Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Confession Tuesday

It’s Tuesday! Time for your confessions. I’m sure after the long holiday weekend you’ve got some stories to tell. Share a bit of yourself and we promise to do the same.

Where to begin? So much to say but it’s all jumbled in my head. Oh well, here goes.

Yesterday, I spoke with an editor for my second manuscript—it’s clear that it needs another round of revision. I think I knew it all along, but I needed to put my ego aside to really get it.

Revision for this manuscript is a good thing. I’m viewing it as an opportunity to push myself into a different creative space. Stylistically, while I’m good at what I do (according to my editor), sometimes I get in the way of myself. I can totally see it now. Some poems are missing their emotional core.


The part of me that knew the manuscript needed work is the same part of me that has been floundering since may looking for a new project. I think I shut down in an attempt to move away from the heavy lifting of manuscript #2. So much of the book is about divorce that I’m ready to move on. But I can’t until I dig deeper—just like life.


My editor suggested using the sonnet form for some of my shorter poems. The meter is almost there, I just need to play with it a while in hopes that the emotional aspect will take care of itself. It’s a great suggestion since I was planning on writing sonnets for my third manuscript.


I was concerned that I would not be able to tap into the heart of those poems, but I’m now convinced that won’t be a problem. There are triggers everywhere; I just have to be open to them.


Speaking of triggers, my e-mail account was hacked Monday morning (GRRRRRR!). I was livid. Had to unplug and de-stress for a while so I worked in the garden. Mulch, baby!


The rest of the weekend was terrific. Saw lots of friends all weekend, had a therapeutic massage—(working the knots out of my shoulders were intense), and did some things for myself for a change. When the kids came home from their weekend away, they were really happy to be home. I missed them dearly; the house is too quiet when they’re not around.


All in all, I’m thrilled to have this level of direction with manuscript #2. My biggest fear is publishing my second book too early, so the feedback I received was terrific.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Poets on the Coast

If the timing worked out, I would be attending this retreat. I can't, unfortunately, but it's not too late for you! The early-bird discounted rates end May 31.

Join Kelli Russell Agodon and Susan Rich for the first Poets on the Coast Weekend Writing Retreat September 9-11, 2011, at the Sylvia Beach Hotel in Newport, Oregon, on historic Nye Beach. We will gather to write, read and share our work inspired by the landscape and creative energy around us.

This retreat has been designed for women writers of all levels, from beginning poets to well published. Sessions on creativity, generating work, publication and one-on-one mentoring are included. We only have a limited number of spaces available and they will be filled on a first-come basis.

With the Sylvia Beach Hotel, designed to inspire writers with its literary-themed rooms, this retreat will offer you a unique experience to explore your writing and creativity. Come spend a weekend with other women poets. Be ready to be nurtured, inspired, and creative.

Saturday, May 28, 2011


I’m sitting at Starbucks with a grande hot chocolate and the latest issue of APR. I have a sunny seat by the window. New Lady Gaga album playing on my iPod. Life is good.


Thanks to NAR for publishing my poem "Conversion Theory" in the latest issue.


I know writers should never compare themselves to other writers, but when I read that Olie is working on multiple projects, I felt like a slacker.


I’m also in awe of Olie's dedication and focus.


Just spent the morning with a friend at the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM). I’ve lived in the area for almost 15 years and this is the first time I’ve walked through the collections. Shocking. But it is a fabulous museum. I was hoping to write an ekphrastic poem but I couldn’t find one painting that inspired me. Instead, I was inspired by the mood in one of the rooms so I’m going to use that as a catalyst for new work.

Going to the PEM also has inspired me to check out museums in the Boston area. I mean, most of the museums I’ve been to in the last few years have “Children’s” in the title. And by obtaining guest passes from the library, the cost is relatively inexpensive. What a great way to spend my free time this summer.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Robert Pinsky on PBS Newshour

Watch the full episode. See more PBS NewsHour.

