Maine Street in downtown Brunswick is the kind of place where, to paraphrase Robert Frost, when you go there you want to read a book. Gary Lawless ’73 and his partner Beth Leonard opened the store in 1979, and despite the inroads of the Internet and competition from bigger stores, the Gulf of Maine remains a successful and vibrant enterprise.
A nationally recognized poet, Lawless has published 16 collections of poems (12 in the U.S. and four in Italy). A literary Johnny Appleseed, he’s traveled across the country and around the world, reading his poetry, leading workshops, and sharing the wonders of the word in Italy, Slovenia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Cuba. Closer to home, he’s led writing classes for several nontraditional audiences, such as artists with disabilities at Spindleworks in Brunswick, the homeless population at Preble Street in Portland, refugees living in Lewiston and Portland, and war veterans back from Afghanistan and Iraq.
“Poetry gives people on the margins the chance to be respected, tell stories, and join the conversation,” Lawless said.
He began his own “conversation” in Belfast, Maine, where he grew up two doors down from the city library and was one of its most frequent patrons. At Colby he worked in Miller Library (“A real treasure trove,” he said) and was co-editor of the Pequod
, the literary magazine.
Lawless’s literary life has included seeing the poet W.H. Auden read at Colby in sweatshirt and slippers and a stay in the home of poet Gary Snyder in northern California, where he was Snyder’s apprentice. Lawless met many renowned Beat poets at Snyder’s house and saw his mentor’s star rise when Snyder won the Pulitzer Prize the following year.
“Words for me are living entities,” Lawless said, and he has built his life around them, both in his own writing, his teaching, and in his bookshop, where fellow lovers of language gather.
“There’s lots of good reason for hope,” he said, “with so much good art and music being created around the world.”