Join our email list.

To receive notifications about upcoming HoCoPoLitSo events via email, simply click
Subscribe.

Read Our Annual Report

Follow us on Twitter

Upcoming HoCoPoLitSo Events

  • HoCoPoLitSo Monthly Board Meeting July 9, 2022 at 10:00 am – 12:00 pm Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Pkwy, Columbia, MD 21044, USA
  • Wilde Readings July 12, 2022 at 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm Columbia Art Center, 6100 Foreland Garth, Columbia, MD 21045, USA Monthly reading series typically on second Tuesdays from September through June each year. Format is two featured readers and open mic sessions.
  • HoCoPoLitSo Staff Meeting August 5, 2022 at 11:00 am – 12:00 pm Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Pkwy, Columbia, MD 21044, USA

See through Poems Reading Celebrates Old Ellicott City

Reading on June 12th at Museum of Howard County History, 3 p.m.

Celebrate Ellicott City’s 250th anniversary with a poetry stroll along Main Street from April 1 through June. Created by the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society (HoCoPoLitSo), the project features twenty-five poems displayed in the windows of Ellicott City stores. QR codes at the bottom of the posters, accessed through your camera phone, explain how the poetry connects to Ellicott City’s commerce, history, and landscape. (Click here to read more about the See through Poems project.)

Join us Sunday, June 12, starting at 3 p.m., at the Museum of Howard County History for a reading of the poems. Local poets, community members, and special guests will read selections from the collection, with a reception afterwards.

Register and let us know you will be there:

meet Tracy Dimond and Melanie Henderson – June Wilde Readings guests

The hosts of Wilde Readings – Laura Shovan, Linda Joy Burke, Faye McCray, and Ann Bracken – are happy to host the final reading of the 2021-2022 season with two dynamite authors, Tracy Dimond and Melanie Henderson! The event is at 7 pm on Tuesday, June 14th at the Columbia Art Center and on Zoom. Register here for the Zoom link: https://us02web.zoom.us/…/reg…/WN_vBEdi7IkSiKoSYzVb1XbTg

All are welcome to the Wilde Readings to hear Melanie and Tracy and to participate in the open mic. Please prepare no more than five minutes of performance time/two poems. Sign up in advance by calling the Columbia Arts Center (410-730-0075), or when you arrive. Light refreshments will be served. Books by both featured authors and open mic readers will be available for sale.

Now, meet Melanie and Tracy with our favorite six questions for writers!

Who is the person in your life (past or present) that shows up most often in your writing?

Melanie: My great great grandfather

Tracy: There isn’t one person, all my poems are haunted by things I’ve overheard.

Where is your favorite place to write?

Melanie: In bed on my laptop

Tracy: For the past few years, I’ve gone to Cacapon State Park. I love going to the cabins in the winter, outside of the busy season, and writing without Wi-Fi. I’ve also started running to Cacapon Mountain Overlook when I’m there—it’s a magical view of West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania that you experience after ascending almost 2,000 feet in 5 miles.

Do you have any consistent pre-writing rituals?

Melanie: No

Tracy: I am notoriously sporadic in my writing practice. If I’m running and going to the gym, that’s usually a sign my brain is spinning ideas. I need movement and I need observation. As long as I have an idea and my headphones, I can draft something.

Who always gets a first read?

Melanie: My longtime writing family, Truth Thomas

Tracy: I have good friends in my writing group, and I’ll often send them the pieces where my first question is “is this a diary entry or writing?” I feel safe giving them writing that still feels very raw. Honestly, I also thrive on an audience as first readers—I want to see how different lines land with an audience.

What is a book you’ve read more than twice (and would read again)?

Melanie: American Journal by Robert Hayden

Tracy: I’ll stick to poetry—I have read Dorothea Lasky’s Black Life over and over. She will shift from hilarious to devastating within one poem. That book has been instrumental in my own writing for almost a decade.

What is the most memorable reading you have attended?

Melanie: That’s a pretty tough question. However, I’d have to say I was most moved by a reading given by the illustrious poet, Reuben Jackson, at the American Poetry Museum when it was located on Good Hope Road in SE, DC about 15 years ago.

