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Poetries of Belonging — HoCoPoLitSo’s 15th Annual Blackbird Poetry Festival
Noah Arhm Choi headlines the Blackbird Poetry Festival to be held on April 27, 2023, at Howard Community College (HCC). The festival is a day devoted to verse, with a student workshop, readings, and HCC Poetry Ambassadors. The afternoon Sunbird Reading features Choi, Regie Cabico, local authors, and Howard Community College faculty and students. This free daytime event starts at 2:30 p.m. in the Rouse Community Foundation Building room 400 (RCF 400). The Nightbird program, in the Horowitz Center’s Monteabaro Hall, begins at 7:30 p.m. The evening features an introduction by Regie Cabico, a reading by Noah Arhm Choi, a reception and book signing. Nightbird tickets, $20 (HCC students free). If you need help with your order, the Horowitz Center Box Office (443.518.1500) has limited phone hours to answer your questions. Tickets for Nightbird can be found through this link: https://ci.ovationtix.com/32275/production/1156148.
Noah Arhm Choi is the author of Cut to Bloom (Write Bloody Publishing) the winner of the 2019 Write Bloody Prize. They received a MFA in Poetry from Sarah Lawrence College and their work appears in Barrow Street, Blackbird, The Massachusetts Review, Pleiades, Split this Rock and others. Noah was shortlisted for the Poetry International Prize and received the 2021 Ellen Conroy Kennedy Poetry Prize, alongside fellowships from Kundiman, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and the Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing. They work as the Director of the Progressive Teaching Institute and Associate Director of DEI at a school in New York City. Jeanann Verlee, the author of Prey, noted “Cut to Bloom is neither delicate nor tidy. This immense work both elucidates and complicates ethnic, generational, and gender violence, examining women who fight for their humanity against those who seek to silence―indeed, erase―them.”
Regie Cabico is a spoken word pioneer having won The Nuyorican Poets Cafe GrandSlam and later taking top prizes in three National Poetry Slams. Television credits include 2 seasons of HBO’s Def Poetry Jam, NPR’s Snap Judgement and MTV’s Free Your Mind. He is the lead teaching artist for Poetry Out Loud and has recorded several videos for the National Endowment for the Arts and Poetry Foundation.
For more than forty-five 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. More information is available at http://www.hocopolitso.org.
HoCoPoLitSo receives funding from the Howard County Arts Council through a grant from Howard County government; Maryland State Arts Council, an agency funded by the state of Maryland; the Community Foundation of Howard County; Dr. Lillian Bauder; and individual contributors.
On Reading the Poems of Molly McCully Brown: I Hope You’re Uncomfortable
by Sama Bellomo
For me, good poetry hurts. A successful poem reignites my anger because candlelight vigils don’t.
For her poetry collection Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded, Molly McCully Brown read, with tremendous empathy, through piles of misguided clinical notes and was compelled to relay to the current generation what horrific prescriptions and outcomes were thought of as successful containments or even rehabilitations. She turned those dehumanized clinical notes back into people, people who were forced, aggrieved, and lost to history.
Usually, when being made aware of dark histories, it may seem that the right thing to do is to condemn past tortures that took place as a reality of our past and say a kind word about hard-won basic human rights that are fought for by unknown collectives of grassroots activists inspired by the late Dorothea Dix. But in the perfect medium of poetry, Brown says this is not a museum: her poetry says, this is present. Her poems have us looking back as if looking down the barrel of a gun, looking until we too empathize, until we understand that this could have been any of us, and that there is much left to be done.
With Susannah Nevison, Brown wrote In The Field Between Us, poems that read like a series of letters between two people living with disability in the contemporary world. They illuminate and explore dissociative trauma; difficulties in relating to the world, in connecting with others beyond the safe exchange they’ve created for one another. They include ruminations on being anywhere else than here; attitudes of self, and so many more deep, powerful feelings that enrich and sustain the human psyche, especially anyone enduring life with a disability.