Quote from Pinsky "I don't think poetry needs an advocate. It is too fundamental and large for that."

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Wednesday Shout-outs!

Congratulations to Tayari Jones for the publication of her new novel Silver Sparrow! She's been everywhere lately, from NPR to P&W. Woo hoo!


Check out this podcast with Terrance Hayes on New Letters on the Air in which he discusses his two most recent books, Wind in a Box and Lighthead.


NPR interviews Dean Young.


Did you read the recap of the Mass Poetry Festival?

We are starting to put a plan in place for next year. No dates yet, but the feedback has been so positive we're encouraged to move forward and get the wheels in motion.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Confession Tuesday

Happy Confession Tuesday! Share a little of yourself and we promise to do the same.

These photos were taken by Jack Scully (thanks Jack!) at my reading this past Saturday at the Brockton Library. As usual, Ella--my little honeybaked ham--strolls up to the mic when I read a poem about her. I don't mind. And for the most part, the kids are quiet and respectful during the reading.

I try not to bring Alex and Ella to events when there's an open mic, because you never know what a poet might say and I don't believe in censoring. I also don't make them sit through all of my events. But sometimes I do bring them because I think it's important that they see what mommy does when she's away. And I'm hoping that they grow up with a healthy appreciation for poetry, literature, and performance.


After my June 3 reading, I don't have any events scheduled. That's a good thing. I'm looking forward to writing new poems and spending the time with my family. Thank goodness summer is almost here!


Since the kids will be away with their dad for the holiday weekend, I'm using the upcoming Memorial Day weekend as an at-home mini-retreat.

Weekend to-do list:
1. Write 3-4 new poems
2. Revise poems not in second manuscript
3. Visit the Peabody Essex Museum for inspiration
4. Exercise
5. Get a much-needed therapeutic massage
6. Sleep

Things I will not be doing: housework, paying bills, mowing the lawn.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Mass Poetry Fest Photos

These photos are just too good to languish in an album--they must be shared!

Here are a few of my favorites from the Massachusetts Poetry Festival in Salem, MA.

Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Joseph Legaspi, and me
North Shore Poets in the Round
Colleen Michaels
Brian Turner, Jericho Brown, Aimee, and Enzo Surin
Ravi Shankar and Julie Batten
Cave Canem panel: Jarita Davis, John Murillo, me, and Jacqueline Jones LaMon
At the reception: Stephen Immerman, Chris Michaels, Colleen Michaels, Barney Arnold, and me
Marie Gautier
Susan Rich
Mark Doty
Kevin Carey

Friday, May 20, 2011

Recipes for Poets: How to Make a Crab Cake

Just thinking about this recipe makes me want to have crab cakes for dinner. Here’s my tried and true recipe. Thanks to Deb Ager at 32 Poems for putting out the call for recipes. Here’s my original post.

1 pound lump crab meat
1 tablespoon of mayonnaise
1 tablespoon of mustard
1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce
¾ cup of bread crumbs
1 egg, beaten
A few sprigs of parsley, minced
1 teaspoon of Old Bay seasoning
A pinch of salt and pepper

Combine ingredients in a large bowl. Mix gently and shape into 6-8 patties. Refrigerate the patties for 30 minutes, which will help them stay together when cooking (optional).

Fry until golden-brown, about 3 minutes on each side. Use about ¼ cup of oil (I mix vegetable and olive oil). You can also broil the crab cakes, too.

I have used canned and I have uses crabs that I have caught myself, from ocean to table, and both taste delicious.


First Buds

I am slowly easing my way back into the world. Looking forward to Saturday so I can sleep in and spend some time with the kids.

