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Regretfully, this year’s Blackbird Poetry Festival is now cancelled due to the public health crisis.
Poet and PBS Senior Correspondent Jeffrey Brown headlines the festival, April 30, 2020, on the campus of Howard Community College, a day devoted to verse, with workshops, book sales, readings, and patrols by the Poetry Police. The Sunbird poetry reading, featuring Mr. Brown, local writers, and Howard Community College faculty and students, starts at 2:30 p.m. and is free. Mr. Brown will read from and discuss his poetry during the Nightbird Poetry Reading, starting at 7:30 p.m. in the Monteabaro Hall of the Horowitz Center for Visual and Performing Arts.
Brown’s 2015 volume of poetry, The News, was selected as one of best poetry books of May 2015 by The Washington Post. In the forward, Robert Pinsky notes “The News is more than a venture into art by someone prominent in another field. In these poems, an unconventional subject for poetry is dealt with from within, by a real poet.” In the afterward, Brown says “I got hooked as a reader long ago. But why write poetry? Why write these experiences through poetry? To explore what happened from another angle, to see beyond the camera, to imagine what might be there, to use the language in a different way. Like the news, poetry seeks to inform our lives and helps us to reflect upon who we are and the conditions, disastrous or delightful, of the world in which we live. Here it is — I am talking to myself, again — your day.”
Workshops, open to the public, will take place in the Kittleman Room of Duncan Hall at 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. Ann Bracken, the author of two collections of poetry, No Barking in the Hallways: Poems from the Classroom (2017) and The Altar of Innocence (2015), will offer a workshop on poetry as a way of reporting your life as part of the festival. Bracken, twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize, will hold her free workshop at 9:30 a.m. in the Kittleman Room.
Nightbird admission tickets are $15 each (seniors and students $10) available on-line here: GET TICKETS. For tickets by mail, send a self-addressed envelope and check payable to HoCoPoLitSo, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Horowitz Center 200, Columbia, MD 21044.
HoCoPoLitSo’s annual Irish Evening on February 21, 2020, will feature award-winning author Alice McDermott, Celtic rock band O’Malley’s March and the Teelin Dance Company. McDermott, three-time Pulitzer Prize nominee and National Book Award winner, will read, followed by a rousing concert of electric Irish folk music and championship step dancing. Click here for tickets.
“Everything that her readers, the National Book Award committee, and the Pulitzer Prize judges love about McDermott’s stories of Irish-Catholic American life is back,” a Kirkus starred review noted about her most recent novel, The Ninth Hour.
The Associated Press said “[T]he story is exhilarating, largely because of McDermott’s lyrical language and unforgettable characters . . .[T]he nuns of the Little Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor . . are as fierce, funny, complicated and brave as any women in our fictional universe today.” The Guardian noted “McDermott’s award-winning body of work constitutes its own fictional world; she returns again and again to the Irish in the U.S., to the heartlessness and the consolations of Catholicism. … her new book unfolds without sentimentality or pity, but with a frankness of gaze that elevates her characters rather than diminishes them.”
The evening program begins at 7:30 p.m., but Irish coffee, Guinness, and other beverages and snacks will be offered for sale beginning at 7 p.m. and during intermission. Book sale and signing by the author after her reading. After intermission, O’Malley’s March, fronted by former Gov. Martin O’Malley, will play traditional Irish music and Celtic rock, with guitar, fiddle, harp, bodhran, electric bass, trombone, accordion, bagpipes and tin whistle.
McDermott joins the long list of illustrious Irish authors HoCoPoLitSo has brought to Howard County audiences, including Frank McCourt, Colm Tóibín, Anne Enright, Colum McCann, and Emma Donoghue. For more than 40 years, HoCoPoLitSo’s Irish Evening has celebrated the substantial impact of Irish-born writers on the world of contemporary literature.
Harvest is about food, of course, a storing away of all the energy and sunshine and hard work of summer for a slower, more contemplative time. Sure, there are pumpkins, but fall is also about the last tomatoes and corn, and the starchy parsnips and potatoes that last all winter long.
I think of poems and stories as a kind of harvest, storing up the ephemeral to be savored later.
The Between the Leaves Project is about linking writing with the food we grow and eat. HoCoPoLitSo and the Howard County Library have teamed up to put literature — about collard greens and zinnias and raspberries and butter beans — in the Enchanted Garden at the Miller Branch.
Signs, bearing excerpts from poems and novels that relate to the crops being grown, have been thrust into the garden plots, a lovely quarter-acre just outside the Ellicott City library branch. The vegetables and fruits grown in the garden by volunteers, from library teens to Master Gardeners, are harvested every week and donated to the Howard County Food Bank.
