Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Somerville Poet Sharon Amuguni chats about the Massachusetts Poetry Festival/ May 5 to May 7, 2017.

  Somerville Poet Sharon Amuguni

Somerville Poet Sharon Amuguni chats about the Massachusetts Poetry Festival/ May 5 to May 7, 2017.

By SharonAmuguni

With increments of spring beginning to appear residents of Massachusetts are looking forward to the potential for activity that good weather brings. As a poet residing in Somerville, a creative, and member of Mass Poetry staff, I am especially looking forward to the start of spring because it signals the oncoming of the Massachusetts Poetry festival.

In its 9th year the Massachusetts Poetry Festival, a three-day festival in Salem dedicated to poetry, is doing a remarkable job of highlighting the complex diversity of the state. The workshops mirror the wide range of lives and how poetry and the arts intertwine with unexpected facets. This year we’re excited to host a variety of panels and workshops with themes ranging from character development for maternal poetry, post rock poetry, building bridges between physics and poetry, to seeds for multilingual multicultural narrative poems. We’ve got a panel for every type of writer. The multitude of events is something we’re proud of and is an indicator of how multifaceted our state is. Along with that we’re pleased to be able to bring in renowned poets into the local sphere. 

Of course, the headliners are always a big hit, drawing a wide crowd of devoted poetry cohorts from all over the state. This year I look forward to hearing from Kazim Ali, Louise Gluck and Ross Gay, as well as local poet Emily Pettit, who I heard speak at my first Student Day of Poetry workshop. Each writer brings a narrative distinctive to their experience.

But, truly my favorite aspect of the Massachusetts Poetry festival is what goes on amidst the headliners. Sitting in on the smaller workshops, I am always impressed by the wide reach that poetry has. Throughout the weekend, I witness poets who usually moonlight as teachers, dog walkers, and mathematicians get the opportunity to unfold in their natural environment. For many, these workshops are a chance to shed the weight of their daily responsibilities and bask in their identity as writers and creatives. The audience is a mix of all ages, students, families, poetry lovers and strangers who happen to wander into downtown Salem. For both workshop leaders and participants, the three-day festival is a moment of shared joy, catharsis, and expression.

At the end of the weekend what I hope festival goers take away is that there isn’t one monolithic approach to poetry. You don’t have to be a best-selling author, or headliner to write or be interested in poetry. Within our sixty plus workshops there are everyday people sharing how poetry moves them in their daily lives. That’s the real essence of the Massachusetts Poetry Festival, making poetry more accessible to the greater public. I believe it’s vital that we work towards removing the idea that poetry is a cumbersome solely academic subject critiqued in university classrooms and far away fellowships by older men with degrees and publications. Poetry has many faces each stemming from individuals with varied experiences.

Poetry is not this unfathomable thing separate from you. It is what your dentist devotes their free time to, how your mother finds peace when you leave for school, how children learn about their own emotions. It’s a tool for healing, a medium for community activism and a mouthpiece social justice.
I see this urge to synthesize art and community activism present throughout Somerville. From finding remnants of Mary Oliver’s poems meticulously placed in hidden corridors (which happened to a friend of mine earlier this week) to seeing organizations like Somerville Media Center, there is a focus on utilizing the power of the arts to revitalize communities. 
This want to bring poetry and the arts to the forefront of the public experience is shared at Mass Poetry. Through our Poetry on the T and raining Poetry projects we aim to bring poetry to the people and push forward this notion of poetry being a present and uniting element in everyone’s life. We hope to act as a resource to make it accessible to all community members.

In these next weeks prior to the festival, I implore all community members in Somerville and beyond to set aside some time. Explore how poetry may have played a role in your life and those around you. How access to resources or lack thereof affects individuals and communities’ ability to grow creatively. Then stop by the festival for a day. Bring a friend that loves poetry, two friends who may not be as well versed and a host of strangers with no idea of what to expect. Expose them to the power and freedom in poetry. Most importantly, after the weekend ends, act. Continue to use creative production in your daily lives. Use it to inspire others and explore your own understanding of the issues around you. Use it to showcase diversity and as a platform for activism, knowing that there is a place for everyone in the world of poetry.

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