Join me for a reading on Saturday at the Brockton Library

Saturday, May 21, 3:30 pm
January G. O'Neil and Bert Stern
Poetry Series at the Brockton Library
304 Main Street
Brockton, MA


Just finished Meg Kearney's book Home By Now. Really enjoyed it. Love, love, love the poem "First Blow Job." Here are the first four lines:

"Suddenly I knew what it was to be my uncle’s Labrador retriever,
young pup paddling furiously back across the pond with the prized
duck in her mouth, doing the best she could to keep her nose in the air

so she could breathe. She was learning not to bite …"


I've been a little lost since the festival, which happens when I let go of big projects. So I'm pulling together recently written poems for revision. I'd like to send my work to a few places over the summer. And I'm also starting to write again. They are drafts, but like spring they are the first buds of something lovely--I hope.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Festival Recap

Like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis of poetry, I am emerging from the splendor that was the Massachusetts Poetry Festival. (OK, that was bad. Maybe I should stay in the chrysalis for a while.)

I don’t have any hard numbers yet, but I’m guessing nearly 1,500 people visited Salem May 12-14. We had no major glitches, the volunteers ROCKED!, and everyone seemed to have a good time. Unfortunately, I didn’t see much of the main stage acts. But one of the committee members reminded me that you can do a good job planning, and you can do a good job attending events, but you really can’t do both very well.

10 things I really enjoyed about this year’s festival.

(Well, #1 is the top thing—everything else is in no particular order.)

1. The constant collaboration between friends/members of the Salem Writers Group, Michael Ansara, and members of the planning committee. Who would have thought nine months ago we would be able to pull this off?

2. Hearing from festival-goers how big and how organized the festival was. Seriously, we were stuffing envelopes at midnight on Thursday.

3. Calling Steve Almond a ”hustler” as I introduced him for the Bad Poetry session. And by hustler, I mean someone who works hard for the money, so to speak.

4. Hanging out with poet friends Joseph Legaspi, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, and Susan Rich.

5. Being in the audience for the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) for the Friday Headline Event with Brian Turner, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, and Jericho Brown. Even though they come from different backgrounds, their work flowed seamlessly.

6. Reading with my writers’ group cohorts in our “North Shore Poets in the Round.”

7. Hearing Ravi Shankar speak during the Favorite Poem kickoff event at the Peabody Essex Museum.

8. Listening to Mark Doty and Patricia Smith read on Saturday night. Their poetry makes me want to strive for more in my own. In particular, listening to Patricia Smith read a crown of sonnets has inspired me to try this with my next project.

9. The cocktail reception—pulled off entirely with donated food, drink, and flowers—by Julie Batten.

10. Seeing the logo/festival look and feel on all of the signage, programs—even those BRIGHT green T-shirts! I had a hand in all of it.

View my photo album on Facebook.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Confession Tuesday

If it’s Tuesday, it’s time for your confessions. Unburden yourself. We want you to “go there.” Share a little of yourself with us and we promise to do the same.

Happy post-Confession Tuesday! The Massachusetts Poetry Festival was a huge success!!


No major glitches. The weather was cool but not rainy on Saturday. Our volunteers were outstanding. The weekend really could not have gone better. I feel exactly as I did when Obama won his election … Yes We Can! It's rare that I get the opportunity to do something outside of my comfort zone--something larger than myself. I'm so very grateful to be part of the planning committee. Woo hoo!

From all accounts, the poets, musicians and presenters had a fabulous time. They really enjoyed spending time in Salem, eating in the restaurants, riding the poetry trolley, and spending time at venues such as the Peabody Essex Museum and the House of Seven Gables. It could not have turned out better.


I will post my top 10 festival moments tomorrow, with photos.


My only personal disappointment with the weekend is that my kids were unable to come out to see the festival. They would have enjoyed riding the poetry trolleys. But they spent the weekend with the dad. Would have been nice for them to see what mommy was working so hard to do these past few months. Oh well, maybe next year.


Now that the fest is over, I’m trying to pick up where I left off on my life: clearing off my desk so I can use it for something other than storage; shifting my full attention to the kids; figuring out what’s next for my writing life; and catching up on sleep and exercise. Would love to get away for a week or a long weekend at a writer’s retreat this summer. I feel I need to center myself again.


