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From The Hotel Vernon

On this episode, we interview poet Lea Graham about her book, “From The Hotel Vernon” where she tells tales from her time from behind the bar and tales from the bar’s vibrant and storied past.

"Song of Madame Rhubarb" Nights of stacked peanut shells, whiskey & speakeasy tales: Madame Rhubarb sent me a whispered entry in those back stairs, Vernon Street’s boarded mouth, old corkers—what’s forgotten. Nights of stacked shells, whiskey & speakeasy tales.

Credit Jen O'Leary
A bar stool view of the murals.
Credit Jen O'Leary
Kitsch and culture.

Built at the turn of the 20th Century, the Hotel Vernon was once the elegant showplace of Kelley Square in Worcester, Massachusetts. It has a rich history from local politicians making backroom deals, to Babe Ruth in his rookie year eating raw meat burgers, to the speakeasy in the basement. The Hotel Vernon has always been a space filled with stories as much as beer and spirits.

Since the end of prohibition, the hotel and the bar suffered from decline and reflected the working-class economic struggle of its community. Now, in its second century of operation, the bar has reached a well-worn status.  

Patrons can still visit the preserved basement speakeasy or view old murals of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” one of which was painted by the renowned cartoonist Al Capp, creator of the comic strip Li’l Abner. 

Or, they can share the evening listening to live music with friends in the Ship Room, an addition built in the 1940’s complete with a large ship’s wheel and lighted portholes. Cheap beer. Free peanuts. A juke box, and the occasional wily patron make this an unforgettable experience.

Credit Photo provided by Graham
Professor and poet Lea Graham

Lea Graham is the author of two poetry collections, “From the Hotel Vernon” (Salmon Press, 2019) and “Hough & Helix & Where & Here & You, You, You” (No Tell Books, 2011); a fine press book, “Murmurations” (Hot Tomato Press, 2020), and three chapbooks, “Spell to Spell” (above/ground Press, 2018), “This End of the World: Notes to Robert Kroetsch” (Apt. 9 Press, 2016) and “Calendar Girls” (above/ground Press, 2006).

She is the editor of the forthcoming anthology of critical essays: "From the Word to the Place: The Work of Michael Anania" (MadHat Press, 2021). She is an associate professor of English at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY.  A native of Arkansas, she was raised in Fayetteville.

Original music and soundscapes were created by Adam Simon. Special thanks to Donavan Suitt for the audio mash-ups.

Thank you to Stickyz Rock 'N' Roll Chicken Shack for keeping music alive and well in Arkansas, and thank you to the law firm of Gill Ragon Owen, PA, Little Rock, for their support of Arts & Letters Radio development.

Generous funding for this episode was provided by the Arkansas Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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Contact Arts & Letters Radio at artsletters@kuar.org or via phone at 501-569-8485.  Our mailing address is:  Arts & Letters Radio |  KUAR 89.1  | 5820 Asher Avenue, Suite 400  | Little Rock, AR   72204.

Executive Producer & Host: J. Bradley Minnick
Producer & Story Editor: Mary Ellen Kubit
Sound Mastering: Simon Sound Studio

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