The difficulty with writing about a festival a month after you went (and have since filled the past 30 days with more glorious poetry) is things tend to get forgotten or blend as one. This is a sign of how stand-out many of the MASS PF events were. I only have to look at the title of the session and the event comes flooding back to me.
So, here for your pleasure is the 2nd part of my MASS Poetry Festival write up. After all, it won’t happen again for a couple of years.
Saturday 15th May
Ecopoetry: Words in Balance
As the rainforest burns and wildfires rage, as climate change threatens our world, poets can bear witness, reflecting on the intricate interconnectedness of humanity, our planet, and nature. We are nature. EcoPoetry offers us a lifeline to hidden worlds and reminds us of our shared reliance on nature. This session explores the role of the poet as activist, as chronicler of destruction, as truth teller. In this reading, poets Fred Marchant, Jennifer Barber, Deborah Leipziger and Myronn Hardy share their ecopoems and reflect on the power of EcoPoetry to transform and heal our world and ourselves.
Fred Marchant has authored five books of poetry, the most recent of which, Said Not Said, was named an Honored Book by the Massachusetts Book Awards. He has edited Another World Instead: The Early Poetry of William Stafford, and, co-translated (with Nguyen Ba Chung) works by several contemporary Vietnamese poets.
Deborah Leipziger is a poet, author, and advisor on sustainability. Her chapbook, Flower Map, was published by Finishing Line Press. Born in Brazil, Ms. Leipziger is the author of several books on sustainability. Twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize, her poems have been published in literary magazines in four countries.
Jennifer Barber’s new collection, The Sliding Boat Our Bodies Made, is forthcoming from The Word Works in 2022. Her book Works on Paper was published by The Word Works in 2016, and her two previous collections, both from Kore Press, are Given Away, and Rigging the Wind.
Myronn Hardy is the author of five books of poems, most recently, Radioactive Starlings, published by Princeton University Press (2017). His poems have appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the Virginia Quarterly Review, the Baffler, Rhino, and elsewhere.
© Massachusetts Poetry Festival 2021
This was a generous event, introductory poems by other great poets and some wonderfully powerful poetry. The poets shared context for their poems and sometimes process. I could have listened to all four of them for hours! An incredible Q&A after the readings too. Great interaction with the audience.
My two main USA hangouts since Lockdown 2020 have been The Walt Whitman Birthplace and the Emily Dickinson Museum. Both organisations have offered amazingly creative online content. Emily Dickinson was my first poet. One I have loved the work of all my life. I started learning about her life as a teenager and have never let go. I can’t believe it took a Lockdown to get me searching online for the Museum. I have certainly made up for it since!
Walt Whitman didn’t hit my radar until I came back to writing in 2013, but swiftly found his place in my heart and bookshelf. There is something incredibly magic about words that last the centuries and are still relevant today.
I had booked on the Annual poetry walk before MASS PF released the programme – but it is great that it fell during the festival and was part of it.
“Called Back”: A Virtual Emily Dickinson Poetry Walk
Days before her death in 1886, Emily Dickinson wrote her final letter, “Little Cousins, / Called Back. / Emily”. On May 15, the 135th anniversary of the poet’s death, join the Emily Dickinson Museum for an engaging virtual poetry reading and “walk” through Amherst, the town she called “paradise.” At each stop, we will see historical and contemporary images of sites of meaning for Dickinson including her garden and conservatory at the Homestead, The Evergreens — home to the poet’s brother and sister-in-law; the town common; Amherst College; and more. Not a lecture, this program infuses place with poetry. At each stop contemporary poets share their Dickinson-inspired poems and volunteers read Dickinson’s own words aloud. The final stop is Dickinson’s grave in West Cemetery where we will share reflections and a light-hearted virtual toast!
Elizabeth Bolton has a PhD in Literacy Education from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. She writes articles, essays and poems about the connection between writing and mental health. She grew up in northern California and now lives in Niagara Falls, Ontario with her husband and two daughters.
Lori Desrosiers’ poetry books are The Philosopher’s Daughter, Sometimes I Hear the Clock Speak, and Keeping Planes in the Air, all from Salmon Poetry. Two chapbooks, Inner Sky and Typing with e.e. cummings, are from Glass Lyre Press. She edits Naugatuck River Review, a journal of narrative poetry and Wordpeace.co, an online journal dedicated to social justice.
