Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Crafty Poets at the Massachusetts Poetry Festival

Last Thursday I headed up to Salem, Massachusetts, for the Massachusetts Poetry Festival, organized by Michael Ansara and January O'Neil. I then spent the entire weekend immersed in poetry. I was reminded all weekend how important it is for us to do this sort of thing from time to time, that is, to just indulge ourselves in poetry without the distractions of work and home.

Back in the fall I'd sent in a proposal to present The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop Group Reading. I sent out a query to all 101 poets in the book and asked who would like to participate. I was overwhelmed by the response. A number of my poets live in the Salem area and others were willing to travel there. I cut off the list at twelve as we'd only have one hour. Once my proposal was accepted, I notified my poets and at that point two had to back out. That was fine, though, as I'd been asked to pare down the group a bit. We ended up with a total of nine poets, including me.

My plan was to go through the book using the Table of Contents as our agenda. This would allow us to give our audience an idea of how the book had come together, offer them some craft tips, and read them some of the model poems and the sample poems. The poets all showed up a bit early. Then the people began to arrive and arrive. We needed to have more chairs brought in—twice! We packed the room and even had a few people on the floor.

I could not have been happier with our presentation. Each of my poets (notice how possessive I am about them?) used just the right amount of time. Each of my poets was wonderful. The audience remained engaged the entire time, perhaps because of the variety in our presentation. As the last poet was in process, an arm appeared at the doorway holding a "5 minute alert" sign. I had exactly enough time to send our audience off with one of the bonus prompts.

Here's how our presentation went:
1. Section II: Diction.  After introducing the book and telling a bit about how it evolved from this blog and my Poetry Newsletter, I talked briefly about my own Craft Tip, "Finding the Right Words."

2. Section III: Sound.  Claire Keyes talked about her sonnenizio, "Sonnenizio on a Line from Yeats." First, she described the form and gave us the "rules." Then she read her wonderful poem.

3. Section III: Sound.  Jeffrey Levine gave us an overview of his Craft Tip, "The Devotions of the Ear," and read some lines that illustrated music in poetry.

4. Section IV: Voice.  Joel Allegretti described the acrostic form as modeled by Jeanne Marie Beaumont's "After." Then he read "In a Station," his sample poem written to the prompt.

5. Section VII: Syntax.  Jeffrey Harrison gave an overview of his Craft Tip, "Fooling with Syntax." In the book, this is followed by his own "Swifts at Evening," a syntactical marvel of a poem that consists of one extended sentence and is formatted as a concrete poem.

6. Section VIII: Line / Stanza.  Nancy Bailey Miller first read "Two Gates," the model poem by Denise Low. She then told us a bit about what the prompt required and read "Face to Face," the sample poem she'd written to the prompt.

7. Section VIII: Line / Stanza.  Matthew Thorburn read "Still Life," one of the book's ten "Poet on the Poem" poems. Then he talked about the Q&A that follows his poem and gave us great insight into ekphrastic poetry.

8. Section X: Writer's Block / Recycling.  Kristina England told us about Jeffrey McDaniel's model poem, "Compulsively Allergic to the Truth," and then a bit about the prompt that follows the poem. She finished by reading her own sample poem, "About Today."

9. Section X: Writer's Block / Recycling.  Nancy White read "beauty," another of the book's "Poet on the Poem" poems. She shared with the audience some of the Q&A that follows the poem.

After the reading, many books were bought, and I later learned that the bookstore had sold out. Very cool.

I then had lunch with poets Joel Allegretti and Matthew Thorburn. We were joined by poet Susana Case who had a reading later in the day. This added to the pleasure—a lunch filled with poetry talk.

As I approached the Hawthorne Hotel, my temporary home, these signs were displayed 
all over the place. (photo by Susana Case)

Me and crafty poet Kristina England

Crafty poet Claire Keyes reading her fabulous sonnenizio

Crafty poet Matthew Thorburn and Susana Case in the bookstore

If you have an opportunity to attend the Massachusetts Poetry Festival next year, seize it! The three day event is filled with readings, workshops, and panels. The place is crawling with poets and poetry lovers. Plus Salem has lots of nifty restaurants and historical attractions. And Salem has the Peabody Essex Museum which is probably the most beautiful museum I've ever been in. I am very grateful to have been included this year.

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