I really don’t know how to do nothing. Maybe I should give that a try for a while.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Poetry Dress

Now that the Massachusetts Poetry Festival is over, I'm processing the whole experience so I can share it with you. In the meantime, I wanted to show you photos of The Poetry Dress.

The Poetry Dress is a collaborative art project featuring work by established and emerging poets as a way to showcase the layers of female voices in contemporary poetry. I believe more than 70 women poets have poems on the dress, which is on display at The Roost, 40 Front Street in Salem.

Thanks to Danielle Jones-Pruett for bringing the project to the festival.

My mom

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Top 10 Reasons Why You Should Attend This Year’s Massachusetts Poetry Festival

10. Witch persecutions in Salem no longer an issue.
9. Poetry Trolleys!
8. Watch emcee Christopher Lydon try to pronounce “Aimee Nezhukumatathil.”
7. Rare opportunity to hear barbaric yawps.
6. Borders is closing—buy books at the Small Press Fair and our book sellers.
5. See secret “eighth gable” in basement of The House of Seven Gables.
4. No problem parking—plenty of meter!
3. Long-form birth certificates not required for entry.
2. Bad poetry—this means you!—celebrated by Steve Almond.

And the #1 reason to attend this year’s Massachusetts Poetry Festival …

1. Free Versers/Formalists food fight!

Join us for our kickoff event TONIGHT!

Tom Sexton, Brian Brodeur, & Poetry from Public Colleges
May 12, 7 p.m.
Celebrate the legacy of poetry from Massachusetts public colleges and universities. Tom Sexton, author of 12 books of poetry, Poet Laureate of Alaska, and a graduate of Salem State University (1968) will read from his work. The event will also feature work by alumni from the Salem Poetry Seminar, a program that provides a free week to write and study poetry for select college students from public institutions in the Commonwealth.

Mass Poetry: Behind the Scenes

At our last official planning meeting Tuesday afternoon, festival co-founder Michael Ansara (standing in first photo) said that, “The festival is a bizarre experiment in collaboration.” This means there are an extraordinary amount of unnatural interdependences that have come together to make this festival a success. Months of planning, and we're now just hours away ... Yikes!

No doubt, there will be glitches, but I think we all feel as if we're truly a part of something larger than ourselves. How often does that happen? Not often enough.


We estimate 2,000+ people will descend upon Salem this weekend. The festival numbers look really strong, as they have all along.

  • More than 500 people have created personal schedules.
  • From those who have created schedules, here are the most popular:
    • Saturday Headline Reading : Mark Doty, Kim Richey, Patricia Smith, and Elisa Gabbert
    • Friday Headline Reading: Brian Turner, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Jericho Brown, & Enzo Surin
    • Mark Doty Presentation on Still Life with Oysters and Lemon
    • Small Press and Literary Magazine Fair
    • Lorca - His Poems and His Songs: A Melopoeia
    • Favorite Poem Reading
    • Celebrating Elizabeth Bishop's 100th Birthday
    • The Art of Critique and the Development of Craft
    • Speaking Pictures: Beyond Ekphrastic Workshop with Susan Rich
    • Box Lunch: Jazz and Poetry Performance
  • Patricia Smith's workshop filled up so quickly we had to double the size
  • There are 500 high school students and instructors coming to Salem State University for Friday’s High School Day.
  • And, we have 49 small presses and lit mags signed up for Saturday.

Now, if the clouds would kindly hold off until Sunday, we'd greatly appreciate it.


Keyword: Tremendous

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Kundiman and Mass Poetry

The Massachusetts Poetry Festival welcomes emerging poets in several of its events. One of those bright new stars is Joseph O. Legaspi, the founder of Kundiman, a nonprofit organization serving Asian American poetry.