Tracy: This is such a difficult question—I’ve had the privilege and joy of attending so many incredible readings as an events organizer and community member! This question will probably always change for me, depending on my mood. Today, I’ll say the spirit of the Artichoke Haircut series really grabbed me when I first moved to Baltimore. Local and national writers would be paired, then the hosts would transition to an open mic. It was held at Dionysus in the Mt. Vernon neighborhood of Baltimore, and is one of the reasons I applied to the University of Baltimore (the series hosts went there).

Tracy Dimond is a 2016 Baker Artist Award finalist. She is the author of four chapbooks, most recently: TO TRACY LIKE / TO LIKE / LIKE from akinoga press. She holds her MFA in Creative Writing & Publishing Arts from the University of Baltimore. Find her online at poetsthatsweat.com.

Melanie Henderson was born, raised and lives in Washington, DC. Prior to earning an MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University, she studied poetry at Howard University and the Voices Summer Writing Workshops (VONA). Her debut collection of poems, Elegies for New York Avenue, won the 2011 Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award. She is the Managing Editor of Tidal Basin Review and Poetry Editor for Cherry Castle Publishing.

On Reading the Poems of Molly McCully Brown: I Hope You’re Uncomfortable

Sama Bellomo

by Sama Bellomo

For me, good poetry hurts. A successful poem reignites my anger because candlelight vigils don’t. 

For her poetry collection Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded, Molly McCully Brown read, with tremendous empathy, through piles of misguided clinical notes and was compelled to relay to the current generation what horrific prescriptions and outcomes were thought of as successful containments or even rehabilitations. She turned those dehumanized clinical notes back into people, people who were forced, aggrieved, and lost to history. 

Usually, when being made aware of dark histories, it may seem that the right thing to do is to condemn past tortures that took place as a reality of our past and say a kind word about hard-won basic human rights that are fought for by unknown collectives of grassroots activists inspired by the late Dorothea Dix. But in the perfect medium of poetry, Brown says this is not a museum: her poetry says, this is present. Her poems have us looking back as if looking down the barrel of a gun, looking until we too empathize, until we understand that this could have been any of us, and that there is much left to be done.

With Susannah Nevison, Brown wrote In The Field Between Us, poems that read like a series of letters between two people living with disability in the contemporary world. They illuminate and explore dissociative trauma; difficulties in relating to the world, in connecting with others beyond the safe exchange they’ve created for one another. They include ruminations on being anywhere else than here; attitudes of self, and so many more deep, powerful feelings that enrich and sustain the human psyche, especially anyone enduring life with a disability. 

The book begins with aftermath and carries through to pre-op, beginning sort of in medias res, where details become apparent only in hindsight. The abstractions rise as the dialogue carries on, exchanging communications of experiences in an increasingly romantic tone as everything seems to fall apart.

People with disabilities, the providers who treat them, and the general public are the same in how upset we become when faced with human fragility. We see fragility first, then we become frantic and look for stability. People with disabilities are often accustomed to advocating in the opposite direction, beginning with the strengths that will keep a listener grounded. Brown and Nevinson commit to that order by running the chronology in reverse.

The poems employ plenty of concrete and metaphorical imagery to bring the reader closer, whether they can picture the situation or not. In the aftermath of a catastrophic medical event, numbness is described as “a quiet fire.” In an early poem, we hear of a “pain, as familiar as a fist I know,” reminding me of the certain interruptions to order when pain arises and must be reckoned while the rest of life waits, in purgatory. The next letter replies: “when we sleep, of course / we become unraveled: it’s only fair”. Of course we do. Parts of ourselves get lost, suspended, denied.

Brown’s work gives resounding voice to people whose voices and stories were otherwise lost, often in the guise of merciful and humane treatment. I hope you’re as uncomfortable as I am because it’s appropriate to be uncomfortable, to be moved towards just action and a better world for every body. 


Sama Bellomo has worked with agencies and individuals with disabilities as a patient navigator and advocate with Patient Providers (www.ptprov.com).  

Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded by Molly McCully Brown

In The Field Between Us by Molly McCully Brown and Susannah Nevison

Six Questions with Faye McCray and Laura Shovan – April Wilde Readings

Happy National Poetry Month! The Wilde Readings team is excited to invite you to an in person event at the Columbia Arts Center on Tuesday, April 12, 2022 at 7 pm. For the first time, Wilde Readings will feature its wonderfully dedicated hosts Ann BrackenLinda Joy BurkeFaye McCray, and Laura Shovan. All are welcome! We encourage you to participate in the open mic. Please prepare no more than five minutes of performance time/two poems. Sign up in advance by calling the Columbia Arts Center (410-730-0075), or when you arrive. Light refreshments will be served. Books by both featured authors and open mic readers will be available for sale.

Read what Faye and Laura had to say about our Six Questions!

Who is the person in your life (past or present) that shows up most often in your writing?

Faye: A combination of people I grew up with in New York. I grew up in the southeast section of Queens and spent so much of my formative years on buses and subways and playing in the neighborhood. The voices, the dialect, the sights and smells are still so vivid to me. Whether I’m remembering the owners of the corner store, or my elderly neighbors foam rollers – someone always shows up in my fiction.

Laura: In my writing for adults, the person who shows up most often is my husband. We met when we were teenagers. I didn’t write about him, or us, for many years, but after we’d been married for about 25 years, the poems started to come — exploring what it means to be in a long marriage.

Where is your favorite place to write?

Faye: A quiet café, tucked away in the corner while sipping on something hot and nibbling on something sweet.

Laura: A sunny spot with two napping beagles. This winter, I tried poet Juan Felipe Herrera’s “Jabberwalking” method, taking a notebook with me on neighborhood walks, filling it with doodles and scraps of observations.

Do you have any consistent pre-writing rituals?

Faye: I usually need some time for reflection. A long walk, a slow meal – something that allows me to dream a bit before I write.

Laura: I have a large stack of index cards with quotes about writing and the creative life. When I’m working on a novel, I pull a bunch of the cards that feel like good advice for that particular story. Then I incorporate a “Quote of the Day,” into my draft. As I’m writing this, today’s quote is from the artist Modigliani: “It is your duty in life to save your dream.”

Who always gets a first read?

Faye: My spouse – he always gives me just the right combination of encouragement and critique.

Laura: It depends on the genre I’m writing. I don’t have a consistent reader for poetry, but I’m part of a critique group for children’s fiction.

What is a book you’ve read more than twice (and would read again)?

Faye: The Color Purple

Laura: When it comes to rereads, I turn to fantasy. Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, I’ve read and listened to more times than I can count.

What is the most memorable reading you have attended?

Faye: I saw Toni Morrison in Baltimore. I honestly can’t even remember what she read – I was just in awe of her presence. She filled the whole room.

Laura: I attended the first Dodge Poetry Festival when I was in high school. I had never been to an in-person poetry reading before. Galway Kinnell read first thing in the morning in a light-filled little church. Sonia Sanchez is the other poet I remember. She had so much style — her poetry, her performance, and her cape. I got myself a black cape and wore it all through senior year of high school.

About the authors:

Faye McCray is an author, playwright, and essayist whose work has been featured in the HuffPost, Parade Magazine, Little Patuxent Review, AARP Magazine, Madame Noire, Black Girl Nerds, and other popular publications. She is the author of I am Loved!, Dani’s Belts, and Boyfriend. Faye is also a proud board member of the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society. Find Faye at www.fayemccray.com, on Twitter and Facebook @fayewrites, and on IG @heyfayemccray.

Laura Shovan is an author, educator, and Pushcart Prize-nominated poet. Her chapbook, Mountain, Log, Salt and Stone, won the Harriss Poetry Prize. Her work appears in journals and anthologies for children and adults. Laura’s award-winning children’s novels include The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, Takedown, and the Sydney Taylor Notable A Place at the Table, written with Saadia Faruqi. She teaches for Vermont College of Fine Arts’ Writing for Children and Young Adults MFA program.

Meet Judd Hess – Honorary Mention in the 2021 Ellen Conroy Kennedy Poetry Prize

Judd Hess

In 2021, Howard County Poetry and Literature Society launched the Ellen Conroy Kennedy Poetry Prize in honor of its founding member, Ellen Conroy Kennedy. The contest received more than 100 submissions in its inaugural year, and the selection committee chose Judd Hess’s poem “Darth Vader” for an honorary mention. The committee was unanimous in wishing to recognize ”the intense, vivid voice of this poem and its layered metaphors that address the moment… it strums chords in so many of us as we’ve struggled to co-exist with COVID… the way the poem deftly builds the speaker’s frustration until the final, angry eruption.”

