Saturday, April 20, 2013

Mass. Poetry Festival to Feature Pulitzer Prize Winner Sharon Olds and 10 Other Headliner Poets

Mass. Poetry Festival to Feature Pulitzer Prize Winner Sharon Olds and 10 Other Headliner Poets

            By Jacquelyn Malone  (Mass. Poetry Advisory Board)

At last year’s Massachusetts Poetry Festival J. D. Scrimgeour, a poet and member of the festival planning committee,  was setting up a table for the book fair. A stranger walked by and asked if she could help. As the two positioned the table, Scrimgeour asked her name, and she replied, “I’m nobody! Who are you?” Scrimgeour replied, “I’m nobody, too.” And the two strangers, laughing, began to recite alternating lines of Emily Dickenson’s famous poem before they went their own merry ways. Not your typical stranger-in-the-street meeting.

But it is typical of the ambience of the Massachusetts Poetry Festival. Last year over a crowded lunch table, more than one person commented on meeting someone at the festival who could become a good friend.

This year’s event, which runs May 3 through 5 in Salem, Massachusetts, will not only have Pulitzer Prize champs like this year’s winner Sharon Olds and previous winners Tracy Smith and Yusef Komunyakaa, it will have camaraderie like that Scrimgeour experienced.

Jill McDonough described last year’s festival, which also took place in Salem, this way: “Shining pedestrian walkways filled with poetry, poets, people who love poetry.” McDonough was talking about a city where store windows sported poems, shower curtains with poems written on them, and bars of soap in paper wrappers with snippets from poems. Like last year’s festival, this year’s will have a poetry trolley car circling the various venues in downtown Salem with poets reciting poems in route from one event to the next. It will have a typewriter orchestra tapping out rhythms of symphonies – or poems. There’ll be a a small press and literary magazine fair, and, back this year by popular demand, a reading by Steve Almond of the winners of the annual bad poetry contest.

Many of the participants in the Saturday session Dead Poets among the Living have ties to Somerville and local group, Tapestry of Voices. They are Lainie Senechal, Kathleen Spivak, Doug Holder, Kirk Etherton, Lucy Holstedt, and Harris Garnder. They will be reading Robert Frost, e.e. cummins, John Greenleaf Whittier and other poets no longer with us, pairing those classic poems with some of their own. The poets will be supported by a talented jazz trio.

The three day program includes poetry readings, workshops, panels on poetry, music, and visual arts, including a Cinco de Mayo reading on May 5. The Peabody Essex Museum, which provides the venue for many festival events, has a special series of programs for families, such as Make Your Own Magnetic Poetry.

There’ll be a session on taboos subjects like race, sex and class. Some of the other sessions include a panel on war and social consequences, the reading of poems about pregnancy and motherhood, a reading of the nine Common Threads poems selected by Mass Poetry for discussions in book clubs, libraries, senior centers, etc.. across the state.

And there will be slam and spoken word performances to delight young people. And their elders.

Each day features headliner poets:

On Friday evening (at 7:30–9:30 p.m. in the Atrium of the Peabody Essex Museum) poets read poems about the humor and the dysfunction of family, Michael Jackson and the Hubble telescope. 
The poets are:
Tracy K. Smith (Life on Mars), winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry.
Nick Flynn (Another Bullshit Night in Suck City,) poet and memoirist.
Jill McDonough (Where You Live), who chose the poems for Common Threads this year.

Saturday evening (at 7:30–9 p.m. in the First Universalist Church of Salem) three writers demonstrate the extraordinary possibilities of poetry to reveal the personal and political experiences of American life.
The poets are:
Sharon Olds (Stag’s Leap), 2013 winner of the TS Eliot Poetry Prize and this year’s Pulitzer Prize poet.
Terrance Hayes (Lighthead), the 2010 National Book Award for Poetry winner.
Eduardo C. Corral (Slow Lightning), whose first collection won the prestigious Yale Series of Younger Poets competition.

Sunday afternoon (at 2:15–3:15 p.m. at PEM’s Native American Gallery)
The poets are:
Arthur Sze (The Ginkgo Light), Santa Fe-based poet and recent winner of the Jackson Poetry Prize.
Gail Mazur (Figures in a Landscape), Cambridge-based poet.

Sunday afternoon (at 3:45–4:45, PEM’s East India Room)
The poets are:
Yusef Komunyakaa (The Chameleon Couch), 1994 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.
Kevin Goodan (Winter Tenor), a poet with Massachusetts ties.
Erica Funkhouser (Earthly) ), a poet with Massachusetts ties.

During the festival more than 100 poets will engage with thousands of people. Admission for all weekend events is $15 or $7 for students and seniors.

The website provides a complete schedule of events, a list of book stores for festival buttons sales (your admission to events), and a social media platform for festival goers to pre-register for events.

See you there!

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