The signs offer a little taste of literature in the garden, but if you’d like a full serving, attend the harvest reading on Oct. 28. Authors, board members of HoCoPoLitSo, and staff and friends of the library will read poems that will leave us hungry. Hear works by Robert Frost, Lucille Clifton, Nikki Giovanni, Gary Snyder, Pablo Neruda, and other authors. Snacks will be served and books with the poems, as well as excerpts from novels and short stories, will be available for borrowing.
Join us at the drop-in reading 7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 28, at the Miller Branch library in the garden under the twinkling lights, for an evening of poetry to savor.
“What happens to a dream deferred? / Does it dry up / like a raisin in the sun?… Or does it explode?”
— Langston Hughes
Join us in this celebration of HoCoPoLitSo’s 45th anniversary with a unique historical exploration of the art that transformed our world. Explore the power of words from writers such as Langston Hughes and live jazz by such greats as Duke Ellington in a not-to-be-missed speakeasy atmosphere evocative of the era. This transporting evening of live jazz, poetry, and visual art from the 1920s Harlem Renaissance honoring former artistic director Lucille Clifton is presented by the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society in partnership with Howard Community College’s Arts Collective. Tickets are available on-line at OvationTix or from the Horowitz Center Box Office on the campus of HCC or by calling 443-518-1500.
Honorary Chairman, County Executive Calvin Ball, will join local poets, musical theater performers, and a jazz quintet who will perform some of the most sophisticated literary and artistic works of the period. Signature cocktails, small bites, and period attire promise to make the evening magical. Musical theatre performances by Valerie A. Higgs, Mayumi B. Griffie, and Jamar Brown along with live music from Petra Martin and the Jazz Masters will recreate the golden age of jazz. Local poets and performers include Linda Joy Burke, Alan King, Faye McCray, Nana Owusu, Shawn Naar, and Chania Hudson, honoring the work of writers such as Countee Cullen, Alice Dunbar Nelson, Claude McKay, and Georgia Douglas Johnson.
This powerful event will be held October 5, 2019, starting at 7:30 p.m. on the campus of Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia, Md., in the Rouse Company Foundation Student Services Hall, room 400. Admission tickets are $45 each and include a wide variety of speakeasy-inspired small bites. A cash bar will be available, serving two signature cocktails evocative of the era, plus beer and wine. Period attire is encouraged. Seating is limited.
HoCoPoLitSo is celebrating its 45th year of nurturing 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.
Howard Community College’s critically acclaimed Arts Collective engages performers, creatives, and audiences with innovative events that ignite our collective imaginations. For more than two decades, Arts Collective has served as a creative cauldron, providing expert guidance and training to new and experienced artists in bringing vibrant life to diverse works on the stage; from the newly devised to the classics and all in between. Arts Collective’s positive, collaborative, educational environment is open to everyone. For more information, visit http://www.howardcc.edu/artscollective .
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; Community Foundation of Howard County; and individual contributors.
Direct ticket link: https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pe/10434325
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:
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.
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.
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.
Register online or by calling 410-313-1950.
Susan Thornton Hobby
His Excellency Daniel Mulhall, the Irish Ambassador to America, drew a hearty laugh from the audience at Friday night’s Irish Evening of Music and Poetry.
As a daily counterbalance to the insanity on Twitter, Mulhall sends out a few lines of Irish poetry every morning.
To the audience at the poetry reading last week, Mulhall joked that he’s starting a campaign: “It’s time to Make Poetry Great Again.”
After the laughter died down, HoCoPoLitSo board members could be heard muttering amongst themselves, “Poetry was always great.”
But timeline quibbles aside, HoCoPoLitSo was thrilled to welcome the ambassador and sterling poet Vona Groarke to the forty-first Irish Evening.
Last Friday morning, in tribute to Irish Evening, Mulhall sent into the Twitterverse a few lines from Groarke’s beautiful poetry:
Anyway, the leaves were almost on the turn
And the roses, such as they were, had gone too far.
It was snow in summer. It was love in a mist.
It was what do you call it, and what is its name
And how does it go when it comes to be gone?
There’s at least one thing that Mulhall and U.S. President Donald Trump share – they like to start the day with a Tweet. But oh, there’s a world of difference between them.
The poems Groarke read on Friday night were both tender and fierce. Her “Pier,” was well applauded for its verve in chronicling the leap from a pier into the Atlantic on Spittel beach, on the West coast of Ireland. Though Groarke confessed that she hasn’t yet made the leap herself, she’s watched it done, she said, a bit sheepishly. And the poem proves she can feel it.
Many in the audience commended Groarke’s translation from the Irish – the first by a woman poet – of “The Lament for Art O’Leary.” This poem chronicles the mourning and protest of a wife, keening over the body of her Catholic husband, killed by the Protestants, ostensibly for having too fine a horse. And Groarke’s translation was both sensual and sorrowful.
