On Celebrating National Poetry Month While Earning an MFA

National Poetry Month is April, the cruelest month according to T.S. Eliot. And I get where he’s coming from, especially in Boston, where lilacs may or may not be breeding out of the dead ground. This month, everything bloomed late because the Weather Gods decided to send us temps in the 40s for most of March and April, and then bust directly into summer on May 2 with a high of 87. I should be used to this by now, seeing as I’ve lived in Boston for 18 years. But California spoiled me in my toddler years, and on some level I’ll always mourn weeks and weeks of room-temperature weather. The temperamental temperatures affect my mood as well, leading to unpredictable amounts of spoons.

The good thing about National Poetry Month is also the bad thing about National Poetry Month: everyone is celebrating poetry. As anyone perusing the listings I post can see, Boston has a thriving po-scene. There are open mics and slams and performances and launch parties and panels and exclusive hoity-toity readings every week and twice on Sundays. In April the listings just explode. And those are just the ones I know about–I hear about other ones all the time that don’t make my list. And then there are the informal writing groups, as secret and desirable as lesbian potlucks.

Continue reading “On Celebrating National Poetry Month While Earning an MFA”

Boston Area Poetry Readings for April and May 2018

National Poetry Month (image with flowers)

National Poetry Month lives up to its name with a boatload of readings in Boston and environs. Special shout-outs:

Martha Collins and Joan Houlihan in Newton (4/3)
Kazim Ali and Stephanie Burt in Cambridge (4/4)
Robbie Gamble and Helen Marie Casey in Newton (4/6)
Marge Piercy in Boston (4/7)
Louise Glück in Cambridge (4/12)
Anne Waldman and Meredith Monk in Providence, RI (4/13)
Gloria Mindock, Lori Desrosiers, and Dorothy Shubow Nelson in Somerville (4/14)
Layli Long Soldier in Providence, RI (4/26)
Tracy K. Smith in Providence, RI (4/27)
Lyn Hejinian in Cambridge (5/22)

Thanks as always to Daniel Bouchard (reading Saturday, May 12 at the MIT Press Bookstore) for compiling these listings.

Monday, April 2, 12 pm
Ewa Chrusciel
Common Room, CSWR
42 Francis Ave.
Harvard Divinity School
Cambridge, MA

Monday, April 2, 2 pm
J.D. Scrimgeour
Federal Building — Assembly Room
Middlesex Community College
50 Kearney Square
Lowell, MA

Monday, April 2, 7 pm
Catherine Stearns and Nate Klug
Book launch, reading, and reception
Newtonville Books
10 Langley Rd
Newton, MA

Monday, April 2, 8 pm
Gabrielle Calvocoressi and Gabriel Fried
Blacksmith House Poetry Series
56 Brattle Street
Cambridge, MA

Continue reading “Boston Area Poetry Readings for April and May 2018”

Heather McHugh’s Poetic Music

Photograph of hands on a piano keyboard with sheet music

When I first picked up Heather McHugh’s work[i], I delighted in her witty use of language – the way she was able to pick out a word’s multiple meanings in the course of tightly musical and lyrical verse. Some examples:

From “Spectacles:”[ii]

I don’t move
but the grass in the window
does an utter
smear campaign…

From “Politics:”[iii]

The dog pauses before the fire,
watches, gains
weight, can’t make
light of it, lies
heavy down…

By themselves, these puns and surprising twists of language might suffice, but McHugh combines this wordplay with an unerring attention to the sound and rhythm of her lines as well. Continue reading “Heather McHugh’s Poetic Music”

Rainier Maria Rilke’s Use of Imagery

Photograph of a bowl of multicolored roses

In The Discovery of Poetry[i], Frances Mayes breaks imagery into three categories: literal imagery (the thing itself), figurative imagery (images used to describe the thing), and symbols (an image or action that stands for more than itself). A symbol differs from a literal or figurative because of the far-reaching semantic ripples that surround it. The red wheelbarrow is an image; the American flag is a symbol.

Rilke’s work returns again and again to the symbol of the rose. What sorts of associations does the symbol of the rose evoke? Love, femininity, openness, vulnerability, romantic and sexual love, impermanence. The rose is a symbol for the Madonna in Catholic tradition, and was a symbol for her predecessor Venus. The medieval French poem, “Le Roman de la Rose,” tells an allegorical story of courtly love. At the heart of Dante’s Paradiso lies a rose. On St. Valentine’s Day, lovers give one another red roses as a symbol of their love for one another. “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” says Juliet, exhorting her lover Romeo to give up his family name.
Continue reading “Rainier Maria Rilke’s Use of Imagery”

Dispatches from an MFA: Semester One, Third Packet

Here’s the cover letter to the third packet I sent to my teacher Sharon Bryan during the first semester of my Lesley MFA.

