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Why I’ll never wash my white T-shirt again

A micro-memoir in the style of Beth Ann Fennelly, written by Susan Thornton Hobby, Executive Producer of the Writing Life 

Beth Ann Fennelly showed up at the Blackbird Poetry Festival last week in a skirt printed with rows of books of many colors, lime-green and fuchsia shoes, a brown sweater dotted with green flowers and a vintage chartreuse Canada Dry T-shirt that I coveted. Fennelly, who was at the festival to give a workshop, and give two readings, is the author, most recently, of Heating and Cooling: 52 micro-memoirs.

Anyone looking at both of us together could tell immediately who the poet was – I was in a white T-shirt, black pants and gray jacket. I did put on my red shoes, but other than that, I was as neutral as Switzerland.

Danielle Maloney, television director extraordinaire of The Writing Life, explained that because we use a green screen with a computer-generated set when taping the show, Fennelly’s torso would disappear – literally melt into the electronic background.

Fennelly would be not the headless horseman but the torso-less poet. She and I locked eyes. Then we both looked at my chest. The white T-shirt.

As she later told the audience at the Nightbird reading, “my host gave me the shirt off her back.”

But in the television studio, Beth Ann moaned, “I need color,” gazing forlornly at my boring shirt.

HoCoPoLitSo’s managing director Pam Simonson, the ultimate problem-solver, donated her butter-yellow jacket, which matched a few books on the skirt, and Beth Ann had a new outfit. I wore a Dragon Digital Television polo that the director found in a box in her office.

After a deep and hilarious thirty-minute conversation on The Writing Life, lead by poet Teri Ellen Cross Davis, Fennelly and I rushed to the car so she could grab some dinner and change before the evening reading. I was carrying books, a few remaining cookies from the dozen I baked to fuel the student camera operators, my jacket, Pam’s jacket, and the white T-shirt.

After I had dropped Fennelly at her hotel, I wanted to change back into my white shirt for the reading. I searched  my car’s back seat, front seat, floorboards. It was gone.

I realized I must have dropped it. No time to find another shirt – I just threw my jacket on top of my black Dragon Digital polo and picked up the poet to reach the reading on time.

Just as we were turning into the parking garage, I told Beth Ann I needed to go search the hallways of Howard Community College for my T-shirt. And then then headlights hit it – a crumpled puddle of white on the parking garage floor.

“I’ll get it!” Beth Ann shrieked, and jumped out, the rhinestones on her vintage dress flashing in the headlights as she triumphantly held the shirt over her head. The shirt was criss-crossed with tire tracks. It smelled of damp cement, Michelin radials, and Beth Ann Fennelly.

I’ll never wash it.

Beth Ann Fennelly: It’s all about the mouth

blog post by Susan Thornton Hobby

An open and shut case at Blackbird Poetry workshop…

Only Beth Ann Fennelly could urge more than 150 people gathered for a writing workshop during the Blackbird Poetry Festival to stick their fingers in their mouths and repeat: “Bet, butt, bet, butt, bet, butt,” until they had figured out how their tongues were making the words.

It also could have been the threat of interpretive dance (their own, if they did not participate).
Either way, Fennelly clearly illustrated her point – the shape of our mouths influences the connotations certain sounds retain, in languages around the world. And therefore, the sounds bring meaning to poetry.

Here’s her quiz.

Carl Sandberg wrote: “The voice of the last cricket/ across the first frost/ is one kind of goodbye.”
The next line, Fennelly asked, is it “so thin a splinter, so meager a morsel or so small an atom?” “Thin a splinter,” someone called from the back of the room. “Yes,” Fennelly said. “That short ‘i’ sound – the sound of small, a vulnerable feeling. “

Poets use sound to make meaning with words that suggest meanings, through their brevity or length of sound (“pup” and “bark” are the same number of syllables, but they take longer to say), the pleasure or discomfort of the sounds in our mouths (“melodious” versus “sticky”), and by setting up and displacing a metrical scheme.