Read an article on Joseph.

Joseph will be one of the poets reading at:
Kundiman: Love Songs for the Peabody Essex Museum
Saturday, May 14
3:15 p.m.

Event Description
Kundiman, a transformative group of Asian American poets dedicated to the creation, cultivation, and promotion of Asian American poetry, will read poems inspired by the rich displays of Asian art and artifacts currently housed at the Peabody Essex Museum. Through their ekphrastic works, poets Ching-In Chen, Joseph O. Legaspi, Jee Leong Koh, Purvi Shah, and Bushra Rehman will connect the past to the present through poetry based on the museum’s historical and contemporary works.

Cave Canem at Mass Poetry Festival

Join Cave Canem at the third Massachusetts Poetry Festival, held in historic downtown Salem, Massachusetts.

May 14, noon
Cave Canem at the Massachusetts Poetry Festival
House of Seven Gables, #2
115 Derby Street
Salem, MA

Featuring readings by Cave Canem fellows Jarita Davis, Jacqueline Jones LaMon, John Murillo and; January Gill O'Neil.

For a full schedule of events, including readings by Jericho Brown, Patricia Smith, and Afaa Michael Weaver, visit the Mass Poetry Festival's website.

Confession Tuesday

Happy Confession Tuesday before the Massachusetts Poetry Festival! It’s almost here!!

I remember attending the 2009 festival wishing I could be more involved. HA! Note to self: be careful what I wish for.

In a few days, an estimated 2,000 people will descend upon Salem to celebrate the richness and diversity of poetry in Massachusetts. It’s all coming together. Tonight is our last weekly meeting, which has felt at times like a war room. A new problem crops up, and someone chimes in with a solution. A lot of hard work by incredibly passionate people has already made this festival a success. The process has been sometimes stressful but a really terrific experience for me, completely pushing me out of my comfort zone.

Can’t believe after nine months of work, the festival is almost here!


When you see the “look and feel” (logo, signage, posters, programs, etc.)—I had a hand in all of it.


My parents arrived yesterday (read: the cavalry has arrived!). This is my busiest week at work; I just couldn’t take the festival, pressure at work, and taking care of the kids and keep my sanity.


I look forward to writing poems again.


Will keep confessions short, as I will be blogging about festival events and giving you the inside track all week.

Monday, May 09, 2011

The Poetry Dress

This is the form that will be used for The Poetry Dress, on display during the Massachusetts Poetry Festival. Created by Danielle Jones-Pruett, the project will be on display May 12-14 at The Roost, 40 Front Street in Salem.

Here's the description:

The Poetry Dress is a collaborative art project featuring work by established and emerging poets as a way to showcase the layers of female voices in contemporary poetry. It will be on display during the Massachusetts Poetry Festival in downtown Salem.

Participants include: Liz Abrams-Morley, Diane Averill, Naomi Ayala, Hannah Baker-Siroty, Catherine Bancroft, Julie Batten, Judith Baumel, Adrian Blevins, Rosalind Brenner, Pamela ...Haskew Brunson, Sage Cohen, Suzanne Coker, Martha Collins, Erika Dreifus, Mary Gilman, Betsy Gomez, Danielle Goncalves, Michele Harris, Andra Hibbert, Alison Hicks, Krysten Hill, Lisa Hiton, Jennifer Jean, Danielle Jones-Pruett, Tosha Jupiter, Pamela Kallimanis, Paula Hardy Kangelos, Meg Kearney, Molly Sutton Kiefer, Suji Kwock Kim, Crystal Koe, Cindy Veach, Irene Latham, Jacquelyn Malone, Amy Marengo, Jennifer Martelli, Jill McDonough, Molly McGuire, Colleen Michaels, Chloe Yelena Miller, Jean Monahan, Nadia Nurhussein, Lisa Olstein, January O’Neil, Catherine Parnell, Dawn Paul, Barbara Perez, Joyce Peseroff, Kay Peters, Kathleen Raddatz, Hila Ratzabi, Betsy Retallack, Karen Rigby, Lynn Roberts, Bonnie Roberts, Rachel Roberts, Maxine Scates, Tara Skurtu, Amy Small-McKinney, Janet Spangler, Lindsay Steuber, Tess Taylor, Kim Triedman, Lesley Valdes, Melissa Varnavas, Angela Voras-Hills, Ingrid Wendt, Joleen Westerdale, Leslie Williams, Margaret Young, Jessica Young, and Rachel Zucker.

