The Massachusetts Poetry Festival, the state’s biggest annual gathering of poets and poetry lovers, takes place this weekend. From Friday, May 3, through Sunday, May 5, in Salem, SouthCoast and Cape Cod poets will be well-represented. Everett Hoagland of New Bedford, and Alice Kociemba and Jarita Davis, both of Falmouth, will lead readings.
The festival includes over 100 events – readings, workshops, panels, performances, concerts, open mics, a small press fair, activities for children and teens, and more.
Sharon Olds, winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for her 2012 collection, “Stag’s Leap,” will speak Saturday evening. The Pulitzer Board described “Stag’s Leap” as a “book of unflinching poems on the author’s divorce that examine love, sorrow and the limits of self-knowledge.”
She compares her husband’s departure, after 30 years of marriage, to the image of a leaping stag a wine label: “When anyone escapes, my heart / leaps up. Even when it’s I who am escaped from.”
Other headliners include Tracey K. Smith and Terrance Hayes. Smith won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for “Life on Mars,” a collection of poems in part an elegiac tribute to her late father, one of the engineers who worked on the Hubble Telescope. For Smith, poetry is a way of “stepping into the mess of experience,” being part of the “ongoing conflict” of life and surviving nonetheless.
Hayes has won numerous awards and honors. His most recent collection, “Lighthead,” explores how we construct experience: “the light-headedness of a mind trying to pull against gravity and time.”
Many other nationally recognized poets and emerging poets from all across Massachusetts will read from their works and share their ideas on writing about everything from love and sexuality to global warming. There are workshops on how to write surrealistic poetry, how to give voice to objects, how to incorporate rhythm and movement into poems, how to run a poetry group, and how to stage a slam poetry event, and much more.
“Imagine your town full of poets—every coffee shop, every restaurant, every arts center, every library—each hosting inspiring poetry readings, excellent writing workshops, poetry slams, and even a place where you can read your worst poetry. That’s what Salem is like during the Mass Poetry Fest,” said Alice Kociemba, who directs Calliope Poetry Readings at the West Falmouth Library.
“Imagine coming in second in the worst poetry contest,” she added. “There are poets on trolleys reading their poems; there are poets on the train from South Station reading their poems. There are poets everywhere.”
Kociemba, who serves on the board of Mass Poetry, will moderate “From Every Corner of the Commonwealth,” a panel discussion and reading on Saturday, May 4, from 1:30 to 2:30 PM at the Hawthorne Hotel. Kociemba has selected six “poet ambassadors” who have created a sense of community in their own area of the state by directing poetry reading series, holding workshops, sponsoring collaborative projects with artists, musicians, and other writers, and promoting creativity about their craft and performance.
The panel will be of interest to those who direct poetry readings and workshops or are thinking of starting one, as well as to poets who are looking for venue hosts. Among those participating on the panel are two Cape Cod poets: Lorna Blake of Brewster and Alan Feldman of Natick and Wellfleet. Each will describe their reading series, workshops, and collaborative endeavors and read from their own work.
Everett Hoagland of New Bedford has organized a reading for the Ocean Voices Anthology, featuring an array of poets from various cultural traditions and writing influences. Ocean Voices, an intergenerational, multicultural anthology of “ocean poems,” was published this fall by New Bedford’s award-winning small press, Spinner Publications. The reading will take place on Saturday in the Hawthorne Hotel, Essex Room, from 12:15 – 1:15 PM and features Martin Espada, winner of the Poetry Society of Amer’ca’s Shelley Memorial Award, vocalist Candida Rose, and several poets who have work in the Ocean Voices anthology.
Jarita Davis will lead “Poems for the Invention of Glory” on Saturday, May 4, from 11 AM to noon, at the Peabody Essex Museum. Davis and five other panelists will read ekphrastic poems written in response to the museum’s exhibition, “The Invention of Glory: Alfonso V and the Pastrana Tapestries.” All are members of a new collective of over 100 Luso-American (Portuguese-American) poets.
Mass Poetry Fest buttons, which allow admission to all events except workshops, are $15, $7 for seniors and students. For an additional $5, workshops are included. Because workshop attendance is limited, it is advisable to register online in advance at masspoetry.org.