“I’m hedonistic about feeling the sound of words, there’s a pleasure of sound,” Fennelly told the group.
She lead them through poems by Robert Herrick (“melting, melodious words to lutes of amber,” and by Robert Frost, (“The Span of Life” – “the saddest poem in the English language,” Fennelly said.) She talked about how sounds of words can move the poem faster or slower, how a change in sound and rhyme and rhythm can surprise the reader in a good or unpleasant way.

By the end of the workshop, Fennelly gave dark chocolate bars to the students who scored the best on the quiz that tested their ear for poetry’s sounds. Because it was all about the mouth.

P.S. A week after her visit to Columbia, Fennelly was awarded The Excellence in Graduate Teaching & Mentoring Award by the University of Mississippi where she teaches.

Beth Ann Fennelly and Susan Thornton Hobby laugh together after the Nightbird reading on April 25, 2019 (photo credit: Laura Yoo)

 

Linda Dove Remembers Stanley Plumly

[a guest blog by poet Linda Dove written for HoCoPoLitSo]

Stanley Plumly died on April 11, 2019, in the most poetic month of the year. He was a poet’s poet and a teacher’s teacher. He authored ten volumes of poetry and four works of nonfiction, several of them award-winners, including a finalist for the National Book Award. He read for HoCoPoLitSo audiences twice – once in 1988 and once in 2010, and served as the Poet Laureate for the state of Maryland for most of the past decade. Since 1985, Plumly taught at the University of Maryland College Park, where he founded the MFA program and mentored students in poetics for more than 30 years.

Image result for stanley plumly

photo credit – Ohio University Libraries

In the fall of 1990, I took a poetry workshop with him at UMCP, where I was—at the time—pursuing a master’s degree in American literature. I was not a poet—instead, I was training to be a scholar of other people’s poetry. But I knew the chance to study with Stan Plumly was not something you passed up, and I, somewhat timidly, filed into the light-filled room every week. It would be years before I would produce a poem that I’d consider good enough to submit to a journal, but I soaked in the lessons nonetheless. For instance, when Stan praised a poem written by a classmate that was an ode to a woman’s areola, it reinforced for me that nothing was off-limits in poetry. Nightingales and Grecian urns might seem more the stuff of poetry, but they were only one means to one end—although, as odes go, those of John Keats were a pretty good bet for what Stan might consider great writing.

In fact, last week, a new poem by the young, celebrated poet Kaveh Akbar, “The Palace,” appeared in The New Yorker and made its lightning-fast rounds on Twitter. When I read the poem, I had the immediate thought, I wonder what Stan Plumly would say about this?, as Akbar imagines the voice of Keats into being (“Hello, this is Keats speaking”). Keats was Stan’s self-described poet-hero, a figure he wrote about extensively in prose, including in his much-praised book, Posthumous Keats:

Keats’s best-known doctrine, Negative Capability, implies an engagement in the actual through imaginative identification that is simultaneously a kind of transcendence. The artist loses the Selfhood that demands a single perspective or “meaning,” identifies with the experience of his/her object, and lets that experience speak itself through him/her. Both the conscious soul and the world are transformed by a dynamic openness to each other.

What’s striking about Stan’s interpretation of the famous Keatsian concept here is his focus on humility—“The artist loses the Selfhood”—that also happened to define Stan as a person. He was warm and generous and down-to-earth, even as he was revered. As one of my fellow graduate students, Renée Curry, recently remembered, “Stan was always ‘present.’ As a teacher, he made us look at the deepest meanings of words, at how they could create fire in a poem. As a reader of our poems, he was always kind, yet firm in what our creations needed in order to grow. . . I am so happy to have spent five years as his student.”

Yet, despite how very human he was, he also commanded the spaces he moved through. As another one of Stan’s students, Valerie Macys, commented, “the room shook just a bit whenever he walked inside.” In fact, she reminded those of us who gathered on Facebook to mourn his passing of how charismatic he was, how he had that special sort of aura about him, despite his modest mannerisms: “do you remember his cowboy boots and his jean jacket? He used to come into the building like he rode in on a stallion.” Or her memory of yet another graduate student, Tim Skeen, on his way to meet Stan in his office hours, who remarked, “‘It’s time to prostrate myself before the Oracle’.” Stan Plumly was larger than life, even as he was unassuming. To paraphrase his own poem, “Wight”—he embodied the verb “to be”:

Is is the verb of being, I the noun—

or pronoun for the purists of being.