Can't wait to see what the finished dress looks like. Will take pictures to post.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Happy Mothers' Day!

photo by Alex

My Mother's Day breakfast in bed:
  1. Two pieces of dry toast
  2. Raisin Bran cereal
  3. One orange
  4. One banana
  5. One Trix yogurt
  6. One princess mug of orange juice
Lots of hugs and kisses from two loving kids.

Happy Mothers' Day from Poet Mom!

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Whose Words These Are

I have been a longtime admirer of Chris Lydon's from his days hosting NPR's The Connection.

His current project, Radio Open Source, brings together a cross section of voices, covering politics, social issues, arts, and, of course, poetry. So, to speak with him about Underlife and the upcoming Massachusetts Poetry Festival was an honor and a thrill. Positively delightful!

Read and hear my interview for the series Whose Words These Are, recorded at the Grolier Poetry Book Shop. (You can download the interview via iTunes.)

Thanks, Chris. See you in Salem!

It Is What It Is

Yesterday, I had the most delightful interview with radio host and podcasting vanguard Christopher Lydon for the Radio Open Source series "Whose Words These Are." The link should be ready in a few days. Cool.


So, I was chosen as an alternate for the Fine Arts Work Center’s Walker Scholarship, but the two primary weeklong workshops I wanted to attend were filled, so I had to turn the scholarship down. Can’t tell you how disappointed I am about the whole thing.

I was hoping to study with Marie Howe. We spoke AWP briefly about it and I felt like we connected, especially because we’re single moms. The other workshop I would have taken was with Cornelius Eady on shaping a manuscript. The timing would have worked out well with my second manuscript. Drat.

Guess Provincetown is not meant to be for this year. Now what? 


As for manuscript #2, I’m working with CavanKerry on a revision. Hasn’t been signed yet but it’s moving in the right direction.


It Is What It Is” is our phrase around the office. One of these days, I’m going to get mugs made with this expression from the Urban Dictionary (first definition).

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Recipes for Poets

Deb Ager of 32 Poems is looking for recipes. I'm submitting something--maybe crab cake recipe?

*Here's my recipe for crab cakes, and a video!*


Time management is one of the most important (yet seldom discussed) aspects of being a poet or any kind of artist. Are your eyes glazing over because I wrote “time management”? Stick with with me a for a moment, please.

Since most poets have other work that takes their attention away from art, it’s important to have time management skills. One of the many ways I save time is by cooking healthy meals that do not take long to prepare.

For that reason, I invite you to join me (Deb Ager) in posting your favorite 20-minute (or so) recipe on May 20, 2011. Post your recipe to your blog or website. I will share all of the links in a big post here on the 32 Poems blog. To participate, please do the following by May 15, 2011 (thanks to Kelli Agodon for inspiration on the guidelines):

Recipes for Poets Guidelines

  • Create a blog post that lets people know you will participate. If you can, refer them to this post.
  • Leave me a comment on this post that includes your blog URL and name if you would like to participate.
  • On May 20th, post a recipe that takes 20-30 min (or less) to prepare on your blog or website.
  • It’s easiest if you place the recipe into the blog post you wrote above, so I’d already have the link for it. If you don’t want to do that, you can just send me the new link.
I will include a master list of all of the participating blogs right here on the 32 Poems blog.

Can I count on you? Are you in?