Judd Hess holds an MFA and an MA from Chapman University.  He has won the Fugue Poetry Prize, the John Fowles Creative Writing Prize for Poetry, the Ellipsis Prize, and been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He lives in Southern California with his beautiful family.

Judd answered some of our favorite questions for writers. See what he had to say about his poem “Darth Vader,” what inspires him, and what poetry means to him.

Tell us about your poem “Darth Vader.” How did it come about? What sparked or inspired it?

“Darth Vader” is a fairly autobiographical piece. My son really did have a Darth Vader bike, red and black. The conversation related in the poem is an amalgam of various conversations over the last year, but frustrating in person as they are in the poem. Poetry is a medium for us to examine the conflicts of the human condition, and the conflicts over our reactions to the pandemic have redefined all of our lives these last few years. It felt appropriate to try to articulate the absurdity and incessant fear of the last several years, as much for myself as for others. The great shout stuck in all our throats needs to articulate itself.

What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

AP English Lit, senior year: We were using Perrine’s “Sound And Sense” as a text. For the summative assessment at the end of the unit, we were asked to work in pairs to explicate in front of the class one of the “Poems For Additional Reading” in the back of the book. My best friend and I chose T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” because it was the longest, and, frankly, because we were smartasses. I remember vividly the way my subsequent exploration of that poem floored me. It struck me as a tour de force of poetic power, even when I had no idea what it was talking about. I liken that experience to that of an intensely good meal. One does not need to be a gourmet chef to understand that one is experiencing culinary quality. Some things are just powerful and vibrant. They reveal the bones of the earth and help us see the strange singing of the sky.

Tell us about a writer or a book that you return to over and over for inspiration.

Shakespeare is where I most often go. I am endlessly floored by the brilliance and complexity of the construction of Hamlet, for example. Shakespeare teaches the economy of poetry. His spells are the most potent because they are the most precise. He is the great teacher of the craft. However, when I want to feel the way poetry ought to help us feel, when I need to run on the wind, when I am nearly overwhelmed with swallowing the sea, when I need to see and to be seen, I return to Whitman. Whitman is what home feels like, what the world ought to be, where wholeness triumphs over woundedness.

What is the experience of poetry? What is it like to compose?

I am often reminded of the ending of “Our Town” when the Stage Manager confesses to Emily that only the saints and poets even partially live life to the fullest. The root of great poetry, I have come to see, is the depth of connectivity to our existence. We are magical creatures, with such profundity and power as, when tapped into, shakes the firmament and the abyss. Our daily lives are full of this magic, full of the conflicts and connections that shake the stars and reroute time as though we were to throw ourselves across a river and alter its course with our agency. The art of the composition of poetry is a rooting into this power. It is as though we slip into another world collectively within us and, returning time and again, train ourselves to more perfectly construct portals to that place, to bring back distillations of its winds and waters, mysterious elixirs that others who have sunk into that place from time to time recognize in their own experience. The great beauty, however, is that those potions taste differently to each of us. We may recognize and approximate to some degree what we have experienced, but the reception of that experience distilled always savors of surprise in the mouths of those who imbibe it, for they are equally as magical, with their own sojourns in that deep place to draw from.

Congratulations to Judd!

Six Questions with Ann Bracken and Linda Joy Burke – April Wilde Readings

Happy National Poetry Month! The Wilde Readings team is excited to invite you to an in person event at the Columbia Arts Center on Tuesday, April 12, 2022 at 7 pm. For the first time, Wilde Readings will feature its wonderfully dedicated hosts Ann Bracken, Linda Joy Burke, Faye McCray, and Laura Shovan. All are welcome! We encourage you to participate in the open mic. Please prepare no more than five minutes of performance time/two poems. Sign up in advance by calling the Columbia Arts Center (410-730-0075), or when you arrive. Light refreshments will be served. Books by both featured authors and open mic readers will be available for sale.

First up with their answers to our Six Questions are Ann Bracken and and Linda Joy Burke.

Who is the person in your life (past or present) that shows up most often in your writing?

