The Holyoke was my first book of poetry, and the material in it is mostly drawn from my having grown up in the Portuguese enclave of the West End of Provincetown, Massachusetts. No poem in the book mentions either the word Provincetown or Portuguese, and this was part of the book’s design as I conceived it when I first began work on it as a collection. Provincetown and its Portuguese community (an overwhelming numerical majority in my childhood) had been photographed, painted and written about by many artists and writers, but none of them, to my knowledge, had been natives. I had never read anyone speaking with our voice or from our experience. It seemed important to me-as indeed it still does-that we did not distinguish ourselves as ethnic or "other." It was we who looked out upon the "others," mostly visitors who came to live with us in our guest houses and rooms in summer, and it was we who measured everything by our own standards. So The Holyoke, once it grew into a coherent whole, began to speak-I hope-from the place and point of view inside a community that found no need to name or define itself, certainly not in terms of anything from beyond it. It was how we thought and lived. All the poems look outward from the center, as we knew it to be.
It is tempting to say that this is a book that looks back with nostalgia-even with saudades, I might say-and it does. But it also looks ahead as a wellspring for later work, work that I am still engaged in. The characters and settings that appear in sketches, lyrics and narratives in this first book reappear more fully fleshed in later poems and in my first novel, Leaving Pico, and in the novel that I am currently working on. Even poems in my more recent books, that find their settings elsewhere, draw their core sensibilities from that pastoral Catholic, Old-World small town, where some of us still remember the yellow ice-truck and the dark coal bins, and kerosene cookstoves, kitchen gardens rife with couves (kale) and nabos (turnip greens) and funcho (fennel), the hypnotic language and extraordinary stories of the old ones, and of course fish, free to all from the bountiful trawlers that sailed each day from our harbor. We lived in a world of magical realism long before any one of us heard of the term. And I think we carry that world with us-some of us who stayed and some of us who wandered abroad-as a schema for all we meet. The Holyoke is modest book from a modest talent. There is more to say, more to remember, more to shape, and some of that work is being done by others now. And I hope that I can continue along the lines that this first small book has set out for me. Our town remains magical and unique, and it deserves to have its cries and songs, its laments and jubilations, put down in a way that might have some prospect of enduring.
Frank X. Gaspar
Gaspar, Frank X. "Author’s Preface." The Holyoke. By Frank X. Gaspar. 2nd Edition. North Dartmouth: University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, 2007.