Dear Sharon:

It was such a pleasure to meet up with you in person last week. Written correspondence is a thing to treasure but there is no substitute for a face-to-face meeting. And it’s always great to have an excuse to sit and chat at the Algiers.

As I said to you via email, I really enjoyed Heather McHugh’s playful approach to language – especially the way that she plays with the multiple meanings and connotations of a single word. Picking her up reminded me that working for an MFA is something I undertook for the pleasure of the task rather than the obligation of the schoolwork. Here’s one example of her wordplay that I didn’t include in my craft annotation: Continue reading “Dispatches from an MFA: Semester One, Third Packet”

Dispatches from an MFA: Semester One, Second Packet

Below is the cover letter for the second packet of my first semester at the Lesley MFA program. I was fortunate enough to work with Sharon Bryan that term.

Dear Sharon:

Receiving your feedback on the first packet was inspiring. It managed to set just the right balance between encouragement and challenge. I agree with you that I should focus on free verse line for the rest of the semester. I did want to try my hand at some forms I’d seen in Plath’s and Bishop’s writing – especially the aba / bcb tercets with long-short-long alternations in addition to the rhymes. They were forms I hadn’t worked with before, especially with the use of off-rhymes. It’s so easy to want to emulate the style and voice of the poet one is reading rather than applying some of their craft to one’s own voice.

Continue reading “Dispatches from an MFA: Semester One, Second Packet”

Boston-Area Poetry Readings for January and February 2018

Poetry to Beat the Winter Blues. Photo credit: Pom Angers via Flickr, Creative Commons License 2.0.

In my unbiased opinion, the one must-see reading this winter is happening on Saturday, February 3 at 2pm. Come see me (Frances Donovan), Erica Charis-Molling, Sonja Johnson, and Heather Derr-Smith read for free at the newly renovated library in beautiful Jamaica Plain.

Others might argue that honor goes to Nikki Giovanni (!) at Brookline Booksmith on Friday, February 2.

Also a shout-out to Regie Gibson and the other fine poets performing at the Gwendolyn Brooks tribute this Saturday, January 13 in Lexington, Mass.

All readings are in Massachusetts.

Friday, January 12, 7:30 pm
Alan Smith Soto, Tim Suermondt, and Pui Ying Wong
Loring-Greenough House
12 South Street (across from the Monument)
Jamaica Plain, MA

Saturday January 13, 3 pm
Chris O’Carroll and David Davis
Powow River Poets Reading Series
Newburyport Public Library
94 State St.
Newburyport, MA

Saturday, January 13, 4 pm
Tara Skurtu
Porter Square Books
25 White Street
Cambridge, MA

Saturday, January 13, 7:30 pm
Contemporary Poets Celebrate Gwendolyn Brooks
Nancy Boutilier, Robert Carr, Jennifer Clarvoe, Tom Daley, Regie Gibson, Krysten Hill, Dorian Kotsiopoulos, Julia Lisella, Kathy Nilsson, Sabrina Sadique, Lloyd Schwartz, Joyce Swagerty, Cammy Thomas, Jonathan Weinert
Munroe Saturday Nights series
First Parish Church
7 Harrington Road
Lexington, MA

Wednesday, January 17, 8 pm
Valerie Duff and Musical Guest
Unearthed Song & Poetry
Home.stead Bakery & Cafe
Fields Corner
1448 Dorchester Ave.
Dorchester, MA

Continue reading “Boston-Area Poetry Readings for January and February 2018”

Boston-Area Poetry Readings for November and December 2017

Poetry to Beat the Winter Blues. Photo credit: Pom Angers via Flickr, Creative Commons License 2.0.

Poetry can bring a little light and warmth into these cold, dark evenings. Go get you some.

Thursday, November 2, 6 pm
Douglas Kearney and Tracie Morris
Edison Newman Room, Houghton Library
Harvard University
Cambridge, MA

Thursday, November 2, 6:30 pm
Barbara Siegel Carlson
Carver Public Library
Carver, MA

Thursday, November 2, 7 pm
Simone John and Ruby Poltorak
Rozzie Reads Poetry and Open Mic
Roslindale House
120 Poplar Street
Roslindale, MA

Saturday, November 4, 3 pm
Vietnam vet Marc Levy
Book reading/Short film
VFW Hall
95 Derby Street
Salem, MA

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

Boston Area Poetry Readings for September and October 2017

Poetry readings lie thick as apples on the ground. Thanks to poet Daniel Bouchard for gathering them into one basket for the rest of us.

Friday, September 8, 7 pm
Zvi A. Sesling, Gloria Mindock, and Len Krisak
Brookline Booksmith
Harvard Street
Coolidge Corner, Brookline, MA

Continue reading “Boston Area Poetry Readings for September and October 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.