Book Bag: ‘Quabbin Valley: Life As It Was,’ by Elizabeth Peirce; ‘Girls Like You’ by Margot Douaihy

Last modified: Thursday, June 04, 2015


By Elizabeth Peirce

Arcadia Publishing

The Quabbin Valley, emptied of its former residents, began filling with water in the 1930s as it was transformed into the Quabbin Reservoir, Boston’s primary source of water. But it lives on in photographs, letters, books and the memories of those who once called it home.

It’s the former that serves as the basis of “Quabbin Valley: Life As It Was,” a pictorial record of the region, from the late 1800s to the early 1900s, that’s been composed by Elizabeth Peirce, head of the Swift River Valley Historical Society in New Salem. Peirce’s interest in the region was sparked when she married into a family from the town of Prescott, one of the communities that disappeared beneath the waters.

Peirce, who has published two previous books of historic photos from the Quabbin region, focuses here on residents at work and at leisure, as well as portraits of people and places of historic interest. From farmers tilling fields, to workers in a creamery, to a luthier in his workshop, the pictures paint a portrait of small-town rural life, as do images of picnics, tiny school classes and fishing trips.

Among the most striking images are “before and after” shots of the main street of the town of Enfield, one of the vanished communities. One photo from 1916 shows a large “Welcome” banner stretched across the dirt street, which is lined with trees and a number of handsome wooden houses. In a picture from the 1930s, that same street looks like a strip of desert highway; one tiny building is left standing, and the whole area has been denuded of trees.

Another picture shows a section of the Methodist Episcopal Church from Prescott, which in the 1930s was cut into thirds and reassembled in Orange. In the photo, one of these strange-looking sections is being hauled down a road on a large, flat-bed truck.

“Quabbin Valley” is published by Arcadia Press of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, which specializes in books of local and regional history.


By Margot Douaihy

Clemson University Press

Northampton poet Margot Douaihy wears a number of hats — writing instructor, yoga teacher, editorial director for magazines published by NewBay Media, a magazine and website publisher in New York City. But perhaps the hat she wears most intensively is that of poet.

In her most recent collection, “Girls Like You,” published by Clemson University Press, Douaihy uses a number of poetic forms to examine love, memory, travel and the mysteries of day-to-day life, all within the context of feminine themes. There’s also a good dose of humor, an ability to laugh at the absurdities of day-to-day life.

In “Reminder,” Douaihy uses the banality of a message to turn off electronic devices before a live performance to reflect on a past love affair — and to imagine what early photography might have been like.

“Please extract all flashes of brilliance or flashy memories ... Please crawl inside the photograph of that night & delete yourself. / Please blink your eyes enough times to delete every image you want to forget, like a camera in reverse. / Please wake up one hundred years ago, in the pastel room of the first flash photo.”

“Ten-Word Love Stories” features 10 lines, all of 10 words, that recall a love affair: “The shade behind the bed lets in just enough light. / Your eyes were horizon blue—the first breath above water. / Dawn. I woke alone, on the veranda, under windchimes.”

Douaihy also reflects in “Globe” on her restless childhood and peripatetic life as a younger woman: “How could I know / my need to leave would never / leave me? 12 zip codes / in 10 years.” “End of the Holiday,” meanwhile, looks at the difficulty of going home: “Christmas was yesterday; dishes collapse / in the sink, coffee crusts the carafe ... My old room chokes with dust, old porn, torn / skirt, gold heels I wore once to the prom. / Mom won’t let me clean, won’t throw anything out. / Except the Madonna posters. You never needed those.”

The San Francisco Book Review calls Douaihy’s new book “not only a refreshing addition to LGBTQ literature, but also a collection that speaks to all who seek introspection.”


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