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Before the Columbia Festival of the Arts box office even opened in 1996, tickets for the reading by Mary Oliver were long sold out.
Word had spread like wildfire about her appearance, and the famous Oliver, a quiet soul who didn’t travel much from her home in Massachusetts, read once, and only once, for HoCoPoLitSo. We tried for years to lure her back, but failed. Oliver died January 17, 2019, from lymphoma.
Before that June day in 1996, ninety writers sent in poems for a workshop, which Oliver conducted in the Slayton House dance studio. If you were one of those poets, we want to hear what Oliver said about your work. We hope you kept her notes.
After the workshop, Oliver packed Slayton House’s auditorium with 250 people. The late Lucille Clifton, another poet who is now no longer with us, introduced Oliver, the Pulitzer winner, this way, “To call her a nature poet is like calling Pavarotti a singer.”
Afterwards, Oliver, who is “reclusive, but not shy,” says HoCoPoLitSo founder Ellen Kennedy, chatted over chicken salad and fruit kebabs at the Kennedy home.
“I am trying in my poems to vanish and have the reader be the experiencer. I do not want to be there. It is not even a walk we take together,” Oliver explained about her work.
She’s become an Instagrammable poet, an inspirational poet. She asked her readers, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do/ with your one wild and precious life?” (link to “The Summer Day”)
But her work reaches people because it’s authentic, it’s true. Above all, she is a masterful poet.
Her images – of the grasshopper’s jaws moving sideways to mouth the sugar that Oliver fed her, of the lights going out behind her as journeys away from her home, of the wild geese streaking the sky – remain with me. I am always hoping that I can live like she did, “from day to day from/ one golden page to another.” (link to “Forty Years”)
by Susan Thornton Hobby
HCPLS Recording secretary
HoCoPoLitSo’s guest for its ninth annual Blackbird Poetry Festival is award winning writer and slam poet Tyehimba Jess. The Blackbird Poetry Festival, to be held April 27, 2017, on the campus of Howard Community College, is a day devoted to verse, with student workshops, book sales, readings and patrols by the poetry police. The Sunbird poetry reading, featuring Mr. Jess, as well as Washington, D.C., writer and literary activist E. Ethelbert Miller and Howard Community College students, will start at 2:30 p.m. Mr. Jess will read from and discuss his most recent work, Olio, as well as leadbelly, winner of the 2004 National Poetry Series, during the Nightbird Poetry Reading, starting at 7:30 p.m. in the Smith Theatre of the Horowitz Center for Visual and Performing Arts. Nightbird admission tickets are $15 each (students and seniors are $10) available on-line at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2551545 or by sending a self-addressed envelope and check payable to HoCoPoLitSo, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Horowitz Center 200, Columbia, MD 21044.
Tyehimba Jess, Associate Professor of English at College of Staten Island, a Cave Canem and NYU alumnus, received a 2004 Literature Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and a 2006 Whiting Fellowship. He is also a veteran of the 2000 and 2001 Green Mill Poetry Slam Team. With rare skill, Jess welds the immediacy of slam poetry with the craft of poetry on the page.
Jess is the author of two poetry collections: leadbelly (2004), a biography in poems of the legendary blues musician Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter, and Olio (2016), about African American performers from before the Civil War up to World War I. About Olio, 2011 National Book award winner Nikky Finney said: “Tyehimba Jess is inventive, prophetic, wondrous. He writes unflinchingly into the historical clefs of blackface, black sound, human sensibility.” Jess’ fiction and poetry have appeared in many journals and anthologies including Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry, Beyond The Frontier: African American Poetry for the Twenty-First Century, Slam: The Art of Performance Poetry, American Poetry Review, and Ploughshares.
Ethelbert Miller, editor of poetry anthologies, author of two memoirs and numerous books of poetry, including his latest, The Collected Poems of E. Ethelbert Miller (2016), will read and offer workshops.
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’s guest for its eighth annual Blackbird Poetry Festival is former New York State Poet Laureate and acclaimed author Marie Howe.
The Blackbird Poetry Festival, to be held April 28, 2016, on the campus of Howard Community College, is a day devoted to verse, with student workshops, book sales, readings and patrols by the poetry police. The Sunbird poetry reading, featuring Ms. Howe, as well as Washington, D.C., poet Sandra Beasley and Howard Community College students, will start at 2:30 p.m. Ms. Howe will read from and discuss her most recent work, The Kingdom of Ordinary Time, as well as new, unpublished poems, during the Nightbird Poetry Reading, starting at 7:30 p.m. in the Smith Theatre of the Horowitz Center for Visual and Performing Arts. Nightbird general admission tickets are $20 each (students and seniors are $15) available on-line at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2476204 or by sending a self-addressed envelope and check payable and mailed to HoCoPoLitSo, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Horowitz Center 200, Columbia, MD 21044.
“Marie Howe’s poetry is luminous, intense, and eloquent, rooted in an abundant inner life.
Her long, deep-breathing lines address the mysteries of flesh and spirit, in terms accessible
only to a woman who is very much of our time and yet still in touch with the sacred.”—Stanley Kunitz
Acclaimed poet and teacher Marie Howe served as the Poet Laureate of New York State from 2012 to 2014. Her mentor and former U.S. Poet Laureate Stanley Kuntz said: “Marie Howe’s poetry is luminous, intense, and eloquent, rooted in an abundant inner life. Her long, deep-breathing lines address the mysteries of flesh and spirit, in terms accessible only to a woman who is very much of our time and yet still in touch with the sacred.”