I was, I am, I looked within and saw

nothing very clearly: purest being.

Of course, most of Stan’s oracular charm existed because of the poetry itself. The words “amazing,” “stunning,” full of “wonder,” “extraordinary,” and “genius” are all superlatives I’ve seen other poets apply to his work in the wake of his death. He made my own poems more responsive to that finer layer of the world, the one you notice only if you’re not taking it for granted. He shared that observant posture with the British Romantic poets he so loved, as well as an attention to a life lived through emotion. Writing about that all-too-common subject of heartbreak, Stan makes it sing:

Love, too, a leveler, a dying all its own,

the parts left behind not to be replaced,

a loss ongoing, and every day increased,

like rising in the night, at 3:00 am,

to watch the snow or the dead leaf fall,

the rings around the streetlight in the rain,

and then the rain, the red fist in the heart

opening and closing almost without me.

(from “Variation on a Line from Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘Five Flights Up’”)

Note the way that he makes the whole notion of lost love hinge on the word “almost.”

Poets are keenly aware that words outlive them. In Stan’s case, he left us with models of perfect pitch, imagery, and line. In “Ground Birds in Open Country,” he admits to letting the birds, the poems, go for us, anytime we might encounter his work in the future:

                       And in a hallway once,

a bird went mad, window by locked window,

the hollow echo length of a building.

I picked it up closed inside my hand.

I picked it up and tried to let it go.

They fly up so quickly in front of you,

without names, in the slurred shapes of wings.

Scatter as if shot from twelve-gauge guns.

Or they fly from room to room, from memory

past the future, having already gathered

in great numbers on the ground.

Another one of Stan’s students, Laura Dickinson, summed up his influence this way: “He made me a better poet. I can say nothing that is more significant about his impact on me than that,” to which Jeanne Griggs then added, “I think he also made me a better person, more conscious of things I’d overlooked before he insisted I look.” Truly, there can be no greater epitaph.

—————————————————————————

About the guest blogger:

Linda Dove grew up in Howard County and holds a Ph.D. in Renaissance literature from the University of Maryland. She teaches college writing and is an award-winning poet; her books include In Defense of Objects (2009), O Dear Deer, (2011), This Too (2017), Fearn (2019), and the scholarly collection of essays, Women, Writing, and the Reproduction of Culture in Tudor and Stuart Britain (2000). She lives with her human family, two Jack Russell terriers, and three backyard chickens in the foothills east of Los Angeles, where she serves as the faculty editor of MORIA Literary Magazine at Woodbury University.

https://www.pw.org/content/linda_dove

Teen Open Mic in Columbia

A guest blog by Faye McCray

When I first started teaching writing workshops with kids, it was for selfish reasons. I was in a place of transition in my career and that meant a great deal of obnoxious self-reflection about what made me truly happy. I knew it wasn’t my day job and when I pictured myself happy, I kept conjuring up the same image: Kid-me, twelve-ish, sitting in front of my sixth grade classmates reading my work for the first time. To be clear, I didn’t want to actually be twelve again. God, no. There were braces and glasses and bad relaxers. However, I did want that feeling. The feeling of being surrounded by folks ready to listen and be heard.

As a child, I was a voracious reader. My favorite work was fiction that took place in worlds completely different from mine. In retrospect, I don’t know if that was my curiosity or just the fact that worlds that looked like mine didn’t really exist in the nineties literary landscape. Either way, for me, reading was like getting to try on another person’s soul. It was the ability to see, feel and taste what life was like in a way completely different from my own. I could go from my reality: being a girl with box braids and a beef patty on a subway in Queens to a young woman on vacation in Monte Carlo who meets and marries a man who, unbeknownst to her, murdered his first wife.

When my sixth grade teacher decided to task us with writing original work to share with our classmates, it was as if I was going to finally see them and they would finally see me. Truth be told, I was probably the most excited kid in class. However, the seed was planted. I was a writer, and I bet if I looked hard enough, there were other kids who thought they were writers too.

