Martha Collins’s Race Trilogy

Cover art for three books of poems by Martha Collins: Admit One (in red), White Papers, and Blue Front

I first came across Martha Collins’s work at a seminar on taboo at the Mass Poetry Festival. Sharon Olds read a poem about testicles. Jill McDonough read a poem that included a line about a stripper’s “perfect pink asshole.” And Martha Collins read a poem about race. It was the Collins poem that made me the most uncomfortable. I’d spoken about race plenty in conversation with people of color, but for a white person to initialize the discussion seemed uncouth, discomforting, in a way that frank talk about sex is not. To confess the sins of one’s ancestors and acknowledge the privilege of one’s whiteness seems the biggest taboo in our day and age.

Collins read from White Papers, the second in a trilogy about race in the United States. White Papers focuses on the poet’s own recollections of race growing up in the Midwest and living in New England. Blue Front is a book-length poem circling around and around a brutal lynching that her father witnessed in 1909 in Cairo, Illinois. Admit One uses the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis (which her grandparents attended) as a jumping-off point to speak about “scientific racism,” the eugenics movement of the 20th century, and the continuing legacy of racism in the United States. Continue reading “Martha Collins’s Race Trilogy”

Boston Area Poetry Readings for October and November 2017

Poetry and all that jazz

All readings are in Massachusetts unless otherwise noted. Thanks as always to Daniel Bouchard for compiling these listings, and to the fine  organizations that make possible many readings to be found in and around Boston. If you have an event not listed here, please leave details in the comments.

Thursday, October 12, 5:30 pm
Gregory Pardlo
McCormack Family Theater
70 Brown St.
Providence, RI

Continue reading “Boston Area Poetry Readings for October and November 2017”

Mass Poetry Festival on the Horizon

A few months ago, Mass Poetry flattered me by asking me to be a regional representative for Suffolk County. If you have a poetry group or event in the Boston area that is open to the public, please feel free to add a comment with your information, or fill out my contact form.

Here’s a brief round-up of happenings at the 2017 festival,  just two weeks away, Friday to Sunday, May 5 – 7, in Salem, Mass.

This year’s headliners are: Louise Glück · Eileen Myles · Kazim Ali · Andrea Cohen · Cornelius Eady and Rough Magic · Ross Gay · Rigoberto González · Aimee Nezhukumatathil · Emily Pettit · Tom Sleigh · Dara Wier.

Tickets are $20 General Admission, $7 Senior or Student, with a $10 additional fee to attend any workshops over the weekend.

Check out the full schedule, get all the details on venues, and purchase tickets at the Mass Poetry website.

Boston Area Poetry Readings for April 2017

April is National Poetry Month, which means the already vital poetry scene in the Boston area kicks it up to eleven. Start off the month with the Boston National Poetry Month Festival and wrap it up with the Mass Poetry Festival in Salem. In between take your pick from all the events listed below; with so many talented poets from Boston and beyond, it’s hard to go wrong with any of them. A few shout-outs:

This coming Monday, April 3:

  • Nicole Terez Dutton, Regie Gibson, and other luminaries give the second in a series of panels on African American Poetry at the Copley BPL. I attended the first one and found it very inspiring
  • Fellow Lesley poet Eileen Cleary appears that same evening at Newtonville Books with PoemWorks
  • Jill McDonough reads at the Blacksmith House in Cambridge.

Also of note:

  • US Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera appears Thursday, April 6 at Harvard
  • My former workshop-mate Grey Held reads from his second book of poems on Friday, April 7 at Chapter and Verse in Jamaica Plain
  • Boston Poet Laureate Danielle Legros Georges appears Thursday, April 27 at Rozzie Reads in Roslindale.

Saturday, April 1, 7:30 pm
“Singing the Body Electric”: Contemporary Poets Respond to Walt Whitman
Linda Bamber, Nancy Boutilier, Robert Carr, Christine Casson, Amy Clark, Jennifer Clarvoe, Steven Cramer, Tom Daley, Regie Gibson, Joan Houlihan, Dorian Kotsiopoulos, Julia Lisella, Jonathan Weinert, Gail Mazur, Lloyd Schwartz, Theodora Stratis, Joyce Swagerty, Cammy Thomas, Daniel Tobin, and Rosamond Zimmermann
Munroe Saturday Nights at First Parish Church
7 Harrington Rd.
Lexington, MA

Continue reading “Boston Area Poetry Readings for April 2017”

Boston Area Poetry Readings for Late March and All of April 2017

March is the cruelest month, breeding
ice out of vindictive snow, frosting
wintry mix with freezing nights, forcing
whimpers from our dull mouths.

But at least there’s April — National Poetry Month — to look forward to.  As usual, there’s a convocation of poets at the end of the month in Salem for the Mass Poetry Festival on May 5-7. If you’re feeling like too much of an introvert for a mini-AWP though, you can attend one of the readings below instead.

All venues are in Massachusetts unless otherwise noted. If you have an event in the area not listed here, please feel free to leave the information in the comments. Posts are moderated.

Sunday, March 19, 2 pm
Frannie Lindsay and Lynne Potts
Brookline Poetry Series
Brookline Public Library Main Branch in Brookline Village
361 Washington St.
Brookline

Sunday, March 19, 2 pm
Celia Gilbert, Ruth Lepson, and Ethel Rackin
Cambridge Public Library
449 Broadway
Cambridge

Monday, March 20, 7 pm
Kathleen Ossip
Continue reading “Boston Area Poetry Readings for Late March and All of April 2017”

Mass Poetry Events in April 2017

April is National Poetry Month, and in a poet-heavy city like Boston it means events are as numerous and ephemeral as cherry blossoms. Here are three from Mass Poetry, an organization that recently asked me to be a regional rep for Suffolk County. Mass Poetry has a strong educational component, and these events are geared toward students and teachers.