The book begins with aftermath and carries through to pre-op, beginning sort of in medias res, where details become apparent only in hindsight. The abstractions rise as the dialogue carries on, exchanging communications of experiences in an increasingly romantic tone as everything seems to fall apart.
People with disabilities, the providers who treat them, and the general public are the same in how upset we become when faced with human fragility. We see fragility first, then we become frantic and look for stability. People with disabilities are often accustomed to advocating in the opposite direction, beginning with the strengths that will keep a listener grounded. Brown and Nevinson commit to that order by running the chronology in reverse.
The poems employ plenty of concrete and metaphorical imagery to bring the reader closer, whether they can picture the situation or not. In the aftermath of a catastrophic medical event, numbness is described as “a quiet fire.” In an early poem, we hear of a “pain, as familiar as a fist I know,” reminding me of the certain interruptions to order when pain arises and must be reckoned while the rest of life waits, in purgatory. The next letter replies: “when we sleep, of course / we become unraveled: it’s only fair”. Of course we do. Parts of ourselves get lost, suspended, denied.
Brown’s work gives resounding voice to people whose voices and stories were otherwise lost, often in the guise of merciful and humane treatment. I hope you’re as uncomfortable as I am because it’s appropriate to be uncomfortable, to be moved towards just action and a better world for every body.
Sama Bellomo has worked with agencies and individuals with disabilities as a patient navigator and advocate with Patient Providers (www.ptprov.com).
Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded by Molly McCully Brown
In The Field Between Us by Molly McCully Brown and Susannah Nevison
Poetry for Every Body with Molly McCully Brown
Molly McCully Brown Headlines HoCoPoLitSo’s Fourteenth Annual Blackbird Poetry Festival
Molly McCully Brown headlines the Blackbird Poetry Festival to be held in person on April 28, 2022, at Howard Community College (HCC). The festival is a day devoted to verse, with a student workshop, readings, and HCC Poetry Ambassadors. The afternoon Sunbird Reading features Brown, Hayes Davis, local authors, and Howard Community College faculty and students. This free daytime event starts at 2:30 p.m. in the Rouse Community Foundation Building room 400 (RCF 400). The Nightbird program, in the Horowitz Center’s Monteabaro Hall, begins at 7:30 p.m. Presented live, the evening features an introduction by Hayes Davis, a reading by Molly McCully Brown, and a reception and book signing.
Nightbird tickets, $15 (HCC students free), are available on-line at https://bit.ly/nightbird2022. If you need help with your order, the Horowitz Center Box Office (443.518.1500) has limited phone hours to answer your questions. Additional information can be found at https://hocopolitso.org/blackbird-poetry-festival/. At this time, masks are required for all guests on campus. Up-to-date requirements for campus visitors are available at: https://www.howardcc.edu/coronavirus
Brown’s newest book, Places I’ve Taken My Body (Persea Books, 2020), is an essay collection that Kirkus Reviews (April 1, 2020) described as “Heartfelt and wrenching, a significant addition to the literature of disability, explores living within and beyond the limits of your body.” Brown writes that she “came into the world blue and tiny and sparring for my place in it. Two pounds, with my fists up.” The only surviving premature identical twin, Brown was born with cerebral palsy. Brown is a poet and essayist who teaches at Old Dominion University, where she is an assistant professor of English and creative nonfiction, and a member of the MFA Core Faculty. In The Field Between Us (Persea Books, 2020), poems written in the form of letters between coauthors Molly McCully Brown and Susannah Nevison, consider disability and the possibility of belonging in the aftermath of lifelong medical intervention. Poet Ilya Kaminsky wrote “This is a beautiful, urgent book.” Brown is also the author of the poetry collection, The Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded (Persea Books, 2017), which won the 2016 Lexi Rudnitsky First Book Prize and was named a New York Times Critics’ Top Book of 2017. Critic Dwight Garner called the book, “part history lesson, part séance, part ode to dread. It arrives as if clutching a spray of dead flowers.”