Confession Tuesday

Happy Confession Tuesday, folks! Share a bit of yourself with us and we promise to do the same.


Sometimes change is good.

This is my son, Alex, in the chair for his first Mohawk.

(*sigh* My baby is growing up. *big sigh*)

His biggest fear about today is finding out what his friends at school will think. Not sure if he's ready for all the attention, but he's a trooper. I think he looks terrific, and his sister, Ella, say he looks "really cool!"


Eleven more days to the Massachusetts Poetry Festival! Woo hoo! I am starting to see the finish line. My biggest responsibility has been creating the program, and now that it's off to print I can rest a little easier.

The festival is still in need of volunteers. If you're interested in helping out, go to the Mass Poetry website and click on the volunteer button.


The festival coincides with my busiest week at work. The Thursday before our Saturday college commencement, my team stays late to produce the booklets with the names of the graduates. Can't tell you what a big job that is. I mean, who wants to read their name printed incorrectly on the most important day of their life? That night is May 12, the night of the festival's kickoff event. Poor planning on my part. Oh well, what can you do but go with it.


Should find out this week about if I received a fellowship from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. I applied for a weeklong course. Fingers crossed. I need this week like I need plasma.


Special thanks to Geoffrey Philp for featuring "How to Make a Crab Cake" on his blog.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Five Questions with Michael Ansara

Massachusetts Poetry Festival Co-founder and poet Michael Ansara (far right) with poets Regie Gibson, Jennifer Jean, and Julie Batten at a Mass Poetry Fundraiser.

Every community needs its advocates, and certainly none is more passionate about poetry in Massachusetts than Michael Ansara. He is the co-founder of the Massachusetts Poetry Festival, and the driving force behind MassPoetry, the organizing nonprofit behind the festival. He was gracious enough to answer a few questions for me.

1. We know about the upcoming festival in Salem, May 12-14, but would you tell us how the festival came into being?

In late 2007, I had been attempting to learn how to write decent poetry for three years. I had also been amazed both at the wealth of poetry talent in Massachusetts and at how disconnected poetry was from the overall culture and popular awareness. I would go to a reading in the back of a bookstore and the organizers would be thrilled that there were 20 people to hear poets who should have been performing before 2,000 people.

I had lunch with an old friend of mine, former Congressman Chet Atkins who challenged me to use my old organizing skills (I had spent more than 20 years of my life as an organizer). Chet had just left the board of what is now MassHumanities. With support from MassHumanities and the Massachusetts Cultural Council, I drafted a paper about possibilities. Then, Charles Coe and I organized seven roundtables of poets in each region of the state. One of the possible ideas I floated was for a statewide poetry festival. Poets loved the idea. UMass Lowell and the City of Lowell volunteered to make it happen in record time and Massachusetts Poetry Festival was born.

2. You’ve also created an organizing structure behind the festival. Talk a little about the work that MassPoetry does year-round.
MassPoetry is dedicated to supporting poets and poetry, to creating new audiences for poetry and to taking poetry to people rather than asking them to always search it out. We are especially interested in taking poetry to the people who in some sense need it the most and have the least access to it. So we run a series of programs:

