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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 is ecstatic to work with Howard Community College’s Arts Collective’s “What Improv Group?!?!” (W.I.G.) and the campus’s Creative Writers to present an “Underground Rooftop Coffee House.” Please join us on September 10th and see why.
The event fuses W.I.G.’s underground, edgy take on improv with powerful and evocative stories inspired by poets and writers. W.I.G.’s cast features HCC students, staff and guest artists: Douglas Beatty, Noah Bird, Diego Esmolo, Doug Goodin, Daniel Johnston, Autumn Kramer, Terri Laurino, Scott Lichtor, Thomas Matera, Apryl Motley, Shannon Willing, Sierra Young… and a few secret-surprise guests! This event will also feature poetry and prose written by HoCoPoLitSo’s Nsikan Akpan and Katy Day and local Stoop star James Karantonis. You can’t have a coffee house without music, right? Chris Sisson and Steven Caballero will provide an acoustical array of songs for the evening.
But wait, there’s more: W.I.G. will want you to raise your voice to the collective “primal scream” to celebrate this, the start of Arts Collective’s 21st season. Happy Anniversary to them.
$10 All Students with I.D., Seniors/Military/Groups
$15 General Admission
Parental guidance suggested. No one under 14 admitted. Seating is limited, reserve tickets now!
Special Event – Post-Show Discussion:
Following 9/10’s performance!
Discounted tickets are available now for a one-night-only presentation of Dominique Morisseau’s Sunset Baby, at 8 p.m. Friday, May 15, 2015, in Smith Theatre, Horowitz Center, Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia, Md 21044. Two-for-one tickets are available at http://www.repstage.org/Productions/sunsetbaby/ using code: HOCO; general admission is $40. This program, presented in partnership with the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society (HoCoPoLitSo), Rep Stage and Center Stage, is made possible by an Outreach Grant from the Howard County Arts Council through Howard County government and seeks to engage and connect Howard County and Baltimore audiences.
The Guardian calls the play, “Smart, entertaining and moving as it grapples with the tensions between past and present while asking penetrating questions about the nature of liberation. Morisseau’s script sings with intelligence.” A drama of family and revolution, the play explores what happens when a former black revolutionary and political prisoner decides to reunite with his daughter. The Huffington Post names Morisseau as a “direct heir to the magical wordsmiths named Lorraine Hansberry, Tennessee Williams, and August Wilson” for her vibrant exploration of the point where the personal and political collide. Morisseau, who received the Kennedy Prize for Drama in 2014, is a playwright and actress. Her literary work has been featured in the New York Times best-selling short-story collection, Chicken Soup for the African American Soul.
This Baltimore/D.C. area premiere of Sunset Baby, directed Joseph Ritsch, will be performed by Rep Stage and streamed live to Baltimore’s Center Stage, then followed by a post-performance panel discussion facilitated by production dramaturg Khalid Long, an instructor and researcher at the University of Maryland, College Park. Artistic Director Kwame Kwei-Armah will host the Center Stage live streaming event.
For more information visit www.repstage.org, call 443.518.1500 or email email@example.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 May 7, 2015.
For more information about HoCoPoLitSo and its sponsored programs and activities, visit http://hocopolitso.org.
HoCoPoLitSo is a nonprofit organization designed to enlarge the audience for contemporary poetry and literature and celebrate culturally diverse literary heritages. Founded in 1974, HoCoPoLitSo sponsors readings with critically acclaimed writers; literary workshops; programs for students; and The Writing Life, a writer-to-writer interview show. 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.