On March 22, I had the pleasure of hosting the Columbia Art Center’s first Teen Open Mic. The theme was “Choose Civility”, HoCo’s most known slogan which in the current social and political climate, could mean a great many things. I was so nervous leading up to the event. I knew how much a Teen Open Mic would have meant to me.  I also wondered if the idea was antiquated. After all, isn’t social media one big open mic with the added benefit of anonymity?

As teens trickled into the Art Center, however, I could see the same excited anticipation I had felt over twenty years ago written all over their faces.  Naturally, there were nerves but armed with their words on their phones or on sheets of paper in their hands, they were ready. Their powerful work ranged in topic from mental health to self-acceptance to race to the environment. I was moved – not only by the incredible work itself but how beautifully it was received. The crowd was modest but as I said to the young writers that evening, I preferred it that way.

By the end of the night, as we wandered around the beautiful art center and munched on the remaining snacks, the mood felt light. The teens, who had arrived as strangers, now shared praise and encouragement, promising to “see each other next time.” Their enthusiasm was infectious. I realized that although I was decades away from making that discovery in my own sixth grade classroom, I was invested in making similar experiences a possibility for other pre-teens and teens. We all have a desire to be heard. More importantly, we all have a valuable story to tell.

About the blogger:

Faye McCray is an author and essayist whose popular essays on love, life and parenting have been featured in the Huffington Post, My Brown Baby, For Harriet, Madame Noire and other popular publications. She is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Weemagine, a website devoted to celebrating and inspiring all children and the people who love them. Faye is also the author of Dani’s Belts, a collection of horror short stories, Boyfriend, a full length novel about a troubled college student struggling with love and fidelity, and I am Loved! a collection of positive affirmations for kids. Find out more about Faye on her website: http://www.fayemccray.com/

Film/Author Presentation of Girl Rising with Aminatta Forna

Sunday, June 30 • 2:30 p.m.
Smith Theatre – Howard Community College

Join in saluting the founding of the Columbia Film Society and HoCoPoLitSo with an afternoon that celebrates the education of girls, the beauty of story, and the power of collective action. This joint anniversary event features a talk by one of the writers of Girl Rising and a showing of the documentary film that inspired global awareness about the importance of education for girls. Novelist Aminatta Forna wrote the portion of the film about a girl from her home country, Sierra Leone, and her dreams of education and independence. Forna will also read from one of her novels that pertains to social justice around the world. The Washington Post raved about her latest novel, Happiness: “An exquisite novel about how chance and love connect us.” After the author talk, there will be an intermission, refreshments, and a book signing, followed by a screening of the film.

The documentary Girl Rising, featuring the voices of actresses including Anne Hathaway, Cate Blanchett, Kerry Washington, Selena Gomez and Salma Hayek, focuses on the power of education for nine girls from Haiti, Nepal, Ethiopia, India, Egypt, Peru, Cambodia, Sierra Leone, and Afghanistan, telling their stories through writers from their home countries. The Boston Globe noted, “The idea behind Girl Rising is strikingly simple and even more strikingly imaginative.” The Women’s Giving Circle of Howard County is a sponsor of this program. Visit the Girl Rising website here.

The Columbia Film Society was founded in 1968 by Helen Ruther and Marcia Gorrie. Showing nine films a year, the film society’s season ticket subscriptions typically sell out in a matter of days.

HoCoPoLitSo was founded in 1974 by National Book Award winner Ellen Conroy Kennedy, supported by Jean Moon and Prudence Barry. The first event featured future Pulitzer Prize-winning poets Carolyn Kizer and Lucille Clifton. A community-based literary organization, HoCoPoLitSo offers programs such as a writer-in-residence for the county’s high schools, an award-winning writer-to-writer talk show, The Writing Life (available on YouTube) and three major annual events: the Lucille Clifton Reading Series; the Evening of Irish Music and Poetry; and the Blackbird Poetry Festival. HoCoPoLitSo participated in the first Columbia Festival of the Arts, staging the play, “The Belle of Amherst,” about Emily Dickinson, and has offered festival audiences authors such as Garrison Keillor, Mary Oliver, and Amiri Baraka.

For tickets, sold through the Columbia Festival of the Arts website, click here.

 

 

HoCoPoLitSo’s partners for this event:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Free Wilde Readings Series Continues with Spring Line-up, Open Mics.

Wilde Readings is a free monthly literary reading series that provides local writers — poets, fiction, non-fiction — a chance to share their work with the community. The format showcases featured authors, as well as an open mic for interested audience members.

The open mic session offers a safe and supportive environment for teens and adults to share writing of all different forms. Open mic presenters are asked to keep their readings to five minutes or less. Come explore how a range of creativity can inspire and fuel the imagination and nurture one’s one craft and well-being.

Wilde Readings is sponsored by HoCoPoLitSo and coordinated by Laura Shovan, Ann Bracken, Linda Joy Burke, and Faye McCray.

 

Second Tuesdays at the Columbia Association Art Center in Long Reach. Starts at 7 p.m.

Spring featured Reader Line-up:

APRIL 9, 2019
Host: Linda Joy Burke

Bruce A. Jacobs is a poet, author, and musician. He has appeared on NPR, C-SPAN, and elsewhere. His two books of poems are Speaking Through My Skin (MSU Press), which won the Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award, and Cathode Ray Blues (Tropos Press). His most recent nonfiction book is Race Manners for the 21st Century (Arcade/Skyhorse). His work has been published by dozens of literary journals and sites, including Beloit Poetry Journal, Gwarlingo, Truthout, and the 180 More anthology edited by U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins. He lives in Washington, DC.

Bio for Naomi Thiers

Naomi Thiers grew up in California and Pittsburgh, but her chosen home is Washington-DC/ Northern Virginia. She is the author of three poetry collections: Only The Raw Hands Are Heaven(which won the Washington Writers Publishing House award), In Yolo County,and She Was a Cathedral(both from Finishing Line Press.) Her poems, fiction, and essays have been published in Virginia Quarterly Review, Poet Lore, Colorado Review, Grist, Sojourners,and other magazines and anthologies. Former poetry editor of Phoebe, she works as an editor for Educational Leadership magazine and lives in a condo on the banks of Four Mile Run in Arlington, Virginia.

 

MAY 14, 2019 — TEEN NIGHT
Host: Faye McCray

Kate Hillyer lives, works, and runs the trails near Washington, D.C. She writes middle grade and young adult fiction, and her essay “Learning to Dance” appears in the anthology Raised by Unicorns. Kate blogs at From the Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors and The Winged Pen, and serves as a Cybils judge for Poetry and Novels in Verse. You can find her on Twitter as @SuperKate.

 

 

Leah Henderson’s novel One Shadow on the Wall, is an Africana Children’s Book Award notable and a Bank Street Best Book of 2017, starred for outstanding merit. Her short story “Warning: Color May Fade” appears in the YA anthology Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America and her forthcoming picture books include Mamie on the Mound, Day For Rememberin’, and Together We March. Leah has an MFA in Writing and is on faculty at Spalding University’s MFA program.

 

JUNE 11, 2019
Host: Laura Shovan

Wallace Lane is a poet, writer and author from Baltimore, Maryland. He received his MFA Degree in Creative Writing and Publishing Arts from The University of Baltimore in May 2017. His poetry has appeared in Little Patuxent Review, The Avenue, Welter Literary Journal and is forthcoming in several other literary journals. Jordan Year, his debut collection of poetry, is a coming of age narrative, which uncovers what it means to live and survive in Baltimore City. Wallace also works as a Creative Writing teacher with Baltimore City Public Schools.

 

Jen Michalski  is the author of the novels The Summer She Was Under Water  and The Tide King (both Black Lawrence Press), a couplet of novellas, Could You Be With Her Now (Dzanc Books), and two collections of fiction. Her work has appeared in more than 100 publications, including Poets & Writers, and has received five Pushcart nominations. She was named as “One of 50 Women to Watch” by The Baltimore Sun and “Best Writer” by Baltimore Magazine. She is the host of a fiction reading series in Baltimore, called Starts Here! and editor of the weekly online literary journal jmww.

 

 

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April Wilde Readings to Feature Poets Bruce Jacobs, Naomi Thiers, Open Mic

Howard County’s monthly free reading series continues on the second Tuesday of each month. In April, the reading will feature poets Bruce Jacobs, Naomi Thiers, and an open mic — that means you, bring your work.

Wilde Readings is sponsored by HoCoPoLitSo and coordinated by Laura Shovan, Ann Bracken, Linda Joy Burke, and Faye McCray.

 

All are welcome, and everyone is encouraged 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, or on the sign-in sheet when you arrive. The number for the Arts Center is 410-730-0075.

Light refreshments will be served. Books by both featured authors and open mic readers will be available for sale.

Poets Bruce Jacobs, Naomi Thiers and you.
Hosted by Linda Joy Burke.

April 9, 2019 • 7:00 p.m.
Columbia Association Arts Center

 

Bruce A. Jacobs is a poet, author, and musician. He has appeared on NPR, C-SPAN, and elsewhere. His two books of poems are Speaking Through My Skin (MSU Press), which won the Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award, and Cathode Ray Blues (Tropos Press). His most recent nonfiction book is Race Manners for the 21st Century (Arcade/Skyhorse). His work has been published by dozens of literary journals and sites, including Beloit Poetry Journal, Gwarlingo, Truthout, and the 180 More anthology edited by U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins. He lives in Washington, DC.

Naomi Thiers grew up in California and Pittsburgh, but her chosen home is Washington-DC/ Northern Virginia. She is the author of three poetry collections: Only The Raw Hands Are Heaven(which won the Washington Writers Publishing House award), In Yolo County, and She Was a Cathedral(both from Finishing Line Press.) Her poems, fiction, and essays have been published in Virginia Quarterly Review, Poet Lore, Colorado Review, Grist, Sojourners, and other magazines and anthologies. Former poetry editor of Phoebe, she works as an editor for Educational Leadership magazine and lives in a condo on the banks of Four Mile Run in Arlington, Virginia.

Remembering W.S. Merwin — Susan Thornton Hobby

W. S. Merwin, a fellow pacifist, writer, and gardener, was a hero in all things to me.

The poet died this weekend at the age of 91 in his Hawaiian home. He was one of the first authors who wrote verse about the catastrophes of the Vietnam War and its effects not just on the American soldiers, but on the devastated Vietnamese countryside and people. He refused to accept his Pulitzer Prize for his book The Carrier of Ladders in 1971 because of the tragedies occurring in southeast Asia centering on the Vietnam War.

Merwin reclaimed his “garden,” nineteen acres of Hawaiian pineapple plantation land that had been wrecked by agricultural abuse. Over forty years, he hand-planted the dirt with 3,000 palm seedlings and transformed barren fields into a native rainforest. That land is now in permanent conservation.

But most of all, I admire Merwin for his gem-like poems of sheer beauty. What this writer could do with words – both his own and with those of French, Spanish, Latin and Italian poets that he translated – was astonishing.

Merwin visited HoCoPoLitSo in 1994, just after he had won the first Tanning Poetry Prize, which was awarded to a master American poet, but before he won his second Pulitzer in 2009. He spoke to a small group of 50 people about the craft of writing, then read his poetry to the audience that crowded the ballroom, lobby and stairways of Oakland Manor.

Earlier that day, he taped an episode of The Writing Life, HoCoPoLitSo’s writer-to-writer talk show. On that show, he spoke with poet Roland Flint about a coming environmental crisis in the world: “What is happening to the great forests in the world, I feel it like an illness,” Merwin said, thumping his fist into his belly. Because people have cut themselves off from the world outside their windows and screens, “we find ourselves in a place that is false and dangerous, and increasingly destructive.”

To watch him read his exquisite verse, “Late Spring,” “West Wall,” and “The Solstice” from The Rain in the Trees, and two poems from Travels, “Witness” and “Place” watch The Writing Life episode.

 

West Wall
W.S. Merwin

In the unmade light I can see the world
as the leaves brighten I see the air
the shadows melt and the apricots appear
now that the branches vanish I see the apricots
from a thousand trees ripening in the air
they are ripening in the sun along the west wall
apricots beyond number are ripening in the daylight
Whatever was there
I never saw those apricots swaying in the light
I might have stood in orchards forever
without beholding the day in the apricots
or knowing the ripeness of the lucid air
or touching the apricots in your skin
or tasting in your mouth the sun in the apricots

 

To learn more about Merwin and his life, watch the documentary about his life. Or visit the tribute page on his publisher’s site.

Susan Thornton Hobby
Recording Secretary

 

Poetry of Wit and Wonder — Eleventh Annual Blackbird Poetry Festival

Mississippi’s Poet Laureate Beth Ann Fennelly headlines the eleventh annual Blackbird Poetry Festival for HoCoPoLitSo. The festival, set for April 25, 2019, on the campus of Howard Community College, is a day devoted to verse, with workshops, book sales, readings, and patrols by the Poetry Police. The Sunbird poetry reading, featuring Ms. Fennelly, as well as poet Teri Cross Davis, local authors, and Howard Community College faculty and students, starts at 2:30 p.m. and is free. Ms. Fennelly will read from and discuss her poetry, including her most recent work, Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs, during the Nightbird Poetry Reading, starting at 7:30 p.m. in the Monteabaro Recital Hall of the Horowitz Center for Visual and Performing Arts. Nightbird admission tickets are $15 each (seniors and students $10) available on-line at https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4026338 or by sending a self-addressed envelope and check payable to HoCoPoLitSo, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Horowitz Center 200, Columbia, MD 21044.

Fennelly’s newest book, Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs (2017), was selected as one of the ten best Southern books of 2017 by the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “Readers, you are in for a hootenanny of a wild ride. This is Fennelly at her most laid-bare, wickedly funny, and irrepressibly poetic best,” raves Kirkus Reviews. The director of the MFA program at the University of Mississippi, Fennelly has published her work in more than fifty anthologies and has won numerous awards and honors, including a Pushcart, the Wood Award from The Carolina Quarterly and The Black Warrior Review Contest. Fennelly is the author of three poetry collections: Open House (2002), Tender Hooks (2004), and Unmentionables (2008). She is also the author of a book of essays, Great with Child: Letters to a Young Mother (2006), “may be the best book ever to give for a baby shower” noted the Tampa Tribune. In 2013, Fennelly and her husband, Tom Franklin, co-authored a novel, The Tilted World, set during the 1927 flood of the Mississippi River.


Teri Ellen Cross Davis is the author of Haint, winner of the 2017 Ohioana Book Award for Poetry. A Cave Canem fellow serving on the advisory council of Split This Rock, Davis is the poetry coordinator for the Folger Shakespeare Library. Reviewing Haint, The Triangle’s Sam Sweigert wrote, “Beginning to end, Cross Davis beckons her readers to shine a light and to witness the slow magic of a soul’s journey through life’s knowings and unknowings.”


Steven Leyva, a Cave Canem fellow and author of the chapbook Low Parish, will offer a workshop on “The Poetics of Animé” as part of the festival. Leyva, who is an assistant professor at the University of Baltimore, will hold his free workshop at 9:30 a.m. in the Rouse Company Foundation Student Services Hall, room 400.


remsberg_19030318806

Poetry Out Loud State Champions pose for a photo at the State Finals. Hanna Al-Kowsi, Marriotts Ridge High School, Howard County (second place winner) is standing on the right. Photo credit: Edwin Remsberg.

Hanna Al-Kowsi, of Marriotts Ridge High School, will perform her winning poetry recitation at the Nightbird. Hanna won first place in the regional tri-county and second place in the state-wide Maryland Poetry Out Loud competition that recognizes great poetry through memorization and performance.


For more than 40 years, HoCoPoLitSo has nurtured a love and respect for the diversity of contemporary literary arts in Howard County. The society sponsors literary readings and writers-in-residence outreach programs, produces The Writing Life (a writer-to-writer talk show), and partners with other cultural arts organizations to support the arts in Howard County, Maryland. For more information, visit www.hocopolitso.org.

HoCoPoLitSo receives funding from the Maryland State Arts Council, an agency funded by the state of Maryland and the National Endowment for the Arts; Howard County Arts Council through a grant from Howard County government; The Columbia Film Society; Community Foundation of Howard County; and individual contributors.

 

 

Click here to download the press release for this event.

