Report from the Mass Poetry Festival


Swirls Four
Medium: Mouse on mousepad
Artist: Margaret Fieland

Painted Rectangles
Medium: Mouse on Mousepad
Artist: Margaret Fieland

This past weekend I attended the Mass Poetry Festival, which took place this past Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. I skipped Friday, but I did  attend both Saturday and Sunday.

Back when the event was in the planning stages, I got an email about a reading of poetry from their books by Massachusetts authors who had published a book of poetry in 2011. I hesitated — “Lifelines” was written by six of us, and I was “sure” they’re reject me — but sent in my information anyway.

They said yes, illustrating yet again my father’s maxim, “nothing ventured, nothing gained.”  I hope I remember this: not to assume I will be rejected simply because something is a reach or is out of my comfort zone.

I was part of the Sequential Poetry Reading for poets with new books of poetry that appeared in 2011.  The reading started at Noon on Saturday and lasted until 2:40. We were told that we each would have eight minutes to read, but we had a couple of no-shows, so we each had ten minutes.

The reading went well. The audience included us poets and about an equal number of what I expect were friends or family. It was a real treat to be be able to listen to the poets reading from their own work. A good many (most) of them simply read from a copy of their book. I might have done the same except for Michele’s excellent advice to print out what I wanted to read in LARGE, DARK type, and to practice. I did both, and I was very glad I did. Michele also suggested alternating dark and light poems.  I doubt that, left to my own devices, I’d have thought of this either.

There  were a long list of workshops taking place all three days of the festival, and we were encouraged to sign up in advance. I did sign up for several things, but as it turned out, simply walking into the workshop was generally good enough. I suspect the pre-sign-up thing was to figure out expected attendance at the workshop in order to facilitate room assignments, number of handouts, and the like. Next year, I will attempt to sign up for what interests me, but I won’t be a slave to the schedule.

The workshops themselves were tremendous fun. I arrived Saturday morning, signed in, got a copy of the workshops and a map, and by that time it was a bit too late for me to get to much in the way of workshops, so I ended up going to a couple of the art activity things that had been set up with kids in mind.

I *love* art activities — my mother was an artist who specialized in portraits. I was hugely energized by the art projects, and ended up spending several hours Saturday evening after I returned home playing with MS paint. I didn’t get much sleep Saturday night — MS paint is hugely addicting, and I was pretty pumped up from the festival — so I considered skipping Sunday. In the end, I decided that I would just main line coffee and go for it.

Good decision. The first workshop I attended was given by someone I know. He’s a kick-ass teacher, and I had signed up for the workshop. Not only was the workshop very good, but the attendees, as is often the case with Tom’s workshops, were equally interesting. Several of us exchanged email addresses, and I hope we will keep in touch.

There was also a  lit mag and small press event, and I bought several journals and a book of poetry, collected flyers from some of the lit magazines. I’m reluctant to order off the internet for magazines I’ve never had a chance to look over in person, so I was delighted to have the opportunity to pick up some of the ones I was interested in. The poetry book is a book with poetry in French on one side and a translation by Marilyn Hacker on the other. I find reading modern poetry in French a challenge, so I welcome the opportunity to, first, cover up Marilyn’s translation and simply read the poems in French, and eventually, to read her translation as well.

I didn’t stay for the Saturday night headliners — they started at 7:30 — but the Sunday headliners started at 2:15, so I did go to that. The readers were Frank Bidart, Martha Collins, and Stephen Dunn. Stephen Dunn is one of my favorite poets. I  knew two of the poems he read.

What engages me as a reader and writer of poetry is conciseness and precision in language, the sound of the words themselves, their cadence. Freshness of imagery. A sense of humor. A poem that forces me to take another look at the familiar, evocation of emotion.

Here is one of the poems he read — one of the two I recognized:
What Goes On
by Stephen Dunn

After the affair and the moving out,
after the destructive revivifying passion,
we watched her life quiet

into a new one, her lover more and more
on its periphery. She spent many nights
alone, happy for the narcosis

of the television. When she got cancer
she kept it to herself until she couldn’t
keep it from anyone. The chemo debilitated
and saved her, and one day

her husband asked her to come back —
his wife, who after all had only fallen
in love as anyone might
who hadn’t been in love in a while —

and he held her, so different now,
so thin, her hair just partially
grown back. He held her like a new woman

and what she felt
felt almost as good as love had,
and each of them called it love
because precision didn’t matter anymore.

And we who’d been part of it,
often rejoicing with one
and consoling the other,

we who had seen her truly alive

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