Ann: My parents show up frequently because I’m exploring their influence in my life as well as new things I’ve discovered about them. My ex-partners show up when I write poems that deal with positive and negative effects of those relationships.

Linda Joy: I’ve never really considered who shows up most in my writing, though now that I think about my body of work over the past 50 years, I believe the collective shows up the most. Of course like most young poets I showed up the most in the beginning, but then as losses occurred both in the body personal and the body politic the collective dominated.

Where is your favorite place to write?

Ann: I like to write at the desk in my office where I have a lot of inspirational artwork and quotations.

Linda Joy: Depends on the mood I’m in. When I was younger, pre-computer, I would write on large sketch books while sitting on the living room floor. Now I am often dictating into my gadget while walking or pacing around my house. I always wanted to be able to dictate stories or essays when I was younger, especially while I was driving, and even bought a little recorder for that, but transcribing was a whole other job that I didn’t ever have enough time to do for myself then. I love modern tech in this regard, because I think that there’s a certain level of urgency about writing in this stage of my “career”, that if I couldn’t dictate into my gadget, I’m afraid I would lose much of what bubbles around in my brain. My fingers don’t work quick enough sometimes, with either a pen or a keyboard. I know this question was intending to mean what setting as opposed to modality of writing – however I’m not attached to favorite places but more a state of mind or being.

Do you have any consistent pre-writing rituals?

Ann: I often use a timer to get me started when I feel like the well is dry. Other times I doodle shapes and colors to evoke the mood or experience I want to excavate. And occasionally I use Taylor Mali’s Metaphor Dice to help me when I feel stuck or need a fresh way to explore an experience.

Linda Joy: I clear my desk or wherever I may be working, so that there is a sense of spaciousness around me even if I am in a tiny space. Maybe I’ll go for a walk or do something physical like gardening to help clear my head. Then must have sustenance – snacks and a beverage coffee or tea, depending on the time of day or season. I keep my noise cancelling headphones close when my easily distracted meter reading is off the charts – and add instrumental music that feeds me to keep me in the zone.

Who always gets a first read?

Ann: My critique partner always gets a first read. She provides consistent and insightful feedback for me to consider when revising.

Linda Joy: There’s a poetry group that I belong to – who sees work I’ve done as a result of prompts from that group. Other than that I will send to one of my poet/writer colleagues (depending on topic, genre, intent and our history).

What is a book you’ve read more than twice (and would read again)?

Ann: I’ve read Jane Eyre three times, but don’t think I’d read again. I’ve read The Grapes of Wrath twice and was just thinking about re-reading this summer. I’ve read Rumi’s poetry many times and will continue to find beauty in his lines.

Linda Joy: As a kid I usually had to read one or two books over between library visits, because I was a fast reader. I remember reading books like Old Yeller, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, the Henry Higgins books by Beverly Cleary multiple times, and then later, Oliver Twist, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Wuthering Heights, lots of Poe, and others of those books that kids from the 60’s and 70’s read. There have been a couple of staples over the years though, like The 4 Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz and Lucille Clifton’s the Book of Light. There are numerous books I want to read again through a 21st century, wiser set of eyes, such as Angelou’s memoirs, Baldwin’s novels as well as a few of the dystopian novels that a younger me read while my idealism was still intact, like 1984 and Fahrenheit 451. But, I’d need a clone so that notion is off the table.

What is the most memorable reading you have attended?

Ann: I heard Natasha Trethewey read in an intimate gathering at the University of Maryland. There were fewer than 50 people there, so we had the chance to ask her about her poems and to engage in wonderful discussions about her work. She was both welcoming and encouraging to all those present.

Linda Joy: All of them, but the poet Sekou Sundiata’s reading here in Columbia during one of the Columbia Festival of the Arts/HoCoPoLitSo sponsored readings stands out. I still listen to his work often and wonder what he would have written about these past 5-6 years if he were still here.