Hannah Baker Saltmarsh is the author of the poetry collection, Hysterical Water, published by The University of Georgia Press in March 2021. She has written a book of poetry criticism, entitled Male Poets and the Agon of the Mother: Contexts in Confessional and Post-confessional Poetry (Univ. of South Carolina P., 2019). She is the mother of three children, and lives with her husband in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where she teaches and writes.
Kate Godin lives in Western Massachusetts, where she tends to the writing needs of a small liberal arts college, a tween and a teen, a vigorous anxiety. She is a graduate of Bates College and the New School for Social Research.
Bonnie Larson Staiger is a North Dakota Associate Poet Laureate, the recipient of the ‘Poetry of the Plains and Prairies Prize (NDSU Press, 2018) and the ‘Independent Press Award: Distinguished Favorite’ (2019) for her collection, Destiny Manifested. Her second book In Plains Sight, is forthcoming from NDSU Press in 2021.
Robin Long is a queer poet and writer from Austin. She is expanding her fiction thesis on Emily Dickinson. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee, 2020 National Poetry Month Editor’s Pick, and a digital poetry performer with FEELS Zine.
Siri Palreddy is a first-year at Amherst College, hoping to study both English and Neuroscience. An avid reader, she first discovered Emily Dickinson in high school, and has loved her work ever since. Apart from poetry, Siri enjoys writing creative nonfiction and is compelled by stories that navigate one’s identity (or identities) and roots. When not reading or writing, you can find Siri spending her free time volunteering, laying in the sun, or rewatching her favorite comfort shows.
Peter Schmitt is the author of six books of poems. “Emily Dickinson and the Boston Red Sox” appears in his new collection, Goodbye, Apostrophe (Regal House). A graduate of Amherst and The Iowa Writers Workshop, he lives and teaches in his hometown of Miami, Florida.
Don Skoog is a freelance musician, writer, and teacher living in Oak Park, Illinois. He plays Classical percussion and Jazz drums, as well as Latin American, Arabic, and Persian instruments. He authors books and articles on exploring culture through music—the latest, in Arabic, for The University of Chicago’s Majala magazine—and has written four novels (not all of them published yet). The poem Amherst, is from Adventures in the RhythmVerse, his first chapbook.
Rebecca Starks is the author of the poetry collections Time Is Always Now, a finalist for the 2019 Able Muse Book Award, and Fetch, Muse (forthcoming from Able Muse Press), and is the recipient of Rattle’s 2018 Neil Postman Award for Metaphor. She lives in Richmond, Vermont.
Abigail Price is a 24 year old English poet, writer and Undergraduate student studying Criminology, Criminal Justice and Social Policy at the University of Wolverhampton in England. Most of Abigail’s work is inspired by her past and significantly, nature which aided her recovery from mental illness in her early teenage years. Abigail is an avid writer & reader and her dream is to influence social change through British politics alongside writing beautiful poetry to leave people a little bit better, than when her poems found them.
© Emily Dickinson Museum
This tradition has been ongoing for 37 years it was initiated by a group of Amherst based Dickinson enthusiasts and was adopted by the Emily Dickinson museum. And today it continues to draw new and returning devotees each year we’re so thrilled that you’re here with us.
A deeply celebratory event, one you can watch on the website link above. On the virtual poetry walk we visited six locations significant to the life of the have Emily Dickinson. Ten contemporary poets and volunteers read the poetry as we had the full text shown on screen, along with archive resources and photographs. Lots of historical information cleverly weaved through the event. It was beautiful.
It was one of those events which fully absorbs you! The laying of daisies towards the end was extremely emotional especially because of the pandemic and all those lives we have lost. A toast and choral reading at the end made us all feel connected across the world too.
After the event we were able to sign the virtual Guest Book.
A beautiful poetry walk to take with you all at teatime in the UK. Lovely choral reading to toast Emily and finish the event. Felt very connected, glad you could be part of the MASS Poetry Festival. Very excited to hear more about the restoration too. Carpets from England.
…For what are Stars but Asterisks
To point a human Life?
A magical experience.
My final MASS PF event of the day was the Headline reading. I am a massive fan of Naomi Shihab Nye’s writing and always enjoy watching her readings. They have been a big part of my 2020+ Lockdown.