  • Poets and Poetry to the Schools: at the moment we have poets working in after school programs with Citizen Schools in three low performing middle schools in Revere, Charlestown and Roxbury. If we can raise the money we would like to expand that to 15 schools in the fall and 25 in the spring of 2012.
  • Of course, the first day of the Festival is the Student Day of Poetry. This year we have more than 670 high school students attending and another 35 teachers who also spend the day in workshops. We then will run at least one and possibly two Summer Institutes for Teachers – working with them on how to better weave poetry into the classroom.
  • At the Student Day of Poetry we are unveiling our new interactive Poetry of Place website where poets of all ages and all skill levels can post either original poems or the works of others. You can post by cell phone texting (text 41411 and then MASSPOETRY), by email, by Twitter (if you can keep the poem to 140 characters;) and by web post. Your readers can get a head start if they want to try it out.
  • We are also working with a new group of spoken word poet/educators to explore a much broader youth outreach program using spoken word. One possible model is the Louder than a Bomb program in Chicago.
  • Common Threads: this year we launched, a program to promote group reading and discussions of poems by a wide variety groups – book clubs, senior organizations, church organizations, public libraries, schools and colleges. We produced a downloadable guide to reading the poems and had more than 330 groups explore the poems by a cross section of seven poets connected with Massachusetts. Next year, we are hoping to have more than 500 groups and even richer materials for them to use.
  • We want to take poets to communities. If we can raise the money we want to send poets to read into senior housing, community settings and workplaces. Why shouldn’t companies have a Friday brown-bag lunch where everyone hears and talks to a poet?

So an enormous amount to do. We have many other ideas. The problem, of course, is that it takes money to do all this. We are adamant about paying poets for their creative work and their time. So our biggest challenge is to find ways to raise money in a culture where most people and frankly most foundations, government agencies and individual funders do not take poetry seriously. They see it as an inaccessible, arcane art form that has retreated to the academy. I love it when theatres get $10,000,000 grants. But we could transform poetry in Massachusetts with a $250,000 grant – and right now we cannot find the funder who will do that. So everyone at MassPoetry does their best relying primarily on volunteers.

3. What is your hope for MassPoetry? How will it grow?
There is no question MassPoetry will grow. The challenge of course is to grow the funding. We hope to continue the festival, each year getting it a little larger and a little better until soon there are 5,000 people at it and then one day there are 2,000 high school students kicking of a festival of 10,000 people. We can get to those numbers over time.
More importantly, we want to see MassPoetry reach tens of thousands of people through programs such as Common Threads, the youth spoken word initiative, the poets to the communities and workplace initiatives. We can do that—but only if we solve the funding challenge.

4. What do you think about the poetry community in Massachusetts?The poetry community in Massachusetts is remarkable. Remarkable for the wealth of talent that resides in this state. Remarkable for its diversity of voice, style, approach, age , language and self- conception. And remarkable for its balkanization, silly divisions, and its low level of ambition. I hope MassPoetry can help throw a spotlight on the talent and rich diversity and at the same time overcome the divisions and raise the level of ambition.

At MassPoetry, we insist on supporting the full range of poet styles and voices. And we insist that scale matters. It is not enough to have 20 people hear the best of our poets – young poets just starting out or 80 year old poets with a life time of work to share. We need to give thousands of people the experience of engage with the great talent that we have here. That won’t happen until poets set their sights higher, are determined to reach more people, refuse to accept marginalization despite all the economic and cultural forces arrayed against them.

5.You are a very good poet, Michael. Will you be reading your poetry at some point during the festival?
Well, thank you for the compliment! I feel as if I am still learning the craft. Despite my chronological age, I am a very young poet. I do not think it would be right to read my own poetry at a festival that I organize. To start with I do not have the depth of work that even many 22 year old poets have. Therefore, I would really be reading because of my role as co-founder and one of the organizers of the festival – and that to me would be an abuse of my position. So, no, I won’t be reading. But I would be happy to share a poem on your blog.

Michael, in fact, is a very good poet. Too humble for his own good. I'm having trouble formatting the staggered lines for Michael's fine poem. My apologies. 

A Poem For My Friend, Kim Clerc

The flies of Yellowstone in winter live

unseasonably, hovering

within inches of water.

Heat breaks through,

heat alive within the mineral speck;

a life chain that climbs hot and frothy

up finally to flies, persistent, precarious.

An unexpected gust can send any one

soaring toward the sun. Too high.

I was in the white cold

of Yellowstone watching flies,

when you slung that rough rope

over the rafter

in a bare Montana cabin,

when you chose to tilt that chair.


Related Posts with Thumbnails