Hayes Davis is the author of Let Our Eyes Linger (2012), poetry examining his life as son, grandson, father, husband, artist, and schoolteacher while exploring racial identity and the plight of black men. Poet Toi Derricote wrote that “Davis’ poems invite comparisons with Robert Hayden and Gwendolyn Brooks’ poems of 20th century family life.” He teaches at the English and serves as the assistant director of Institutional Equity, Access, and Belonging at Sandy Spring Friends School .
Cancelled – 12th Annual Blackbird Poetry Festival to Feature Poet/Journalist Jeffrey Brown
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.
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.
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.
Presenting Marilyn Chin — Tenth Annual Blackbird Poetry Festival — April 26
The Fierce Revolution of Marilyn Chin
HoCoPoLitSo and HCC’s Tenth Annual Blackbird Poetry Festival
Award-winning poet and author Marilyn Chin headlines the tenth annual Blackbird Poetry Festival for HoCoPoLitSo and Howard Community College (HCC). Born in Hong Kong and raised in Oregon, activist poet Chin unflinchingly explores the intersection of the Asian and American worlds.
The Blackbird Poetry Festival, held April 26, 2018, 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. Chin, as well as Washington, D.C., poet and educator Joseph Ross, local authors, and Howard Community College faculty and students, starts at 2:30 p.m. Ms. Chin will read from and discuss her poetry, including her most recent work, Hard Love Province, during the Nightbird Poetry Reading, starting at 7:30 p.m. in the Smith Theatre of the Horowitz Center for Visual and Performing Arts. Hard Love Province won the 2015 Anisfield-Wolf National Prize for Literature that confronts racism and examines diversity. Former winners of this prize include Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, Toni Morrison and Maxine Hong Kingston, Gwendolyn Brooks and Oprah Winfrey. Nightbird admission tickets are $20 each (seniors $15 and students $10). Click here for tickets.
Marilyn Chin co-directs the MFA program at San Diego State University and has won numerous awards for her poetry, including from the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard, the Rockefeller Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, Stegner Fellowship, the PEN/Josephine Miles Award, four Pushcart Prizes, the Paterson Prize, and many others.
Chin is the author of four poetry collections: Hard Love Province (2014), Rhapsody in Plain Yellow (2002); The Phoenix Gone, The Terrace Empty (1994); and Dwarf Bamboo (1987). She is also the author of a novel, Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen (2009). Pulitzer Prize-winner and Anisfield-Wolf juror Rita Dove noted about Hard Love Province, “In these sad and beautiful poems, a withering portrayal of our global ‘society’ emerges – from Buddha to Allah, Mongols to Bethesda boys, Humvee to war horse, Dachau to West Darfur, Irrawaddy River to San Diego.” In his review of The Phoenix Gone in The Progressive, Matthew Rothschild said Chin “has a voice all her own — witty, epigraphic, idiomatic, elegiac, earthy…She covers the canvas of cultural assimilation with an intensely personal brush.” Booklist contributor Donna Seaman described the tone of Rhapsody in Plain Yellow as “Chin paces the line demarcated by the words Chinese American like a caged tiger, fury just barely held in check.”
Joseph Ross’s newest collection of poems, Ache, was published in 2017. Sarah Browning, director of Split This Rock, noted “The poems in Ache do just that, they ache – from the wounds inflicted by racism, from history’s ravages. The wail, the poems insist, ‘is the language/inside every tongue.’ Joseph Ross’s moral vision is unsparing, truth-telling, fierce.”
black nature – a reading for earth day and national poetry month
By Laura Yoo
April is National Poetry Month, and Saturday, April 22nd is Earth Day. And I have a book recommendation that can help celebrate both: Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature edited by Camille T. Dungy.