STUDENT OPEN MIC – APRIL 1
On Saturday, April 1st from 5pm – 7pm, Mass Poetry is hosting a student open-mic at Barnes & Noble Burlington (98 Middlesex Turnpike, Burlington, MA 01803), open to all middle and high school students in Massachusetts. Poet Regie Gibson will open and emcee the event, and then the students take over. Two participants will be drawn to receive a Barnes & Noble giftcard.
Please email sara@maspoetry.org with any questions.

STUDENT DAY OF POETRY AT THE MASS POETRY FESTIVAL
Mass Poetry will host a Student Day of Poetry on Friday, May 5th with writing: generative workshops, performances and student open mics, and readings and q&as to kick off the Mass Poetry Festival in Salem, MA. After attending the SDOP, students can attend the rest of the festival for free.

Confirmed poets include Anna Ross, Enzo Surin, Hannah Baker-Siroty, Krysten Hill, Laurin Macios, Lindsey O’Neill, and Regie Gibson. Open to students grades 8 – 12. Registration is $50 per school. Email sara@masspoetry.org to sign your students up.

SUMMER PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT COURSE
Join Mass Poetry for a Summer Professional Development Course August 8 – 10. Poet Regie Gibson will lead the course at The Atlantic Wharf Building (right by South Station) where teachers will learn new techniques to invigorate the classroom next year.

While the session is geared to high school teachers working with the Common Core Curriculum, anyone who seeks to strengthen their knowledge and skills in creative writing poetry instruction are welcome to attend. Teachers can earn PDPs, while others earn Certificates of Completion.

Cost is $50. Register here.

Craft Annotation: Denise Levertov’s Use of Argument and Rhetoric

The concept of argument and rhetoric as craft elements of poetry is very new to me and still feels slippery in my mind, which is why I wanted to focus on it. It’s a novel way to approach the art form and calls attention to a poem’s ability to persuade. According to Wikipedia, literary argument is a brief summary at the beginning of a section of poetry or prose, often used to orient the reader within a larger work. Another definition of argument is a poem’s central idea or thesis. Argument is the thing being said, and rhetoric is the way it’s being said.

In his book Poetic Argument: Studies in Modern Poetry, Jonathan Kertzer writes, “poetic thinking demands an intricate display of reason, which must call forth and submit to its mysterious double, known variously as unreason, the irrational, visionary, intuitive, or transcendent.” This extra element, which gets beyond the purely prosaic and into the realm of unconscious beliefs, yearnings, and desires, is the one that seems to baffle those who “don’t  understand poetry.” Prose writers also employ rhetoric and appeals to emotion, but poetry allows for leaps of intuition and seemingly random association more difficult to sustain in prose.

William Carlos Williams famously said, “no ideas but in things.” The poetry of Denise Levertov illustrates this aesthetic. While her poems easily evoke a particular feeling or even an idea, it can be difficult to tease out a poem’s argument, especially without converting it to dull prose. Continue reading “Craft Annotation: Denise Levertov’s Use of Argument and Rhetoric”

Craft Annotation: Elizabeth Bishop’s Use of Rhyme

by Frances Donovan

In her book The Discovery of Poetry, Frances Mayes discusses rhyme within the context of repetition. This element of craft goes far beyond the end-stopped pure rhymes (mop/top) most people associate with poetry. Rhyme can be any kind of repetition of sound: slant rhymes (month/up); internal rhymes (the loud cloud growled); alliteration, consonance, and assonance (“tremendous fish,” “speckled with barnacles,” “coarse white flesh”); repetition of words, or repetition of entire lines.

Elizabeth Bishop uses all these techniques. Rhyme runs through her poetry like a subtle thread: always there, but not often when or how it’s expected. Even her prose poems (“Rainy Season: Sub-Tropics”) contain internal rhyme, alliteration, consonance, and assonance: “My sides move in rhythmic waves, just off the ground, from front to back, the wake of a ship, a wax-white water, or a slowly melting floe.” One can also interpret the overlap of events in these prose poems as a kind of rhyme. In each piece, the titular animal speaks but portrays the same encounters from a different perspective: “Beware, you frivolous crab,” says the toad. “And I want nothing to do with you either, sulking toad,” says the crab. “Cheer up, O grievous snail. I tap your shell, encouragingly,” says the crab. “What’s that tapping on my shell?” asks the snail. Continue reading “Craft Annotation: Elizabeth Bishop’s Use of Rhyme”

Craft Annotation: Voice and Point of View in Sylvia Plath’s Poetry

by Frances Donovan

One usually hears about point of view as a craft technique in the context of prose. Students of poetry tend to focus on the speaker – “the eye of the poem,” as Frances Mayes puts it. But the two are linked. The mode of narration (first person, second person, third person limited or third person omniscient) informs the kind of “I” from which the poem unfurls. All poems have a speaker; it may be a strong presence that affects the whole tone of the poem, or it may be unobtrusive, a hidden narrator presenting facts without editorializing.

Continue reading “Craft Annotation: Voice and Point of View in Sylvia Plath’s Poetry”