It’s a new school year, and we asked teachers around Howard County and professors at Howard Community College what they are most looking forward to teaching and why. Here is what they said:
Catherine M. Mundy (Lime Kiln Middle) says, I am looking forward to teaching House of the Scorpion with my 8th graders […] because it is a perfect example of “science fiction” becoming “fact”. I love reading literature that is NOW – that students can relate to. […] Another novel I am looking forward to teaching is The Giver. While most teachers cover it in our science fiction unit, I am choosing to teach it during our Freedom Unit as an extension of the concept of freedom. The issues of social control and mind control are so pertinent in our world today – especially as you look at countries that face dictatorial control. It is a great novel to discuss the importance of being educated and having an education and not always accepting what is told or taught to you at face value. This compelling story shows that knowledge can be difficult, but “ignorance is bliss” is truly not the way to go. Living and learning through experience, regardless of how difficult, is what life is. Those experiences that individuals in a free society are allowed to have are what make us human. I guess I would be remiss in not mentioning studying Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. I love showing my students that the human condition and human issues, emotions, and struggles haven’t changed much over hundreds of years.
Rita Guida (Howard Community College) says, I have two books that I really look forward to teaching. I teach A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini in Ethics in Literature, and I have been delighted with students’ reactions. Because it takes place in Afghanistan, it works to humanize people that we frequently see only as enemies. It provides an opportunity to introduce the sad history of the country and their own oppression. Hosseini’s use of female bonding reminds readers of the sacredness of family in every culture, and he has included heroic male characters as well as female characters. The other book that I love is the Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. I use this in By and About Women, and like A Thousand Splendid Suns, it educates students on life in a country often in the news: the Congo. It also provides an opportunity to explore the oppression of the region, and the five, distinct female narrators show varying reactions to the events that occur as the Congo seeks to become independent.
Stacy Korbelak (Howard Community College) says, I’m looking forward to teaching the play Ruined by Lynn Nottage which highlights human rights issues in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I’m excited that it will be coming to the stage at the Everyman Theatre in the spring, too.
Rick Leith (Howard Community College) says, Fahrenheit 451 because it’s still so timely; Bradbury said this book is about television taking over our culture, not censorship, and this is something the students can relate to and discuss especially considering that television is only one of many distractions driving students away from reading in today’s world. Censorship remains a valid theme, however, so I’m also using the novel as an introduction to our Banned Books Week observance.
Bradbury’s best-known work, Fahrenheit 451, published in 1953, became an instant classic in the era of McCarthyism for its exploration of themes of censorship and conformity. In 2007, Bradbury himself disputed that censorship was the main theme of Fahrenheit 451, instead explaining the book as a story about how television drives away interest in reading: “Television gives you the dates of Napoleon, but not who he was.” (www.biography.com)
Ryna May (Howard Community College) says, I am most looking forward to teaching Hamlet this fall. I love this play because I hope that students will come to see Hamlet as someone similar to themselves: a college student, a son, a friend, etc. He has powerful influences all around him demanding that he do certain things and act certain ways, but in the end, he realizes that he, and only he, is responsible for the choices in his life. And for better or worse, he embraces that. I also love Hamlet because I feel like I am still a student of this play, and even though I’ve read it many times, my students always help me see something new.
Elisa Roberson (Howard Community College) says, I enjoy teaching Antigone by Sophocles to the Ethics in Lit class because of the 180 degree change I get from students’ initial reaction and their reaction after reading the play. At the beginning of the semester I hold up the book during our discussion of course materials and I always get a response of rolled eyes or looks of disinterest. When I ask students if anyone has read anything written by Sophocles the response is this…cricket, cricket, cricket. When I ask if anyone knows who he was I get half-hearted replies involving the words “Greek, dead, and philosophy.” By the end of the play, the students are excited about the characters, defend the choices of different characters, and identify with character motivations. Once they’ve learned about the backstory of Antigone and the rest of the cast, the students cannot get enough. I’ve had more than one student say, “This play is better than anything on reality TV. It’s got love, death, betrayal…”
What are you teaching?
We’d love to hear in the comments below….
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.
This year, HoCoPoLitSo would like to make your life a little easier, giving you the opportunity to really delight your special someones with tickets to see Billy Collins or the 36th Annual Irish Evening, featuring Paula Meehan and Theo Dorgan. Happy Holidays.
