Saturday, May 9, 2015

A Visit to the Massachusetts Poetry Festival

A week ago, I had the opportunity to attend the 7th annual Massachusetts Poetry Festival in Salem, Massachusetts. The festival ran from Thursday, April 30 through Sunday, May 3. It has long been a dream of mine to participate in this event, so it was thrilling to get the opportunity to travel to a place celebrating poets.
Two Cape poetry groups were accepted to read at the festival, including our Mashpee poetry group, the Steeple Street Poets. Once arriving in Salem and receiving my presenter’s badge, I sat in on the Cape Smackdown. Cape poets, including Lauren Wolk, Chrstine Rathbun and Carole Stasiowski, donned sparkly capes and squared off against several Cape Ann poets. The poems were expressive, racy and explosive. In the end, the Cape Cod poets won by a small margin. It was a great start to my day.
Then, I attended a reading by young Asian-American poets called The Poetics of Construction in the Peabody Essex Museum. Using art from the museum and projecting it on a big screen in the conference room, the poets presented poems that highlighted their ancestors’ history and current events. The juxtaposition of visual and oral images was stimulating and emotional. My friend, Samm Carlton, and I were moved by the presentation.
Next, we traveled over cobblestone streets to the Old Town Hall. Our reading was to take place on the 2nd floor at 2 p.m. Although the online schedule said our event was filled, the meeting room could easily have held 300 people. We had about 30 people in attendance, but it was perfect for our reading. Alice Kociemba, director of the Cape-based Calliope series, introduced us. Next, I stepped onstage to talk about the Steeple Street Poets and read a few poems. We had about ten poets reading including Sheila Whitehouse, Rich Youmans, Judith Partelow, Christina Laurie, Lorraine Brown, Samm Carlton, Laurel Kornheiser and Maeve Hitzenbuhler.. Since the theme of our reading was a sense of place, Alice finished by reading a Mary Oliver poem. We also had a few open mic readers, including David Surrette. The audience seemed appreciative of our poetic efforts, including a few folks who stumbled in and stayed to listen.
After the reading was over, I stepped outside into welcome spring warmth. I spent several minutes lingering in a local bookstore, then ambled down the street, perusing the local shops featuring psychic readings and spell enchantments. I felt as if I had fallen into Diagon Alley. Suddenly, a woman ran out to give me a hug. It was my friend and fellow poet, Regina Carreira from Falmouth. She brought me into a coffee shop where she was up as the next featured poet. I enjoyed listening to her poems about Cape summers and young love. Another poet, a 19-year-old woman, read from notebooks she picked up, then discarded as she read through her treasure trove. I loved the energy and passion of her poems. It was unstructured and electric.
Afterwards, I met up with fellow poets Christina and Judith. We went to a
reception for poets with wine and food to fortify our poetic appetites. It was fun to see so many poets enjoying themselves. Now it was time for the headliners. We joined fellow poets heading to the Universalist Church to hear Richard Blanco and Rita Dove. We were not disappointed. Richard went first, reading his three poems written for Barack Obama’s second inauguration. I found his poems personable and descriptive. Born in Cuba, he read poems of place that affirmed his sense of geography and sexual orientation. Next up was Rita Dove. Her poems were powerful and personal. After a fire destroyed her house, a neighbor offered to take all the people affected by the fire to a ball. This was her introduction to ballroom dancing and a new lease on life. It was a magical evening.

Now I feel filled up with poetry. I also think it was a boon to travel off-Cape and connect with a wider poetry community. With luck, I’ll be able to go to next year’s festival.

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