About our Authors

Ann Bracken has published three poetry collections, The Altar of Innocence, No Barking in the Hallways: Poems from the Classroom and Once You’re Inside: Poetry Exploring Incarceration. Ann’s memoir, Crash: A Memoir of Overmedication and Recovery, will be published in the fall of 2022. She serves as a contributing editor for Little Patuxent Review, and co-facilitates the Wilde Readings Poetry Series in Columbia, Maryland. She volunteers as a correspondent for the Justice Arts Coalition, exchanging letters with incarcerated people to foster their use of the arts. Her poetry, essays, and interviews have appeared in numerous anthologies and journals, her work has been featured on Best American Poetry, and she’s been a guest on Grace Cavalieri’s The Poet and The Poem radio show. Her advocacy work promotes using the arts to foster paradigm change in the areas of emotional wellness, education, and prison abolition.

Linda Joy Burke is a 2020 Howie recipient for Outstanding Artist, and her poetry has appeared in numerous publications or recordings, including 2020-2021 season of the Poet and The Poem with Maryland Poet Laureate Grace Cavalieri, Fledgling Rag, featured on the Poetry/Photography site, Beltway Magazine at  and more. Find her on Tumblr, Moods Minds & Multitudes on Blogspot, The Bird Talks Blog on Blogspot, and on Instagram @birdpoet. and other cyber-outlets.

Poetry for Every Body with Molly McCully Brown

Molly McCully Brown Headlines HoCoPoLitSo’s Fourteenth Annual Blackbird Poetry Festival

Molly McCully Brown
Photo: Marco Giugliarelli 

Molly McCully Brown headlines the Blackbird Poetry Festival to be held in person on April 28, 2022, at Howard Community College (HCC). The festival is a day devoted to verse, with a student workshop, readings, and HCC Poetry Ambassadors. The afternoon Sunbird Reading features Brown, Hayes Davis, local authors, and Howard Community College faculty and students. This free daytime event starts at 2:30 p.m. in the Rouse Community Foundation Building room 400 (RCF 400). The Nightbird program, in the Horowitz Center’s Monteabaro Hall, begins at 7:30 p.m. Presented live, the evening features an introduction by Hayes Davis, a reading by Molly McCully Brown, and a reception and book signing.

Nightbird tickets, $15 (HCC students free), are available on-line at https://bit.ly/nightbird2022. If you need help with your order, the Horowitz Center Box Office (443.518.1500) has limited phone hours to answer your questions. Additional information can be found at https://hocopolitso.org/blackbird-poetry-festival/. At this time, masks are required for all guests on campus. Up-to-date requirements for campus visitors are available at: https://www.howardcc.edu/coronavirus

Brown’s newest book, Places I’ve Taken My Body (Persea Books, 2020), is an essay collection that Kirkus Reviews (April 1, 2020) described as “Heartfelt and wrenching, a significant addition to the literature of disability, explores living within and beyond the limits of your body.” Brown writes that she “came into the world blue and tiny and sparring for my place in it. Two pounds, with my fists up.” The only surviving premature identical twin, Brown was born with cerebral palsy. Brown is a poet and essayist who teaches at Old Dominion University, where she is an assistant professor of English and creative nonfiction, and a member of the MFA Core Faculty. In The Field Between Us (Persea Books, 2020), poems written in the form of letters between coauthors Molly McCully Brown and Susannah Nevison, consider disability and the possibility of belonging in the aftermath of lifelong medical intervention. Poet Ilya Kaminsky wrote “This is a beautiful, urgent book.” Brown is also the author of the poetry collection, The Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded (Persea Books, 2017), which won the 2016 Lexi Rudnitsky First Book Prize and was named a New York Times Critics’ Top Book of 2017. Critic Dwight Garner called the book, “part history lesson, part séance, part ode to dread. It arrives as if clutching a spray of dead flowers.”

Hayes Davis
Photo: Brandon D. Johnson

Hayes Davis is the author of Let Our Eyes Linger (2012), poetry examining his life as son, grandson, father, husband, artist, and schoolteacher while exploring racial identity and the plight of black men. Poet Toi Derricote wrote that “Davis’ poems invite comparisons with Robert Hayden and Gwendolyn Brooks’ poems of 20th century family life.” He teaches at the English and serves as the assistant director of Institutional Equity, Access, and Belonging at Sandy Spring Friends School .