Recently, Howard Community College’s In The Spotlight TV show spent some time learning about HoCoPoLitSo. Check out what they discovered in this short segment.
Poet, publisher, and HoCoPoLitSo board member Truth Thomas takes a look at the year ahead for the organization and sees the promise of fertile ground.
Fertile ground is a wondrous thing. That is one of the first lessons I remember learning as a child growing up in Knoxville, Tennessee, along with the fact that my late grandmother could cook anything and make it taste good. Indeed, in the right hands, even a small stretch of land can yield a multitude of edible miracles. In the context of literary activist organizations, the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society (HoCoPoLitSo) represents a similar patch of fertile ground.
The first grand HoCoPoLitSo New Year harvest is the poetry of Derrick Weston Brown, our 2012-2013 writer-in-residence. Brown holds an MFA in creative writing from American University and is brilliance personified. He is a highly published poet, Cave Canem Fellow, Tony Medina workshop alumnus, and the author of an inspiring collection of coming-of-age poems entitled Wisdom Teeth. It gives me great joy to announce that he will be visiting every high school in Howard County to captivate our young people with the sunshine of his work.
In addition to the poetry of Derrick Weston Brown, the New Year brings the literary bounty of our 35th Annual Evening of Irish Music and Poetry. This year, the award-winning, internationally acclaimed author Colum McCann will be featured. McCann has published five novels, numerous short stories and a storehouse of articles. His book, Let the Great World Spin, won the National Book Award in 2009. I have always loved Irish Evening, because by virtue of it, I have been blessed to see the profound similarities between African Americans and Irish people. Both groups of folks have come through suffering with unbent backs of beauty. The event will be held at 7:30 p.m., March 1, 2013, at the Smith Theatre, Horowitz Center for Visual and Performing Arts on the campus of Howard Community College.
The literary crop of events that will spring forth from the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society in 2013 is one of great volume, quality and diversity. On March 19, HoCoPoLitSo partners with the Howard County Library—the fairest of them all—to welcome Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Edward P. Jones into our midst.
On April 23, HoCoPoLitSo connects with HCC to host the Blackbird Poetry Festival. This year, the festival highlights the sterling poetry and photography of author Rachel Eliza Griffiths—a Cave Canem Fellow, as well as the poetry of author Kendra Kopelke, director of the MFA program at the University of Baltimore. There are many more events planned that I will refrain from mentioning, at this time, because a little suspense makes life worth living. Suffice it to say that one of those events has something to do with the Columbia Festival of the Arts in June, and that the writers invited will stir ovations in every heart. Yes, I think that is enough to say, for now.
Poet and board member
Speak Water, the latest collection of poems by Truth Thomas, is available online from Cherry Castle Publishing. A kindle e-version is available through Amazon.
This week the Library of Congress announced who is to be the country’s next poet laureate, Natasha Trethewey, and the internet lit up with the story and appreciation. Here is a sampling the news reports and a few other resources on Ms. Trethewey:
- The Library of Congress news release
- New York Times: New Laureate Looks Deep Into Memory
- NPR, story and audio
- From the Poetry Foundation, her bio and a sample of her work, including a number of podcasts
- Poets.org with a bio and work, including audio
- An earlier interview (2010) with the New Yorker
- From YouTube, “Why I Write: Natasha Trethewey on Poetry, History, and Social Justice” the 2010 Emory University Distinguished Faculty Lecture
- And the Wikipedia entry
We understand that Ms. Trethewey will be a part of the 2012 Dodge Poetry Festival in October.
HoCoPoLitSo executive director Carla Du Pree says her group “promises a night of poetry, slam and song from contemporary poets who aren’t afraid to push the boundaries of our comfort zones. Addonizio’s red dress poem, ‘What Women Want,’ has people writing about what they want in that same saucy manner of hers. Cirelli directs one of the leading youth literary organizations in the country, and Mother Ruckus … sings for women and the men who can handle them.'”
This year’s Festival features Kim Addonizio, Michael Cirelli, Naomi Ayala and Mother Ruckus. Click here to read the article in full, including insight into the poet performers, then, we’ll see you at the Festival’s Nightbird reading, 7:30 pm in the Kittleman Room – Duncan Hall 100, for a wonderful evening of poetry adventure through slam and song.
Duly Noted: Terrance Hayes, HoCoPoLitSo Vistor Last Fall, Appointed to President Obama’s National Student Poets Program
Congratulations are in order for Terrance Hayes who was recently chosen for President Barack Obama’s new National Student Poets Program (NSPP) panel. “Hayes is one of four literary leaders who will judge students who received a National Scholastic Art & Writing Award for poetry. Five high school students will be selected to serve for a year as national poetry ambassadors.” He is a wonderful choice for the task.
In October of last year, Terrance Hayes joined Tara Betts on stage at Howard Community College’s Monteabarro Hall to launch HoCoPoLitSo’s 2011-12 season with our inaugural Lucille Clifton Poetry Series reading. In 2010, Hayes won the National Book Award for his 4th poetry collection Lighthead. He is currently on the faculty at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
- CMU press release: http://www.cmu.edu/news/stories/archives/2011/december/dec7_hayespoets.html