Headline Reading with Porsha Olayiwola, Tyehimba Jess, and Naomi Shihab Nye
Sponsored by The Grolier Poetry Book Shop
Black, futurist, poet, dyke, hip-hop feminist, womanist: Porsha is a native of Chicago who now resides in Boston. Olayiwola is a writer, performer, educator, and curator who uses afro-futurism and surrealism to examine historical and current issues in the Black, woman, and queer diasporas. She is an Individual World Poetry Slam Champion and the artistic director at MassLEAP, a literary youth organization. Olayiwola is an MFA Candidate at Emerson College. Porsha Olayiwola is the author of i shimmer sometimes, too forthcoming with Button Poetry, and is the current poet laureate for the city of Boston.
Tyehimba Jess is the author of two books of poetry, Leadbelly and Olio. Olio won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, The Midland Society Author’s Award in Poetry, and received an Outstanding Contribution to Publishing Citation from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. It was also nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the PEN Jean Stein Book Award, and the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. Leadbelly was a winner of the 2004 National Poetry Series. The Library Journal and Black Issues Book Review both named it one of the “Best Poetry Books of 2005.”
Jess, a Cave Canem and NYU Alumni, received a 2004 Literature Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and was a 2004–2005 Winter Fellow at the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. Jess is also a veteran of the 2000 and 2001 Green Mill Poetry Slam Team, and won a 2000–2001 Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Poetry, the 2001 Chicago Sun-Times Poetry Award, and a 2006 Whiting Fellowship. He presented his poetry at the 2011 TedX Nashville Conference and won a 2016 Lannan Literary Award in Poetry. He received a Guggenheim fellowship in 2018. Jess is a Professor of English at College of Staten Island.
Jess’ fiction and poetry have appeared in many journals, as well as anthologies such as Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry, Beyond The Frontier: African American Poetry for the Twenty-First Century, Role Call: A Generational Anthology of Social and Political Black Literature and Art, Bum Rush the Page: A Def Poetry Jam, Power Lines: Ten Years of Poetry from Chicago’s Guild Complex, and Slam: The Art of Performance Poetry.
Naomi Shihab Nye
Naomi Shihab Nye has been a Lannan Fellow, a Guggenheim Fellow, and a Witter Bynner Fellow (Library of Congress). She has received a Lavan Award from the Academy of American Poets, the Isabella Gardner Poetry Award, the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, the Paterson Poetry Prize, four Pushcart Prizes, the Robert Creeley Prize, and “The Betty Prize” from Poets House, for service to poetry, and numerous honors for her children’s literature, including two Jane Addams Children’s Book Awards. In 2011 Nye won the Golden Rose Award given by the New England Poetry Club, the oldest poetry reading series in the country. Her collection, 19 Varieties of Gazelle, was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her work has been presented on National Public Radio on A Prairie Home Companion and The Writer’s Almanac. She has been featured on two PBS poetry specials including “The Language of Life with Bill Moyers” and also appeared on NOW with Bill Moyers. She has been affiliated with The Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin for 20 years and also poetry editor at The Texas Observer for 20 years. In 2019-2020 she was the editor for New York Times Magazine poems. She is Chancellor Emeritus for the Academy of American Poets, a laureate of the 2013 NSK Neustadt Award for Children’s Literature, and in 2017 the American Library Association presented Naomi Shihab Nye with the 2018 May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Award. In 2018 the Texas Institute of Letters awarded her the Lon Tinkle Award for Lifetime Achievement. She was named the 2019-2021 Young People’s Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation. In 2020 she was awarded the Ivan Sandrof Award for Lifetime Achievement by the National Book Critics Circle. Nye is professor of Creative Writing – Poetry at Texas State University.
© Massachusetts Poetry Festival 2021
It was a great introduction (for me) to both Porsha Olayiwola’s work and Tyehimba Jess. Olayiwola’s reading focused on social poetry, historical commentary and current issues facing black women. It was a totally enthralling and powerful set. She is a woman who harnesses poetic courage and uses it well.
Tyehimba Jess was fantastic – I could have listened to him for hours. So many hard hitting, grabbing lines.
‘What I know good starts with a brick and ends with a book
and bleeds in between,’
Jess bridges Slam and Academic poetry, I could hear the Blues influence in the rhythm of is work, the feel of it.
And as for Naomi Shihab Nye – wow. Generous and endearing as always. Quietly getting her point across. Passionate and dedicated to the work of poetry. The way she can approach such difficult subjects with complete gentleness is beyond me. She started with sharing her reasons for admiring MA poetic history, the poets who have come from this part of the world and she read a poem by a young Californian poet she knows, Emily Ligron. The MASS PF as a whole seemed to be very proactive in promoting unsung voices and the work of other famous, important poets from the area.
A fantastic day at the festival!