See through Poems: Ellicott City at 250

by Susan Thornton Hobby, Project consultant and editor

photo by David Hobby

Before Ellicott City was a hip tourist magnet, before the coffee shops and antique stores, even before the flour mills, the spot was just a funnel of granite and trees leading down to the river. For centuries, the Patapsco River, which the Algonquins named pota-psk-ut, was the source of all life – transport, food, and power. Two hundred and fifty years ago, three Quaker brothers bought 700 acres along the Patapsco River and founded a mill town.

To celebrate Ellicott City’s anniversary, HoCoPoLitSo has pulled together a collection of 25 poems that speak to the town’s history, commerce, and people. The poems will be on display in Main Street merchants’ windows from April through June in a project called See through Poems, and will be collected into a book. This project is a partnership between HoCoPoLitSo and EC250, the group founded to organize activities around the sesquicentennial (that’s the fancy name for a 250th anniversary).

Former Baltimore Sun reporter and longtime publisher of the Little Patuxent Review, Mike Clark, wrote the foreword to the collection of poems.

“Celebrating 250 years of Ellicott City history in poetry is a gift HoCoPoLitSo has bequeathed us,” Clark wrote. “Two dozen poets give voice to the history of Ellicott City in this unique literary venture by the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society. A walk down Main Street to the B&O trestle and station and beyond to the churning waters of the Patapsco River reveals poems posted on storefront windows that speak to life in the old mill town.”

The collection includes poems by or about Ellicott City residents, poems about trains and wheat, lines about history and ghosts.

Through the eyes of poets, history will be on display in merchants’ windows up and down Main Street from April 1 through June.

Then in June, we’ll host two events to celebrate the project. To open and close the celebration of the Patapsco Female Institute’s historical garden, HoCoPoLitSo will offer poems read by actors on Saturday, June 4, 11 a.m. And join us Sunday, June 12, starting at 3 p.m. at the Museum of Howard County in Ellicott City for a reading showcasing poems that speak to the town’s history, commerce, and people. County Council member Liz Walsh will open the reading with her poetic remarks about the town.

Local poets, community members, and special guests will read selections from the collection. A reception will follow the reading. 

For more information about the collection, visit these pages. Watch this space to register to attend the reading in June. And for more information about events in Ellicott City to celebrate the anniversary, visit www.ec250.com.

Meet Liz Holland – second place winner of the Ellen Conroy Kennedy Poetry Prize 2021

Liz Holland reads “Lifeboy Swept Away”

In 2021, Howard County Poetry and Literature Society launched the Ellen Conroy Kennedy Poetry Prize in honor of its founding member, Ellen Conroy Kennedy. The contest received more than 100 submissions in its inaugural year, and the selection committee chose Liz Holland’s poem “Lifeboy Swept Away” as the second place winner. The committee cited the poem’s “intensely memorable images, elegiac tone, and vivid language that lingers with you… especially the ending: ‘The small waves/ashamed of what they hold, fold at my feet./Wading deeper, I cup my hands and take one/salted sip, carrying you as far away as you’ll go.’”

HoCoPoLitSo: Tell us about your poem “Lifeboy Swept Away.” How did it come about? What sparked or inspired it?

LH: This poem was written on the tenth anniversary of losing my friend to suicide. We grew up on the same street, celebrated holidays together (our families still do), and had much in common. He had a zest for life that I have yet to find in anyone else, though struggled desperately with his mental health. I sat down to write about something completely different and this poem pushed its way out. Travis has a way of showing up like that. I see him when I’m driving on the highway, in the local convenience store, and especially in proximity to the Chesapeake Bay. I welcome his energy when it floats in and found this piece to be a lovely way to honor him after a decade of absence. 

HoCoPoLitSo: What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

LH: I must have been around five when my mom realized my need for communication. I had such a desire to understand and to be understood. I asked a ton of questions (much to the annoyance of my mom who had four other kids to care for!) and overanalyzed everything with her throughout my teenage years. Language served a languishing purpose as I couldn’t quite express my internal world with the words available to me. I realized a certain power in language when I took my first poetry class in undergrad. I can’t tell you who I read or what my professor’s name was, but something new became available to me through writing – it truly saved my life while I, too, struggled with mental health in my twenties. 

HoCoPoLitSo: As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?

LH: I write a lot about the natural world (thank you Mary Oliver) and at this moment would say my avatar could be a ranunculus or peony on fire. Fire is ever present in my work as well, perhaps as a nod to me being a Leo, or from the decades of Catholic ceremony. 

