Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Grolier Poetry Festival: The Certain Magic that Happens When

The Grolier Poetry Festival: The Certain Magic that Happens When

Collective Poetry and Arts Performances Gather Together in a Public Space

by Francine C. LaChance

The Grolier Poetry Festival went on, as scheduled, on Saturday June 2, 2018, from 12noon–8pm. Poets, musicians, dancers, and actors performed for a rapt audience, under the sun and an occasional light rain. During the light rain, Stage Manager James Fraser was found onstage, holding an umbrella or two over the performers, and in one case, a harp. Some remarked that the light rain only added to the magic of the day–the magic that occurs when so much talent and creativity comes together in one glorious space, with an open and receptive audience.

The Poetry Festival opened with the dynamic scene selections from "Romeo and Juliet," performed by the The Young Company at Greater Boston Stage Company, followed by a poetry reading for children, by poet X.J. Kennedy, reflecting the Grolier’s commitment to providing engaging  programming for children. David Ferry was the first in an impressive lineup of poets, followed by Lloyd Schwartz, Gail Mazur, Kathleen Spivack and many other notable poets. Dramatic performances were presented by Jim Vrabel and Michael Mack. Sounds in Bloom performed, with Dennis Shafer playing the saxophone while Diana Norma Szokolyai read her poetry. Audrey Harrer, a harpist, also performed. Readings from poets published by the Grolier Poetry Press were held, including excerpts from Tino Villanueva’s book “So Spoke Penelope,” followed by Grolier Poetry Press poets X.J.Kennedy and Partridge Boswell. Joe Burgio presented Ensemble Inedit: Poetry, Song and Dance. Dancers Katerine Gagnon and Ofri Rieger, and musicians John Voigt and Walter Wright performed to poems by Hector de Saint-Denys Garneau and Todros Abulafia.

The Grolier also paid homage to their dear long-time friend, Donald Hall, who just weeks later passed away. Lloyd Schwartz and Joyce Peseroff read excerpts from Donald Hall's essays and poems, and poems by Donald Hall’s late wife Jane Kenyon. The conclusion was magnificent: A video presentation of George Emlen's musical composition of Ifeanyi Menkiti's poem "Before a Common Soil," performed by the Revels chorus and musicians. The dramatic music filled the streets, while the sun was beginning to set.

While the Grolier Poetry Festival was a special celebration for their 90th year, with so much positive feedback and hope expressed that the Grolier would plan another poetry festival, both Ifeanyi Menkiti, Director and Proprietor, and Francine LaChance, Festival Producer and Director  will be exploring the possibility of other poetry festivals in the coming years.

On the importance of sharing poetry and performances at the Poetry Festival, outside of the Grolier, on Plympton Street, in Harvard Square, Ifeanyi Menkiti remarked:

“When a brilliant moon is shining, and kinsmen gather together in the public square, to watch the moon under an Iroko tree, a tree with very hard wood that is tall and strong, and tell stories to one another and recount history there is a certain power to it. Everybody can see that moon from his or her own private back yard, but when kinsmen and women, in this case, the poetry and arts communities, gather together in a public space, celebrating, watching the moon together, there is a certain power to this collective experience, another dimension is introduced, that is magical.”

Along with celebrating our 90th year, the Grolier has recommitted to our mission of keeping poetry alive, expanding programming, and providing many more opportunities for poets and performers to gather together. The Festival is one such example, and more collaborations with other art forms and cultural organizations will follow. We are developing an educational book discussion on “Richard III,” the play the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company will perform on the Boston Common, from July 17–August 5. We are planning an event with Robert Perkins, who creates art work in response to poetry by many of our poet friends. We are in discussion with Ivy Moylan, Executive Director of the Brattle Theatre, who is interested in creating a Friday Night Stroll with us, which would include several additional arts and cultural organizations in Harvard Square to participate. The following events are being planned with poets:  2018 Poetry Pulitzer Prize winner Frank Bidart, Robert Pinsky, David Ferry, Peter Balakian, Robert Perkins, Lloyd Schwartz, and many more. We will also premiere Olivia (Weiying) Huang’s documentary of the Grolier.

We will be releasing a comprehensive list of additional future events shortly, in addition to the ongoing readings in the Book Shop.

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