Black Nature offers a different perspective through which we might read, understand, and talk about the 93 black poets and their 180 poems included in this anthology. Dungy writes a compelling introduction in which she describes the noticeable absence of black writers from anthologies and discussions in ecocriticism and ecopoetics. She reminds us of the complex and unique connection that African Americans have to “land, animal, and vegetation in American culture”.
Despite all these connections to America’s soil, we don’t see much African American poetry in nature-related anthologies because, regardless of their presence, blacks have not been recognized in their poetic attempts to affix themselves to the landscape. They haven’t been seen, or when they have it is not as people who are rightful stewards of the land. They are accidentally or invisibly or dangerously or temporarily or inappropriately on/in the landscape. The majority of the works in this collection incorporate treatments of the natural world that are historicized or politicized and are expressed through the African American perspective, which inclines readers to consider these texts as political poems, historical poems, protest poems, socioeconomic commentary, anything but nature poems.
I want to test this new perspective, and with this in mind I turn to the poetry of Tyehimba Jess, the newly minted 2017 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry winner, who is coming to headline HoCoPoLitSo and Howard Community College’s annual Blackbird Poetry Festival on Thursday, April 27th. He will be reading and speaking with E. Ethelbert Miller during the Sunbird Reading. Notably, Miller’s “I am Black and the Trees are Green” is included in Dungy’s anthology.
Much of Jess’s acclaimed body of work illuminates on the African American experience. About Olio, Wave Books says, “Part fact, part fiction, Jess’s much anticipated second book weaves sonnet, song, and narrative to examine the lives of mostly unrecorded African American performers directly before and after the Civil War up to World War I.”
In an interview with LitHub about Olio, Jess spoke about the power and the politics of song: “To be able to sing under that kind of oppression I think, in a lot of ways, is the very essence of survival, of a people, of the ability to have to the hope to make something beautiful amongst so much wretchedness. That’s critical to the concept of human survival. And in this particular context, of African Americans working through slavery… that’s what we had.”
But in the context of Dungy’s Black Nature, I turn to Jess’s leadbelly with a different ear.
In “john wesley ledbetter,” Jess writes,
singing a crusade of axe and machete i take virgin texas territory by force, clear it of timber and trouble. each eastern twilight, i till top soil ’til sun plants itself back into that western horizon. i keep struggling against a brooding moon’s skyline until dark sleep is my friend again, a place where i can dream drought into rain, pray storm could out of spotless sky.
The poem goes on with, “there’s only one way out of slave time dues: hump this land down till it shrieks up a crop of cancelled debt into your wagon.” In this poem, we see an illustration of what Dungy describes as African Americans’ “complex relationship to land, animals, and vegetation.” She says, “African Americans are tied up in the toil and soil involved in working the land into the country we know today,” and she reminds us how they were “viewed once as chattel, part of a farm’s livestock or asset in a bank’s ledger.”
In “leadbelly: runagate,” Jess writes,
where water and land meet is shore, and on shore is iron in fists of jailers in sun of texas swamp. i wade into bubble and blue ink of red river, my head is shaven, bobbing, brown island of shine. […]
i want to let the water take me, i want to surrender to this river’s rock and swirl, come up clean and white as death itself, but the black in me breaks into blues, and i feel the coffle of their claws. i am stepping toward dry land, the dance of ankle chains, where i scream history into song that works itself into blood, sweat, memory.
The water in this poem reminds me of Dungy’s description of the “river” in Rita Dove’s “Three Days of forest, a River, Free”: it is “more than a moving body of water. It is a biblical allusion, a historical reality, a geographical boundary, a legal boundary, a decoy, the center of emotional and personal change, an aspiration, a metaphor: all these things at once.”
As I re-see the poems in leadbelly with a different framework, I am reminded how the way we group, categorize, thematically arrange, and shelf literature can limit or expand our experiences of literature. We put the poems under one category or another, and it’s hard to imagine what else it can be.