HoCoPoLitSo: Tell us about a writer or a book that you return to over and over for inspiration.

LH: As I’ve already mentioned, Mary Oliver’s Devotions stays on my coffee table, along with the likes of Ada Limon, Toi Derricotte, Ross Gay, Li-Young Lee, Marie Howe, and Steven Leyva. It is wildly evident as I read these works and write simultaneously, my poems move in emulation of each poet. I stay inspired by these incredible poets and return often to their books. 

HoCoPoLitSo: What are you working on next and where can we find you?

LH: I am currently finalizing my first chapbook as my thesis in the MFA program at University of Baltimore. Our program culminates in a final book that is due out in May of 2022. I will be making it available on my IG and Twitter @cottonswords (same handle).  I hope to continue the momentum of this publication into a full book in late 2022/2023. Thank you for publishing my work and amplifying the creative arts. 

Congratulations, Liz!

Liz Holland is an MFA candidate at the University of Baltimore and 2021 nominee for ‘Best of the Net’. Her work can be found in Remington Review, Broadkill Review, Little Patuxent Review, and several other literary journals. She lives in Baltimore with her fur-son Brax.


If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741 to reach a trained counselor at the Crisis Text Line.

six questions with writer Meg Eden

Meg Eden

Writer Meg Eden joined the Wilde Readings open mic event via Zoom on March 8, 2022.

Meg is a writer and creative writing instructor. She received her MFA in creative writing from the University of Maryland College Park, and has taught at a range of places, including Anne Arundel Community College, Southern New Hampshire University online, University of Maryland College Park, Eckleburg Workshops, and The Writer’s Center in Bethesda since 2013. Meg is the author of five poetry chapbooks, the novel Post-High School Reality Quest (2017), the poetry collection Drowning in the Floating World (2020), and the forthcoming middle grade novel in verse Selah’s Guide to Normal (2023) with Scholastic.

HoCoPoLitSo: Who is the person in your life (past or present) that shows up most often in your writing?

ME: Oof, I’m not sure! Pieces of my parents and childhood friends definitely show up in my writing, but the most common I guess–for any writer really–is the self: my vulnerabilities, painful moments, things I wish I could do differently, etc.

HoCoPoLitSo: Where is your favorite place to write?

ME: This changes depending on the season. In winter I’ve really liked writing at home under my heated blanket, but in warmer months I love going to the trail or gym then writing in a Panera or Chick Fil A with a giant glass of tea.

HoCoPoLitSo: Do you have any consistent pre-writing rituals?

ME: Some timed element of browsing or reading. I prefer writing when I have a reaction to something, a strong emotion I have to get out. But if I don’t have time for that, I always have soundtracks for my writing, so the first song conditions me to get into the world of the story.

HoCoPoLitSo: Who always gets a first read?

ME: This really depends. My critique group is usually the first emailed to see if anyone wants to read. But sometimes my husband gets an early read, other times friends that aren’t writers but have been with me a long time. It really depends on the project, how I feel about the project, and what I need. Sometimes I need positivity passes at first to gain confidence, while other times I feel confident and just need the feedback.

HoCoPoLitSo: What is a book you’ve read more than twice (and would read again)?

ME: I don’t tend to read books more than once, to be honest. I’m not sure I’ve ever read any more than twice besides the Bible–which I know is such a cop-out, Sunday school sounding answer but it’s true. It’s the most versatile book and always has something new to teach me. That said, I predict I’ll read Corey Ann Haydu’s One Jar of Magic (as well as her most recent Lawless Spaces) and Sarah Crossan’s Toffee more than twice in my life time. Now shows/movies are a different story. I have to annually watch Avatar the Last Airbender and Legend of Korra, as well as BBC’s Bleak House. I find that I learn a lot narratively from other storytelling devices than books sometimes.

HoCoPoLitSo: What is the most memorable reading you have attended?

ME: Probably an Inner Loop reading. I love Inner Loop (a local DC series) because you really feel the fellowship and community. I always meet new people and connect with old friends.

Join Wilde Readings Open Mic in April (National Poetry Month!) and meet other writers! You can keep up with Wilde Readings events here.

%d bloggers like this: