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Wilde Readings Open Mic:

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/

Book Challenge: Jason Reynolds

Join forces with author, library and HoCoPoLitSo to offer a book of dreams for everyone

The inside cover of Jason Reynolds’s book For Every One says it all. We’re supposed to pass it on. The book’s dedication reads, “For You. For Me.”

His book is about dreams, and how hard one must work to achieve them. He wrote about trying to focus on his ambitions:

“So I went out and bought all the books on all the ways to make dreams come true, laying out the how-to, somehow spinning life into a fantastic formula for dummies and dream chasers, written by experts and dream catchers who swear that I can one plus one and right foot left foot my way into fulfillment, never taking into consideration all this mess I got strapped to my back and my head and my legs and my heart.”
  Reynolds wants everyone to hear about following dreams. So does HoCoPoLitSo. The Howard County Library and HoCoPoLitSo are joining forces to bring Reynolds to speak to the East Columbia Library Oct. 9. And we’d like to share this gift of a book. The library and HoCoPoLitSo are raising money to give out 100 copies of For Every One to students who attend his reading. Pupils from Lake Elkhorn, Oakland Mills, Wilde Lake, and Harper’s Choice middle schools will be bused to the reading, joining lots of Reynolds’ fans at the event. Register here for the event. Every dollar raised is matched one to one by funds from the Kathleen Glascock Challenge, a memorial fund named for an inspiring Clarksville Middle School media specialist who believed that books could change lives. She and Reynolds would have had a lot to talk about. It’s hard not to get goose bumps when Reynolds, who didn’t read a book cover to cover until he was nearly 18, talks about teenagers. “All I want kids to know is that I see them for who they are and not who everyone thinks they are,” he told the Washington Post last year. Reynolds, now a best-selling author with nine books, a Newbery Honor, and National Book Award finalist on his resume, says he wants to tell the stories that he wasn’t seeing on library and bookstore shelves – tales of black and brown teenagers handling tough issues. His goal is “putting that on the page with integrity and balance, to acknowledge the glory and the brokenness. That’s all I want to do. It’s a lot, but so are they.” Librarians around the county can’t keep his books on the shelves, and they’re thrilled that Reynolds is coming to read. Anne Reis, media specialist at Homewood Center, the alternative school in Howard County, was introducing Jason Reynolds to two classes of “very reluctant readers,” as she called them. They were disruptive, she remembers, until she started playing a “The Daily Show” clip of Trevor Noah’s talk with Reynolds, who emphasized the importance of hip-hop to his writing, and how young people are the antidote to hopelessness. “They heard the truth of his message and that he respects them and wants to write for them … . They were completely silent,” Reis said. “A pin could have dropped and you would have heard it. Jason Reynolds has an authenticity in his writing that speaks to the kids at my school. They are psyched to meet him in October!” Donate here: https://hclibrary.org/classes-events/glascock-challenge-seeks-to-inspire-reluctant-readers

Susan Thornton Hobby

Recording secretary, HoCoPoLitSo Board

Coffee-Stained Margins: a guest post by Eunice Braimoh

Marilyn Chin reading at the 10th Annual Blackbird Poetry Festival hosted by Howard County Poetry and Literature Society and Howard Community College on April 26, 2018

I had never heard of Marilyn Chin. But there I sat in the hazy Smith Theatre, listening to the petite, flip-flop-clad lady unfold her Chinese heritage, her voice’s rich resonance baptizing life into her words. Peppered with rhetorical questions and salted with snark, Marilyn Chin’s poetry invited the audience into conversation. As she discussed her experience with assimilation, I thought back to my years of insecurity with my Nigerian identity.

During my childhood, I tugged at my belly, my hair, my skin. I hunched in over myself. But I remember watching a spoken word from YouTube during youth group, the same lines which had echoed through my house the entire week prior because my mom, the youth leader, had been so fascinated by the video. Ears straining to keep up with the whiplash tempo, the laughing cadence, I snapped my fingers, riveted by the rain of spitfire, desperately beckoning the words barked out of the poets’ lips to be mine.

Slam poetry was alive.

A tandem of voice and pulse, spoken word went beyond sonnets and “thou”s and lofty declarations of love; it playfully teased out slant-rhymes and sidestepped the conventions of language. Poetry, I discovered, could be as unorthodox as I wished, and listening to the crowd of adroit artists (cough-SarahKay-PatrickRoche-BlytheBaird-OmarHolmon-cough) has since stirred a hunger.

For what?

Maybe I am looking for truth, naked and unholy. Maybe I write because I’m looking to sing what could be my gospel, to scream it in the shower, to spit it into the mic, to whisper it in an ear, to let it breathe ink and paper and dust.

While I write, I’ve knocked on Petrarch’s door, revisiting the poetry I once scoffed, imbibing in myself a greater appreciation for the art. Analyzing syntax and diction is what I love to do—maybe because I regularly eye my friends’ texts. (There’s a world of difference between “ok” and “Okay.”) While I am yet to be convinced that every inch of a poem is birthed from divine inspiration, I nevertheless believe that the spectrum of poetry—from spoken word to the coffee-stained margins—contains a delicateness that ought to be explored with careful hands and open eyes. As a writer, I wish to infuse electric vulnerability in my writing, inviting readers and listeners to unwind, to laugh, to have conversation.


Eunice Braimoh

Eunice Braimoh finds herself in a limbo between cultures: in her room hangs the Nigerian flag, while Maryland’s mosaic fusion has grafted itself into her heart. As a writer exploring vulnerable curiosity, she wishes to symphonize conversation regarding race, gender, and diversity. When not effusively fangirling over slam poetry and intricate word-play, Eunice can be found writing (and rewriting) her own poetry and fiction. Previously recognized with two Regional Keys from the D.C. Metro Region, Eunice recently received a Silver Key for her poem “in which icarus does not drown”. She will be attending University of Maryland, College Park as an English major starting this fall.

HoCoPoLitSo Recognizes Howard County Students for Literary Achievement

For thirty-five years the HOward COunty POetry and LITerature SOciety (HoCoPoLitSo) has awarded book prizes to the winners of its All County Writing Contest, and recognized students nominated by their teachers for Promise and Achievement in Language Arts. To foster lifelong reading and a love of literature, HoCoPoLitSo presents book awards with personalized bookplates. The tradition continued this year as HoCoPoLitSo board members made presentations at all Howard County public high school senior award assemblies and the Homewood Center.

Books were presented to eleven creative writing winners: Nadine Eloseily (Centennial), Angelina Zater (Howard), and Kasmita Mirani (Glenelg) in the personal essay category; Christian Salazar (Oakland Mills) Ben Yodzis (Hammond), Alexa Marquis (River Hill), Erin Hill (River Hill) and Lawrence Qiu (River Hill) in the short story category; and Xin He (River Hill), Kasmita Mirani (Glenelg) and Kiara Bell (Oakland Mills) in the poetry category. This year’s judges were Sama Bellomo, rehabilitation technologist; Joelle Biele, poet and editor, Patricia Van Amburg, poet and professor, Howard Community College; and Nsikan Akpan, HoCoPoLitSo board member and Former Promise and Achievement in Language Arts Award Winner.

In addition, twenty-four students were chosen by their English Departments to receive HoCoPoLitSo’s Promise and Achievement Award in Language Arts.  The honorees were: Amanda Etcheberrigaray, Connor Gallant (Atholton), Jessie Kwon, Teresa Whittemore (Centennial), Tiffany Nguyen, Zoe Read (Glenelg), Emily Carter, Matthew Sinnott (Hammond), Mia Dubin, Emilee Melton (Homewood Center), Hunter Hensley, Rachel Walter (Howard), Naomi Yang, Theo Yang (Long Reach), Devon Carberry, Grace Yi (Marriotts Ridge), Casey Kindall, Cory Weller (Mt. Hebron), Kiara Bell (Oakland Mills), Joseph Smith, Marya Topina (Reservoir), Alexa Marquis (River Hill), Yazunat Guta, and Sara Shemali, (Wilde Lake).

Thirty-one students in all received books by such outstanding poets and writers as Lucille Clifton, Sandra Beasley, Michael Collier, Billy Collins, Emma Donoghue, Rita Dove, Eamon Grennan, Josephine Hart, Robert Hass, Colum McCann, and Richard Wilbur.  HoCoPoLitSo is dedicated to enlarging the audience for contemporary poetry and literature through public readings, special events, writer-in-residence visits, and The Writing Life, a cable television series produced at Howard Community College, now available on YouTube, for more than 40 years.

HoCoPoLitSo names author Laura Shovan as poet-in-residence

Laura Shovan

Laura Shovan

The Howard County Poetry & Literature Society (HoCoPoLitSo) has chosen Laura Shovan, winner of the 2009 Harriss Poetry Prize and author of an upcoming novel-in-verse for young readers, as its 24th poet-in-residence. Shovan will visit county high schools, the alternative school and Howard Community College classes to read her work and guide the students’ writing.

Using portraits and news headlines as triggers for poetry, Shovan will lead the students in writing their own verse. Shovan also plans to start a public reading series with student participation. A Maryland State Arts Council artist-in-residence since 1999, Shovan is the poetry editor of the Little Patuxent Review. Shovan’s book, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, comes out in April 2016 from Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Random House. Her poetry chapbook, Mountain, Log, Salt and Stone, won the Harriss prize, and she has edited two poetry anthologies. Shovan graduated from NYU’s dramatic writing program, taught high school and worked for the Dodge Poetry Festival.

For 24 years, HoCoPoLitSo has brought contemporary writers to the students of Howard County to encourage the love of literature and writing. Atholton High School teacher Jennifer Timmel, whose class wrote with last year’s poet-in-residence Joseph Ross, said about the experience: “I think the poet-in-residence program is brilliant. The students were all very moved by (Ross’s) poetry; many of them are writers and poets themselves, so to be able to speak with someone who writes for a living was very inspirational to them. They found his work interesting and inspiring. Mr. Ross is … an incredible combination of encouraging teacher and good poet.”

Shovan follows in the footsteps of illustrious writers, including Lucille Clifton, Li-Young Lee, Michael Glaser and Grace Cavalieri. Last year’s poet-in-residence, Joseph Ross, wrote, “For high school students, I’m convinced poetry can help them discover who they are. It helps them know they’re not alone. Poetry has healing properties, it connects us to everyone else.”

Nsikan’s Young Life with Poetry

In the last few months, we heard from Katy Day and Faheem Dyer about what poetry means to them.  Today, in the last part of our series on young people on poetry and literature, we hear from Nsikan-Abasi Akpan.  She is a student at Howard Community College and an aspiring writer.

 

Nsikan reading her poem to Taylor Mali

Nsikan reading her poem to Taylor Mali

What do you get out of literary events like Taylor Mali’s reading at Blackbird Poetry Festival?

I recently met slam Poet Taylor Mali. He is a fire that enhances the light in others. It was nice spending time with him and the HoCoPoLitSo team and seeing that he doesn’t do what he does just for the stage – it’s inside of him. Poetry is inside of me and meeting him has encouraged me to not force my way into it, but rather to allow it to come naturally, perhaps when I least expect it to.

As a student and as a citizen of this world, what benefits do you see in reading and studying literature (especially poetry)?

The benefits of studying literature is growth. I spend many days cooped up in my room like a hermit, watching documentaries of great writers like Jack Kerouac and George Eliot, but it doesn’t mean I’m up to no good.  It sounds silly, but when I get anxious (mostly due to my fear of not making it as a writer), I remember the struggles of J.D. Salinger and how he had to try many times before The New Yorker accepted his work; when I feel misunderstood, I think about Virginia Woolf and how she never truly fit in; an most importantly, when I find myself almost giving into anger and sin, I think of God and how He has given me poetry.  Then I recite a poem in my head and end with “Amen” – and all is well again.

What’s your favorite piece of literature (a particular poem, poet, or novel maybe)?

“You might as well have asked, “What’s your favorite grain of sand?” Am I allowed to have a favorite? It’s just too much, but I’ll tell you this: In Stephen Chbosky’s book “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” the main character, Charlie, is asked what his favorite book is. His answer: “The one I just read,” or something like that. I just read “Catholicism,” a poem by Billy Collins, so for this moment, that is my favorite poem.

Do you have any thoughts on what literary organizations like HoCoPoLitSo might do to encourage more young people to read, study, and encounter poetry?

Who says poets aren't silly?

Who says poets aren’t silly? Katy and Nsikan share a moment with Taylor Mali 

To some crazy people out there, poetry is no longer important. I once heard someone say “Poetry is dead.” Of course that person only said so because they were feeling bitter about failing the poetry unit in English class, but still we live in a world where such statements seem almost true. HoCoPoLitSo reminds us, though, that people who love poetry still exist, that poetry lives. It was through HoCoPoLitSo that I met Billy Collins and was able to recite my poem, “Frank,” right in front of him. HoCoPoLitSo is energetic and on the ball of everything literary, and young people need that. By providing the opportunity to not only read poetry , but also to meet the poets and share our own works, HoCoPoLitSo encourages us to stay involved and to stay in touch with literature.  There are also local sources, like HCC’s literary magazine, The Muse, which bring us closer to literature.  Young people are willing when it comes to being a part of the poetry world. It’s absolutely magical.

Rest assured, poetry lovers everywhere, that young people like Katy, Faheem, and Nsikan will become stewards of all that is beautiful and magical in the world of language and literature. But you and I have to support them, so that they can continue to spark and renew their energy.

And I promise you this – your support of HoCoPoLitSo will continue to foster their love of poetry and literature. Katy, Faheem, and Nsikan are the reason that HoCoPoLitSo does what it does.

– Laura Yoo

Member, HoCoPoLitSo Board of Directors

Next Up – Faheem Dyer on Poetry

FaheemIn this mini-series on young people in/of poetry, I have made my own observations about the importance of poetry in the lives of young people and I have interviewed HoCoPoLitSo’s Student on Board, Katy Day about poetry in her life.  Next up is HoCoPoLitSo’s student intern, Faheem Dyer.

Faheem is a senior at Atholton High School. He has been pursuing his interest in poetry since middle school, and some of his favorites are Whitman, the Beats, and the Romantics. At Atholton, he is the president of the Poetry Club, and he serves his school’s student newspaper, Raider Review, as the Opinions Editor and the Online Editor. When he graduates this summer, he hopes to attend college in the fall to study creative writing or comparative literature.  He says, “I believe that a deep engagement with the written word is essential to the intellectual growth and a healthy understanding of the world, both on a personal, and social level.”

Here’s what he had to say.


 

What do you get out of attending poetry and literary events, such as the Rita Dove and Joshua Coyne event last year?

I think the most profound thing I gained was the direct exposure to talent and experience of Ms. Dove’s and Mr. Coyne’s caliber. More than that, though, I think the chance to see these two people share their insights and ideas on their crafts with an attentive, engaged audience helped deepen my understanding of those art forms, both as a consumer and aspiring creator.

As a student and as a citizen of this world, what benefits do you see in reading and studying literature (especially poetry)?

I believe that being well-read in literature is the most important part of being a well-educated and informed individual. Whether it’s lofty philosophical theory, or raw poetic passion, all human knowledge and experience is cataloged with language; writing is one of the most important vessels of thought, and to make oneself a student of that is to put oneself at the heart of it. That is invaluable in growing as a person, and it is absolutely essential to a robust education.

What’s your favorite work of literature (a particular poem, poet, or novel maybe)?

I personally never get tired of Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, specifically “Song of Myself.” The wild, loving, and almost holy way Whitman addresses the nature of the world around him is beautiful and altogether profound and spiritual on a deeper one.

Do you have any thoughts on what literary organizations like HoCoPoLitSo can do to engage young people?

I may not be able to speak for all young people, but I know that if I were not already interested, simply being shown poetry in ways that demonstrate its continued relevance could easily engage me. Also, in introducing poetry to others, I would keep in mind what priorities and temperaments I’m trying to appeal to, because there is something for any young person of any mindset to gain from poetry, but the ways to make it appealing differ greatly from circle to circle.

You can read Faheen’s review of HoCoPoLitSo’s 2014 Lucille Clifton Poetry Series event when Rita Dove and Joshua Coyne read and performed together on stage at Howard Community College.

As a teacher, I am envious of teachers who get to teach students like Faheem. His commitment to poetry signifies more than his interest or even “skills” in language and literature – for me, it signifies the potential for a deep and wide understanding of the world that I believe literature students like Faheem can cultivate.

Poetry and other forms of literary arts ask us to look outward – at the world, at people, at history, at cultures, at empowering ideas as well as dangerous ideas.  At the same time, they ask us to look inward, too – to think, to feel, to ask questions of ourselves, to imagine, and to nurture our interior lives.

Yes, poetry can do that. And Faheem knows it.

– Laura Yoo
Member, HoCoPoLitSo Board of Directors

This Time, “The Young” Speak – Katy Day

In my previous post, “Poetry for the Young (and the Young-Hearted)”, I promised you voices of our young poetry lovers.

First up is HoCoPoLitSo’s Student on Board Member, Katy Day.  Katy is a student at University of Maryland, College Park who is studying English and Psychology. She has been a friend of HoCoPoLitSo’s since 2013.  She made her Blackbird Poetry Festival debut in 2013.  Billy Collins, who came to HCC to read at the 2014 Blackbird Poetry Festival, is an admirer of Katy’s poetry (as evidenced by the photo below). She is currently studying poetry with Stanley Plumly at College Park.

I asked Katy some questions to get her take on encountering poetry.

What do you get out of attending poetry and literary events?

All of my time studying literature and poetry hasn’t prepared me to fully articulate the degree to which attending poetry readings and other literary events have influenced my life.  The first poetry reading I ever attended was the Blackbird Poetry Festival in 2013.  I knew that I had discovered something great when I attended Blackbird that year.  I felt like I belonged there and like I had finally found something that I really felt passionately about.

 As a student and as a citizen of this world, what benefits do you see in reading and studying literature (especially poetry)?

Studying literature and poetry has expanded my mind.  It has allowed me to discover who I am as a person by changing and building upon my thoughts and beliefs about the world.

What’s your favorite work of literature (a particular poem, poet, or novel maybe)?

I can’t choose a single favorite.  I love poetry and literature for several different reasons and I think that different works of poetry and literature have enriched my life in different ways.  I can read David Sedaris over and over again and still laugh until I’m crying and marvel over his perfected comedic timing.  The more I learn about poetry and literature, the more particular my interests become also.  I read Olive Schreiner’s Story of an African Farm and was blown away by not only the anticipation of modernist literature in the experimental style of her writing, but also by her progressiveness, which I think even surpasses many of our contemporary thinkers.  Oscar Wilde has also greatly influenced the way in which I consciously navigate and perceive the world.

Do you have any thoughts on what literary organizations like HoCoPoLitSo can do to engage young people?

This is a tough question.  It’s hard to get people of any age interested in poetry. Billy Collins says that high school gives people “anti-poetry deflector shields.”  Any time poetry is encountered, the automatic response is to avoid it.  Becoming interested in poetry is like opening a set of nesting dolls.  You have to begin with poems that speak to non-poetry adherents.  Then, like the nesting dolls that become smaller and smaller, your interests become more and more refined as you explore various kinds of poetry.  I think these anti-poetry deflector shields come from teachers who forgo the big nesting dolls and instead present their students with poems that require the refined interest that comes with exposure and extensive study.  I gained this perspective through my experiences at Howard Community College and through attending HoCoPoLitSo events.  HoCoPoLitSo has done an exceptional job in the past few years bringing poets to Howard County who excite young people and act as gateways into poetry.

Here’s at least one awesome young person in whose hands we can trust the future of poetry in Howard County and beyond.

-Laura Yoo

Member, HoCoPoLitSo Board of Directors

Joseph Ross is HoCoPoLitSo’s 2014/15 Writer-In-Residence

RossFor twenty-three years, HoCoPoLitSo has brought a writer into the Howard County high schools to read and talk with students for a few hours. The teenagers meet a live writer, not someone sifted into the dust of textbooks.

Authors of all stripes have worked with Howard County students: slam poets, memoir writers, Native American poets, Bulgarian poets, African-American poets, journalists, poets with National Book Awards, fiction writers, poets with a clutch of photocopied poems that were printed in literary journals. What all of these writers have in common is a love of words, and of the capability to spark and fan the flame of conversation about literature in English classes and poetry clubs.