The selections of prose Groarke read from Four Sides Full, her book of prose about art frames, were illuminating, particularly the anecdote about the show of empty frames in the Hermitage in Leningrad, signifying the hiding of artwork to preserve it.
Poetry and music brought some 300 people together last Friday night. Perhaps verse can heal divisions in countries, between people, if we only open our hearts to others’ stories.
Susan Thornton Hobby
I swoon at a good love poem. Here’s a quick introduction to two that have me dizzy on my feet.
Both are by Vona Groarke, HoCoPoLitSo’s guest for this year’s evening of Irish writing and music – it’s this Friday, don’t just mark your calendar, get your ticket. I offer these poems here as foreshadowing for the event, a beloved favorite annual occurrence that’s been going on for more than forty years now. Both poems I discovered while reading up in advance of her visit. Each has me in its own way a little breathless, smitten, staring newly in love at their marvel.
“What leaves us trembling…”
“Shale” is just a great little love poem, I think. It left me trembling. Read the the length of the poem here, it’s not long, but I am only sharing a few stanzas in this piece. It starts and ends by a ‘not telling’ device, meanders nicely in-between, but what it ends up saying along the way.
What leaves us trembling in an empty house
is not the moon, my moon-eyed lover.
Say instead there was no moon
though for nine nights we stood
on the brow of the hill at midnight
and saw nothing that was not
contained in darkness, in the pier light,
our hands, and our lost house.
I described it to a friend as perhaps opaque while trying to be translucent, but opalescent all the while. It’s that opalescent surface that’s dazzling and intriguing, then you peer through the shimmer into what the poem’s lovers share as example of us all. There’s the narrator relating a contemplative monologue, a scenario that is part plot, part seeming. I am not sure what is actually moment and what is shared mind, but it doesn’t matter, the poem’s lovers seem to find themselves at that point of realization and action that comes when two bodies/souls make that moment out of circumstance and each other that is a fusing. And that ending, wow, an unsayable understanding just left there. You know what I’m saying?
The sea is breaking and unbreaking on the pier.
You and I are making love
in the lighthouse-keeper’s house,
my moon-eyed, dark-eyed, fire-eyed lover.
What leaves us trembling in an empty room
is not the swell of darkness in our hands,
or the necklace of shale I made for you
that has grown warm between us.
That warming of such a tangible object is quite a making. What a poem. I’ll go back and read it again and again, wanting that answer, finding that stone.
“Let the worst I ever do to you be die.”
An aubade is a first-thing-in-the-morning poem lovers share to each other. Think of the nightingale and the lark in Romeo and Juliet. In that case, the debate was about which bird’s song was determining the moment over, the day begun, and the time together over, or not, one being the voice of morning, the other of night. A clever quartet for the two still in bed.
The poem “Aubade” from Spindthrift takes on a different sort of in-between-lovers morning scenario. As readers, we are on the sickbed where the caretaker of the couple narrates understanding and affection while tending the beloved. It is hardly a place for a love poem, one would think, but oh how it is. The poem is pictured here in its entirety, so have read.
It’s a way more transparent read that the previous piece, but you do gain a sense of Ms. Groarke’s way of presenting the world through her observations and language. Transparent, but the glass is beautifully etched with fern and foam.
And there’s one line that just dropped me:
Let the worst I ever do to you be die.
Such a sober realization of the inevitable, that we will die on those we love and that is quite a thing should we be the first to go. There’s a dearness and commitment in that line that is quite a realization. Ideally, it is the worst we’ll do. Is love ever ideal? And then that last, true-love line, pure presence, able and ideal, and love in action.
I am here, blessed, capable of more.
Beautiful. Love poems aren’t just for the young, the beautiful, the wooing. They are for the lifelong and every moment.
It’s time for you to fall in love… with Irish Evening.
Mentioned above, Vona Groarke will be reading from her work followed by a concert of Irish music and championship step-dancing at HoCoPoLitSo’s 41st Irish Evening on Friday, February 8, 2019 at Smith Theatre in the Horowitz Center for Visual Performing Arts on the campus of Howard Community College in Columbia, Maryland.
For this year’s Irish Evening, music will be performed by The Hedge Band, featuring Laura Byrne on flute, NEA National Heritage Fellowship winner Billy McComiskey on box accordion, Donna Long on piano, and Jim Eagan on fiddle. Traditional Irish Dancing will be performed by Teelin Irish Dance, featuring owner and director Maureen Berry and the 2016 World Champion Saoirse DeBoy.
It’s going to be a special evening. You are going to fall in love with Irish Evening.
The program begins at 7:30 p.m. Click here for tickets.