Mass Poetry Festival on the Horizon

Elle Villanelle's Poetry Bordello at the 2017 Mass Poetry Festival

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

Photograph of a window display for national poetry month. Photo credit: J Brew via Flickr, Creative Commons License 2.0

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

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

Photograph of crocuses over snow

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.

Boston Area Poetry Readings for February and March 2017

A human form sculpted out of snow, sitting on a park bench

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice

— Wallace Stevens, “The Snow Man

Bring your mind of frozen junipers, of frozen ponds, of melting snow, of snowdrops and crocuses–bring whatever mind you have to a poetry reading. All minds are welcome.

Friday, February 3, 7 pm
First Friday Youth Open Mic (music and poetry)
First Baptist Church
Centre Street and Green Street
Jamaica Plain

Friday, February 3, 7:30 pm
Chapter and Verse
Susan Donnelly, Jeffrey Harrison, Jennifer Jean
Loring-Greenough House
12 South Street (across from the Monument)
Jamaica Plain

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Dispatches from an MFA: Nonlinear Time

Two clock faces. Photo credit Ron Kroetz, Creative Commons 2.0

As so many writers do, I’ve been letting the perfect get in the way of the good when it comes to these dispatches. I thought it would be a simple matter to re-purpose some of the prose that I sent along with my monthly packets, but the work involved in creating the packets (along with all of my less writerly responsibilities) makes even that relatively easy task more difficult than anticipated. I’m sure I’ll share that work at a later point. But for right now, let me discuss a thorny problem I’ve been having when it comes to my own poems — a craft element, as one would call it in the creative-writing MFA world.

The great problem I’m working on this month is the use of nonlinear time in a single poem — how to transition from one scene to another and to another or back to the first while making the poem feel all of a piece. There’s a lot of talk about keeping the reader in the “moment” of the poem, so this feels like an advanced technique to me, and one that I really want to master.

I did a lot of hunting for poems that use this particular technique and finally had to resort to crowdsourcing (thank God/dess for one particular Facebook community of women poets) to find relevant poems. So far, most of my work this packet has been of the thinking, reading, and researching variety, so it’s a relief to have at least half of one craft annotation finished. I’m trying not to think about the relatively short time remaining before the entire thing is due. As Anne Lamott would say, you do it bird by bird.

Here’s a listing of the poems I’ve found so far, with links where appropriate and bibliographical references where not:

So far, the key seems to be anchoring the work in one particular image or phrase, especially by beginning and ending with it. While I’ve been aware of Robert Pinksy’s work since I moved to Boston 16 years ago, it wasn’t until I read “Shirt” that I became aware of the depth of his own craft. This poem in particular swings back and forth from the moment of putting on a shirt to all the implications of the object itself — stitched together most appropriate with the poetic technique of cataloging and the metric iambs he uses in his lists.

Do you know of a particular poem that also deals with nonlinear time?


Two clock faces photo credit Ron Kroetz via Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0

Boston Area Poetry Readings for October and November 2016

Photograph of a quotation by T.S. Eliot

Poetry readings in Boston and environs abound well into November this year. Of special note: a celebration of Latin American Poetry at the Center Communities of Brookline on Sunday, October 16; Liz Janick and Grey Held at Newtonville Books on Monday, November 7; and three evenings in a row of readings at the Granoff Center for the Arts in Providence, Rhode Island.

Full listings follow.

Continue reading “Boston Area Poetry Readings for October and November 2016”

Boston Area Poetry Readings for October 2016

Photograph of pumpkins piled in wooden bins

Take a break from apple-picking, pumpkin-carving, and costume-making. Join your fellow Yankees in a warm room on a cool night and listen to some poetry. Venues range from Gloucester to Providence, Boston to Northampton. Thanks as always to fellow poet Daniel Bouchard for compiling these listings.

Saturday, October 1, 7:30 pm
Kate Tarlow Morgan
Gloucester Writers Center
126 East Main Street
Gloucester, MA

Continue reading “Boston Area Poetry Readings for October 2016”

At What Price Poetry?

Photograph of small stacks of pennies

A fellow poet recently had the courage to complain about the expense of our chosen vocation. It’s a sad fact that the net proceeds for poets are usually negative. We often have to pay to develop our craft and get ourselves read. Perhaps it’s not unlike many art forms in this way — especially the “fine” arts like ballet. In the case of poetry, schools, workshops, conferences, book tours, and contest fees all add up. Those of us who publish books may end up making little or nothing on them. Readings at most venues don’t offer remuneration, while the poet usually ends up having to pay for gas and dinner. If you sell a few books, you’re lucky to break even.

Payment — or lack thereof — is difficult subject to speak about in public settings, partly because of the unspoken taboo on discussing money matters at all, and partly because of the notion that artists must do what they love for free, or have to suffer for their art, living in garrets and shivering next to wood stoves. It’s easy to sound bitter, and no one wants to publish — or read — a bitter poet. It is possible to make a living as a writer of prose, but not with poetry. Not in American society, where most mentions of poetry in mainstream society joke about how awful it is to have to listen to it.

This double bind is why I went into web development in the mid 1990s. I didn’t have parents who could support me or supplement my income and I didn’t have the connections that make it so much easier to break into publishing. Zines and websites used to circumvent the snooty literary establishment, but the fact is that my education and inclinations have given me champagne taste when it comes to literature in general and poetry in particular.

After 20 years in an industry that’s taken me further and further away from my literary roots, I’m embarking on a low-residency MFA program that will allow me to keep my job while I focus on honing my craft in my off-hours. An MFA is not cheap. I was fortunate enough to qualify for a merit scholarship, but I’ll be paying for the bulk of tuition with student loans. Once I graduate, my monthly payments will equal about half of mortgage. Worst case scenario is that I end up saddled with so much debt that means I can’t afford to make a career change more in line with my passions.

All of that being said, I do believe there are bright spots in the cloudy future. Grants do exist. Paying gigs (mostly teaching, but also prose writing) do exist. Scholarships do exist. Free artist residencies do exist. Lesley awarded me a scholarship and I’ve won awards in the past so I know it’s a possibility for me. The key is to not get sucked in to the maw of the pay-for-play mentality of some literary circles. And that’s hard because sometimes the people in those circles are the poets I really admire and want to be like.

I’ve spent so much time avoiding dedicating myself to the arts because I’ve been too afraid of failure. I’m taking the leap this time — or, more accurately, I’m taking a measured, clear-eyed walk along a rocky and difficult path that hugs the side of the mountain.

Succeeding in the end might require a revision of my definition of success into outcomes I can directly affect rather than those that depend on the whim and tastes of judges and editors. When I look at it that way, success is inevitable.

Photo credit: slgckgc via Flickr, CC 2.0