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May 22, 2015

Poetry Friday--Mass Poetry Festival Review

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!

Key: yellow arrow = Stepping Stone Inn, my room was on the second floor; blue = Salem Witch Museum; red = red-painted line indicating Salem Heritage Trail; green = nine-foot tall bronze statue of the founder of Salem, Roger Conant. It is the work of Henry Kitson, who also sculpted the Minuteman statue on Lexington Green.

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."

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.

Click on the image to enlarge for easier reading and to get a look at the cat.

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.


  1. I can just see all that taking place! Thanks for sharing, Diane.

  2. What a great weekend you had! Loved your recap and photos. I visited Salem once and was fascinated by the Witch's Museum. Envy your having heard Rita Dove and Richard Blanco. Love your poem -- the ending with the cat was purrrrrfect!

  3. What a powerful video! Put your shoulder to the rock -- this ain't my exit yet! Thanks for bringing us along on your poetry weekend!

  4. It does sound like it was FABULOUS!

    1. You should make the trip down from Maine next year, Donna! Although, depending on where you are in Maine, it may not be a day trip!

  5. You've just been immersed I think. Sounds wonderful, & thanks for some names new to me, Diane.

  6. Wow. What a wonder-ful post. The last stanza in your poem is so evocative. The TED talk...powerful. Sounds like it was a pretty okay weekend. (reverse hyperbole :-)

  7. Another lucky duck! You and Robyn in your travels and experiences! Thanks for taking the time to write it all up--I almost feel like I was there, Diane. Your poem captures the heightened awareness we have when we spend time in the rarefied atmosphere of art and artists...nice job!

    1. Thanks, Heidi! I have to capture those experiences quickly or else they slip away within weeks.

  8. Love Salem; love this post; love your poem! Heidi's right; we've both been lucky ducks with these poetry-related trips recently.
    It would take not the slightest twist of my arm to come up with an excuse to head back up to Salem one of these years... don't be surprised if I toss that out there! ;0)
    Many thanks for sharing all this goodness & all these links.

    1. Within a month's time I went to an "conversation" with Tomie dePaola, the Newburyport Lit Fest, and then the Mass Poetry Festival. It seems it's either feast or famine. Glad to be feasting now.