Give that poet a laurel wreath -To go with her leather jacket

Poetry scares people.

Poets Laureate? That sounds like they should be wearing circles of laurel leaves on their heads and reciting from hilltops. Super scary.

Photo credit Tony Lewis

The new Maryland Poet Laureate is the opposite of that image, though I would highly condone granting her a laurel leaf crown. Grace Cavalieri is more poetry’s grandma, albeit one who wears a leather motorcycle jacket and writes collections of poetry about Anna Nicole Smith.

“She is not a gatekeeper, but one who opens the gate and says, ‘Come in, you are welcome here,’ ” said poet Teri Ellen Cross Davis, head of the Poet Laureate Selection Committee, who introduced Cavalieri on the last day of February at her induction party in Annapolis. (And will offer a workshop and read with Beth Ann Fennelly at this year’s Blackbird Poetry Festival.)

After Davis and other dignitaries finished praising her, Cavalieri beamed at the audience, including her four daughters sitting in the front row. She explained that at their family home, “Poetry has always sat at the table.”

For more than forty years, Cavalieri has hosted “The Poet and the Poem,” an interview show on public radio, now carried by the Library of Congress. She’s written more than 20 books and chapbooks of poetry, had 26 plays produced on the American stage, and won honors like the Pen-Fiction Award, the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award, and the inaugural Columbia Merit Award from Folger Shakespeare Library.

Those awards sound off-putting, but Grace’s speech to the gathered crowd of past Maryland Poets Laureate, friends, former students at Columbia’s 1960s experimental Antioch College, fellow poets, and Italian cousins wasn’t.

“Here’s what poetry does. It slows us down,” Cavalieri said. “Poetry is a shelter, a haven, it’s dreaming on a page. Poetry keeps us from being lonely. It’s a bridge. It makes us more human.”

For young people, whom Cavalieri hopes most of all to reach with her message, poetry finds chinks in their armor, the defenses they’ve built up to navigate the world.

“Through writing, they find out who they are. Poetry is self-discovery. You find out where you’ve been and where you’re going,” she said. “I didn’t know who I was until I was 80, now I’m enjoying it very much.”

And after the laughter and applause died down, Cavalieri read one of her signature poems, about her grandparents’ Italian restaurant in Trenton, NJ. The poem’s topic? Something everyone loves – besides Grace – pizza.

Cavalieri came to HoCoPoLitSo’s very first event, on Nov. 19, 1974, with poets Carolyn Kizer and Lucille Clifton. And she started reading her work and teaching workshops with us in 1980, and was our poet-in-residence to the county schools in the 2002 to 2003 academic year. The students and teachers loved her for her energy and enthusiasm, which has not flagged a bit since then.

Cavalieri hasn’t stopped writing because she has this new laurel. Here’s her latest poem, about her latest job:

Terms of Office

for Lawrence J. Hogan, Jr.  January 16, 2019

May our Governor hear the language of the people

as terms of his office.

“Language” simply means many people

Have come together to make words.

There are nearly 100,000 words in the English language

I’ve chosen exactly 246, but I want to shine them up

To speak about a man serving in high office;

A man who will walk by the beautiful waters

Of our bays, rivers, rivulets;

One who continues with inner strength

Clearing new paths with elasticity for every kind among us—

Who knows love and hope are not holiday greetings

But governing principles—

A man aspirational for humanity.

Language always leads us to the soul of each matter,

And today it rinses words clean, renewing meaning:

Independence of thought

An honorable nature

Clear vision

Calm in the eye of national storms.

From the rich bottom lands of southern Maryland

To the forested hills of our western state—

From the dynamic energy of northern Maryland

To his own hometown—

May our Governor’s inner spirit seek compassion before action,

May his wisdom see that the heart’s choice dictates the mind’s decisions,

May he be rewarded with radiant pride for his integrity.

In speaking of success, Ralph Waldo Emerson said:

“Each one has an aptitude to do easily some feat impossible to any other

And to do otherwise undermines the talents of all others.”

May Governor Hogan be rewarded with radiant pride for his integrity.

 Grace Cavalieri

 Maryland Poet Laureate

 

Susan Thornton Hobby

HoCoPoLitSo recording secretary

 

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