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!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

So Spoke Penelope by Tino Villanueva

So Spoke Penelope

by Tino Villanueva

Grolier Poetry Press

Cambridge MA

Copyright © 2013 by Tino Villanueva

60 pages, softbound, no price given

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

For twenty years a woman waits, waits for a husband to return. Men come to her home— a different kind of siege, they want her to pick a new husband. They want her home, her wealth, her body. What’s a woman to do?

Poet Tino Villanueva who won an American Book Award in 1994 for Scene From The Movie GIANT has written another volume of poetry which deserves a prize: So Spoke Penelope – the woman under siege in her own home.

However, Penelope is no ordinary woman, she is the wife of a king, and no ordinary king.

Her husband is Odysseus, king of Ithaca and Homer’s hero.

As Villanueva envisions her, Penelope is a strong woman, one who many women today would not only admire, but of whom they would be jealous.

Take for example the poem How I Wait in which Penelope tells of her loneliness:

Today I sit by a window, my spirit

swimming out into the deep-azure-blue of the sea.

I’m a woman waiting, in love with a man,

and in love with the love had.

I took an oath with myself to wait,

and keep passionately waiting

even after the great shining of the sun has worn away

I pick up my sorrow and carry it to bed,

and wait some more

before sweet sleep weighs down my eyes.

Next day I rise,

and hear myself speaking words of all-abounding hope

…and go on waiting. These things I say aloud

to have clear thought,

to keep the day alive.

I’m a woman waiting,

waiting with the restlessness of sea-waves

repeating themselves in her head

like messages from afar.

Villanueva has also written some wonderful lines as from Today I did Almost Nothing comes this line, which, within the context of the poem stands out as a paean against war:

Thought about war

…war that spoils the ties of love and mocks my marriage;

Or from God Of Extended Blue Waters:

make the heart soar on wings of contentment

Then these lines from The Suitors:

Those blasted blustery brutes:

the crudest of the crude crowding my thoughts.

Rain or shine,

it’s them again—rowdy louts befouling the air

with the rough language of their praise.

The book concludes with Twenty Years Waiting with the opening lines of:

Just when I thought the star-lights of love

no longer shone for me, that I’d stand apart,

a woman, living more on lament than hope

down the stairs into the hall I went to see

the beggar-man who the day before had walked

straight into my gaze; who was no stranger begging,

but truly Odysseus, the man I love the way a woman

does just the one time….

This book is brilliantly conceived and executed by Tino Villanueva. Placing himself in Penelope’s mind and delivering a stunning extension of Homer’s original is a truly remarkable achievement. So Spoke Penelope fascinates, and there is no need to have read Homer to get understand Penelope’s plight in the context of Odysseus’s twenty-year absence brought about by war, a centuries’ old stain on the human condition which Villanueva shows from the view of she who waits for the return of her love.

This volume of poetry is highly recommended and should bring awards to the author.


Zvi A. Sesling is author of King of the Jungle (Ibbetson Street, 2010), Across Stones of Bad Dreams (Cervena Barva, 2011) and the soon to be published Fire Tongue (Cervena Barva). He is Editor of Muddy River Poetry Review, Bagel Bards Anthologies #7 and #8.

He regularly reviews for the Boston Small Press and Poetry Scene

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

New Nave Gallery Annex Opens in Somerville

A New Space has opened at the Nave Gallery in Somerville, Mass: The Nave Gallery Annex. It will be hosting art exhibits, readings, etc....

Here is what is happenning now:

The Knit Art House in Crochetville

April 13-May 5, 2013

Curated by Tori Costa

Opening Reception

The Nave Gallery Annex

Wednesday, April 17

6-8 pm directions


Gallery Hours:

Wed-Fri, 6-8 pm

Sat, 2-8 pm, Sun, 2-6 pm

Extended Hours During Somerville Open Studios:

Fri, May 3, 6-9 pm, Sat, May 4, 12-8 pm

Sun, May 5, 12-6 pm

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Tino Villanueva and the Craft of Waiting

Tino Villanueva and the Craft of Waiting

article by Michael T Steffen

Penelope, the wife of Odysseus from Homer’s epic song about the wandering man of many ways, is the classical figure of long-suffering faithfulness awaiting, twenty years, the return of her husband from the Trojan war. Entreated by a pack of greedy, boisterous suitors, she embodies the craft-worker of the separated couple, weaving and unweaving a shroud in order to stave off the wooings of the suitors who insist and insist that Odysseus is dead and that she remarry. In SO SPOKE PENELOPE (Grolier Poetry Press, Cambridge, 2013, ISBN: 978-1-891592-02-7) acclaimed poet Tino Villanueva himself patiently looms an extended meditation of 32 poems from the persona of this most memorable character of world literature, enacting and reflecting the concentrated task of craftsmanship (in weaving, in poetry…) as a creative preoccupation to help pass the time of waiting, with the potential intensity of the endeavor:

One day I managed from early dawn to dusk,

then until the brightness of the morning shone again

to keep on weaving, to get it right. And there it is

folded up across the bed in color and in cloth.

("In Color and in Cloth," p. 31)

My own impression reading through the poems several times was of admiration, admiration for the elegance, charm and clarity of Villanueva’s language, making allowance for poetic diction rare for our times:

when the golden cloth of dawn rose

out of the sea (p.13)

The wind blows,

and I can hear the leaves of orchards breathing (p. 23)


Still and all, Odysseus,

grief-giver of a husband, destroyer of hearts,

let me not die aching in one place (p. 35)


While the maids on their knees

kept grinding and sifting wheat and barley grain,

(six-hundred someone said)

measured into baskets big (p. 58)

I also admired the patience of the book, which imparted a slight anguish, which is the anguish of Penelope herself in suffering the long passage of time and its frequently felt futility.

How many women, I wonder, have waited like me,

like me by the sea, with a racing caring heart,

women who waited, stood waiting,

lay waiting like me? (p. 16)


Here on Ithaca, alas, we had no favoring rain today,

no sun.

And I, who am Penelope, living mother of a living son,

neither got Odysseus back,

husband whose love I miss on awakening,

nor chose to take a suitor as my man. (p. 34)

What’s more and must be said in this battlefield of love:

time and time again I love you,

then I go the other way

and love you not. (p. 35)


The book works its spell of another time and another place on you by maintaining its foothold in Homer’s mythic world, which may chafe some readers in our generation-hab world who may crave to recognize more familiar language and elements. This yet poses the question of how a poet may discipline and mind her craft to be a builder of bridges. That is from the terminology of Ifeanyi Menkiti, whose introduction to this book is so generously informative with details of the poet’s biography and bibliography, and eloquent in his argument for an ecumenical mission for poetry. The bridge the poet builds spans across the differences of the cultural barriers of time and space, so that she is not a mere "tribalist" chronicler of the historical moment. Is poetry what gets lost in translation, as Robert Frost famously coined the definition? Or is it found in the consideration to survive translation? Who will the readers of the year 2053, 2113… be able to appreciate? It’s a staggering yet pertinent question.

Still, relevant both to individual and tradition, Villanueva’s meditation comes to a luminous affirmation from the long-suffering spouse about the insight she has gained as to the carefulness of her affections and surrounding:

I’d been for years at

the heart’s low-ebb, but wise about men set before me,

and gods disguised. Now the man long-awaited

had washed ashore into my room: I opened my eyes

and saw, past the ceiling, an expanse of sky

and Odysseus sailing steadily above me. (pp. 59-60).