Dungy’s Black Nature is important, because it acknowledges the African American perspective these 93 poets highlight while introducing what else their work is – and how that “what else” amplifies our understanding of their works. As Dungy says, Black Nature “encourage[s] readers to divert their gaze into new directions, demanding they notice new aspects of the world and accept alternative modes of description.”
To put it another way, a book like Black Nature is like a hearing aid. It can give us that extra power to hear poetry in an even more powerful way. It can help us turn up the volume on that work – perhaps turn up the bass or the treble and experience the poem in a myriad of ways.
Marie Howe to read at 8th Annual Blackbird Poetry Festival
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.”
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.
Member, HoCoPoLitSo Board of Directors
This Thursday: The 4th Annual Blackbird Poetry Festival
Featuring the Nightbird Reading, Poetry in Harmony, and a day of workshops, talks, and readings, even the “Poetry Police,” the 4th Annual Blackbird Poetry Festival returns Thursday, April 26th, to the campus of Howard Community College, this year presenting Kim Addonizio, Michael Cirelli, Naomi Ayala and Mother Ruckus.
The Nightbird reading, the day’s main event, is a coffee house style reading with music from Mother Ruckus (spoken word poet Gayle Danley and songstress Sahffi) and readings from Michael Cirelli, the nationally renowned slam poet, and Kim Addonizio, “one of our nation’s most provocative and edgy poets.”
Last year’s Festival presented Martín Espada in the evening reading for which local blogger Tom Coale proclaimed it was, “the most engaging and thoughtful live entertainment that I’ve seen since leaving the storm-swept streets of New Orleans,” where culture bubbles up from living rather than ordaining down from academy. High, high praise. Read that blog post here.
Tickets for the Nightbird reading, which includes refreshments, are $10 for students, $15 general admission, available at the door or online at brownpapertickets. The Nightbird Reading starts at 7:30 in Duncan Hall room 150, aka The Kittleman Room. The event is sponsored in part by Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Division of English/World Languages and Office of Student Services, Howard Community College and the Sheraton Columbia.
Workshops, Talks, Readings
Throughout the day on the campus of HCC, a number of workshops, readings and talks will occur. Kim Addonizio will speak to a creative writing class in a private session; Michael Cirelli will meet with students and the community in an open session presenting a talk on “Hip-Hop Poetics, Education, 50 Cent & The Olive Garden.” An early afternoon reading will feature the Festival poets as well as readings by students, faculty and local writers. See the schedule below.
Festival events actually begin off campus when Naomi Ayala will present to teachers during the Howard County School System’s Professional Development Day.
The Poetry Police
Warning: April 26th is National Poem in your Pocket Day. Get caught on the community college campus by the Poetry Police without a poem and you’ll find yourself with a citation. Simple math: No Recitation Material = A Citation.
While it’s a bad thing, it is not that bad a thing. The jovial officer will likely provide you with a poem so you don’t get caught again. Actually, if you are caught and you produce a poem to share, you’ll find yourself rewarded for good civic behavior.
Need a poem, click here to find a variety to choose from, print one out to carry around.
- 9:30 – 10:30 Naomi Ayala speaks at Howard County School System (HCPSS) Professional Development Day Session I
- 10:40 – 11:40 Naomi Ayala speaks at HCPSS Prof. Dev. Day Session II
- 10:00 Poetry Police start to patrol HCC at campus looking for National Poem in Your Pocket Day violations
- 11:00 – 12:20 Kim Addonizio meets with HCC’s Creative Writing Class (closed)
- 11:00 – 12:20 Michael Cirelli meets with students and community (open and free)
- 2:30 – 4:30 Readings by: Naomi Ayala, Michael Cirelli, Kim Addonizio and regional poets, HCC students and faculty (open and free)
- 7:00 Doors open for “Poetry in Harmony,” a coffee house style reading
- 7:30 – 9:30 Readings by Michael Cirelli and Kim Addonizio, and a performance by musical group Mother Ruckus, which includes performance poet Gayle Danley and songstress Sahffi. ($15, $10 for seniors and for students with an id)