Joseph Ross, a D.C. poet, teacher and activist, is the next in HoCoPoLitSo’s line of illustrious writers-in-residence, which have included Lucille Clifton, Jean Nordhaus, Michael Dirda, Roland Flint and Michael Glaser.

Ross, the author of Meeting Bone Man (2012) and Gospel of Dust (2013), won the 2012 Pratt Library and Little Patuxent Review poetry contest with his poem, “If Mamie Till Was the Mother of God.”

That winning poem touches on a theme that runs through Ross’s poetry — personalizing injustice. Many of Ross’s poems give a name and face to outrages like Darfur genocide, Civil Rights outrages, Gettysburg body counts, political kidnappings in Brazil. Ross also writes about Tupac Shakur, Cool Disco Dan (the graffiti artist who sprinkled D.C.’s walls in audacious letters), his veteran father and even Buddha.

“What makes Ross stand out is (more…)

Blackbird Poetry Festival Features Billy Collins, “The Most Popular Poet in America”

Date: December 20, 2013         Contact: Pam Kroll Simonson, (443) 518-4568, hocopolitso@yahoo.com

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Blackbird Poetry Festival Features Billy Collins,
“The Most Popular Poet in America”

Howard County Poetry & Literature Society (HoCoPoLitSo), in partnership with Howard Community College’s Office of Student Life, English and World Languages Division, and Arts & Humanities Division, presents the annual Blackbird Poetry Festival on Thursday, April 24, 2014, at Howard Community College. The all-day event features readings by two-term National Poet Laureate Billy Collins, called “the most popular poet in America” by The New York Times; workshops for HCC students by Bruce George, poet and co-founder of HBO’s Def Poetry Jam; readings by student poets from HCC; and on-campus patrols by the Poetry Police, who will award individuals carrying a poem in recognition of national Poem in Your Pocket Day. The theme of this year’s Blackbird Poetry Festival is “Poetry Unmasked,” exploring the bare truth of poetry.

“Billy Collins is famous for conversational, witty poems that welcome readers with humor,” writes The Poetry Foundation, an independent literary group, “but often slip into quirky, tender or profound observation on the everyday, reading and writing, and poetry itself.”

“His last three collections of poems have broken sales records for poetry,” writes the Winter Park Institute for intellectual engagement at Rollins College. “His readings are usually standing room only, and his audience–enhanced tremendously by his appearances on National Public Radio–includes people of all backgrounds and age groups.”

Collins will read and discuss his work at Nightbird, the Blackbird Poetry Festival’s evening event, at 7:30 p.m. at Smith Theatre, located in the Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center at HCC in Columbia. A book signing and reception will follow. Collins will give a short free reading at Smith Theater with student poets at 2:30 p.m. He will also tape an episode of The Writing Life, HoCoPoLitSo’s Bravo-TV Arts for Change Award-winning interview show seen on YouTube. George will facilitate creative writing/performance poetry workshops in morning classes at HCC.

Tickets to Nightbird are $50 for the first five rows in the center aisle and $30 for orchestra and balcony ($15 for students). Tickets can be purchased at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/523094 or www.hocopolitso.org . For more information, call HoCoPoLitSo at (443) 518-4568 or email hocopolitso@yahoo.com. Seniors in Columbia can request transportation by calling the Senior Events Shuttle at (410) 715-3087. HCC is an accessible campus. Accommodation requests should be made to HoCoPoLitSo by April 17, 2014.

HoCoPoLitSo is a nonprofit organization designed to enlarge the audience for contemporary poetry and literature and celebrate culturally diverse literary heritages. Founded in 1974 by National Book Award finalist Ellen Conroy Kennedy, HoCoPoLitSo accomplishes its mission by sponsoring readings with critically acclaimed writers; literary workshops; programs for students; and The Writing Life, a writer-to-writer interview show seen on YouTube, HCC-TV, and other local stations. 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; the Jim and Patty Rouse Charitable Foundation; and individual contributors.

For a pdf of this press release, click here: Blackbird 2014 Press Release.

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