The weekend of May 1-3, I attended the annual Massachusetts Poetry Festival held in Salem, MA. What follows is not exactly a review, but is more like random thoughts and photos.
Let's start with my accommodations. I stayed in a lovely old b & b, The Stepping Stone Inn. The Inn is next door to the famous Salem Witch Musem. I'd like to hint that I had a difficult night of sleep, but I slept surprisingly well! I guess I was far enough away from the witchy-ghosty vibes--my room was in the middle of the building, second floor, overlooking the alley!
The best part of the Inn is that it was a two minute walk to the Peabody Essex Museum where many of the poetry events took place.
The photo below is of the cafe/atrium area of the PEM. The museum had poetry-related crafts tables set up at which any age person could feel comfortable working on a project. This was a poetry silhouette project. Participants were provided with silhouettes, old magazines, scissors, and glue. It was up to the individuals to decide if they wanted to write or "find" a poem, or simply fill their silhouettes with fun words.
Friday night this atrium space was filled with seating for the headline poets, Denise Duhamel, Nick Flynn, and Adrian Matejka.
On Saturday, there was poetry in gallery spaces, on stage, in meeting rooms, etc. There was also music!
The sessions I attended were:
1. "Edna St. Vincent Millay's Massachusetts Poetry."
2. A panel discussion titled, "You Probably Think This Poem Is About You: Lovers, Friends, Family and Children." The discussion primarily focused on the question of "is poetry fiction?" Here are some notes and quotes I jotted down: "I believe it is all fiction." Poetry is "made up of half-remembered stories." Poetry offers "the most liberty." "At some point you just have to trust the reader." One of the panelists thought of poetry as an intellectual exercise and that to become preoccupied in writing form enables the poet to disengage emotionally. And, not surprisingly, another poet said her well ran dry "once I became happy." It was suggested that we look at Ron Padgett's poem, "Poetic License."
This license certifies
That Ron Padgett may tell whatever lies
His heart desires
Until it expires
3. "Big Apple Blues: The songs of Yusef Komunyakaa & Tomas Doncker" performed by the Tomas Doncker Band.
4. "The Golden Shovel: A New Poetic Form that Honors Gwendolyn Brooks" with panelists Jericho Brown, Adrian Matejka, Gail Mazur, Wesley Rothman, Lloyd Schwartz, and Ravi Shankar. There will be a Golden Shovel Anthology coming out in the near future, although I didn't write down a date, so it may not be ready. If you go to the original call for submissions page, you'll learn more about the form.
5. "The State of Poetry" with panelists Stephen Burt, Denise Duhamel, Martin Farawell, Regie Gibson, and Jennifer Jean. As could be expected, this discussion was all over the place! Notes and quotes: There's "an incredible range of poetry online." On the subject of spoken word, "there are multiple poetries" like slam and Poetry Out Loud, and there's room for both. In Poetry Out Loud, students perform poems by poets other than themselves and "every one of those kids reinvents the poem." Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine was the book that "everyone was talking about last year." The talk about the book seemed to center on, "Is it poetry?" The name Angie Estes came up. Regie Gibson's TEDtalk was highly recommended; it's short, so I'm including it here.
Saturday night was a FABULOUS reading by Rita Dove and Richard Blanco. (I know I'm given to hyperbole, but this is no exaggeration!)
On Sunday morning, I attended a discussion on Mass Poetry's outreach program, "Common Threads." Each year poets bring a preselected collection of fewer than ten poems to the "common folk" in libraries, senior centers, etc., where they are read and discussed. I also attended last year's "Common Threads" session and I am fascinated by the idea. This year's panel included Rhina P. Espaillat, Alice Kociemba, John Hodgen, and Fred Marchant. Each poet read two poems that were paired for their discussion possibilities. (To see all the poems, click here.) As an example, John Hodgen read "The Birthing" by Deborah Digges, and one of his own, "For the Man Who Spun Plates." Hodgen said, "If you haven't read any Deborah Digges you need to catch up." I hope to do just that!
"Shakespeare's *itches: The Women Talk Back (A Poetry Musical)," was performed single-handedly by troubadour, Susanna Rich!
The afternoon concluded with a reading by Stephen Burt and Jorie Graham.
All in all, it was a remarkable weekend! There were dozens of other sessions that I wasn't able to attend due to scheduling conflicts, but there's always next year...
I managed to write one poem over the weekend, which I have illustrated with a photo.
The Poetry Friday Round-Up is being held by Matt at Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme (right here in NH, I might add).
All photos and the illustrated poem © Diane Mayr, all rights reserved.