36th Annual Evening of Irish Music & Poetry
Featuring Paula Meehan & Theo Dorgan, The Narrowbacks, Step dancing
March 14, 2014 • Smith Theatre – HCC
Dublin’s informal poet laureate, Ms. Meehan was recently named Irish Professor of Poetry. The post was created following the late Seamus Heaney’s Nobel Prize for literature in 1998. She is only the second women appointed to this position.
Theo Dorgan, a former director of Poetry Ireland, is also a poet, playwright, translator, editor and broadcaster. In 2010 he received The O’Shaughnessy Prize For Irish Poetry.
The Blackbird Poetry Festival’s Nightbird Reading
With Billy Collins
April 24th • Smith Theatre – HCC
The Nightbird reading featuring two-term National Poet Laureate Billy Collins closes the annual Blackbird Poetry Festival. Called “the most popular poet in America” by The New York Times, Collins headlines the festival, which this year has the theme Poetry Unmasked.
“Billy Collins is famous for conversational, witty poems that welcome readers with humor,” writes The Poetry Foundation, “but often slip into quirky, tender or profound observation on the everyday, reading and writing, and poetry itself.”
The latest installment in our occasional series of blog posts from friends of HoCoPoLitSo. Today, we spend a few moments with Amanda Fiore, a professor/fiction writer/occasional poet, who spent a day, recently, in our midst. Here is her telling of that story:
I was sitting at my desk, scrolling through junk mail and emptying my inbox at Howard Community College, when, to my immense pleasure and surprise, I came across a mouth-dropping subject line: Michael Glaser was coming to HCC’s campus to honor the late poet, Lucille Clifton, and conduct a free poetry workshop, Telling Our Stories — Michael S.
Glaser Celebrates Lucille Clifton and Poetry Teaching! Unable to believe my eyes, I scanned the email and saw that it was being put on by an organization I had never even heard of before, HoCoPoLitSo, and was amazed when after looking into it I found out it was an arts council on which Lucille Clifton had served for many years, and that it was right here, in my own back yard!
Having been a former student of both Lucille and Michael at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, I knew immediately that the event HoCoPoLitSo was planning would be close to my heart. Michael Glaser was the first person to truly encourage me as a writer, and Lucille Clifton was a woman whose spirit and no-nonsense critiques had made me laugh, cry, and embrace my poetry with an honesty that had stayed with me the rest of my life. I immediately wrote to Michael, who returned my astonishment and excitement at being reunited after all these years, and started going through all my old journals until found the one I had kept twelve years ago in workshop with Lucille. I even found the very poem I once read in class, to which she had looked me in the eye and told me, with words I’ll never forget, “you’re hiding behind your words.” It was the hardest and most important thing I had ever heard about my poetry, and I ran out of that room hating her, sitting dramatically in the dark and crying over how mean she was until about three hours later, when I realized she had been right all along. I rewrote the poem. The result was, perhaps, the first honest poem I’d ever had the courage to write, and I never questioned her again.
Though I had thought about contacting her often over the years, by the time she passed I had still never had the chance to tell her how much she meant to me, and so the thought of sitting around a workshop table with Michael again and being given a forum through which to honor Lucille was just too perfect to seem real! But low and behold, a few weeks later there we were, sitting in a circle of tables in Duncan Hall on a cool Fall afternoon. We started off by remembering the lessons Lucille’s poems teach us all and thinking about how we could incorporate those into our own work.
Micheal was just as I remembered him — so much heart and creative energy we couldn’t help but be inspired. We read and talked and each composed a poem of our own, every one written with words that either calmed or stung the air.
Later that evening, some of us went to the reading to celebrate Lucille and were graced by a beautiful evening of poems, stories, and heartfelt emotion. By the end I not only had the opportunity to read what I had composed that day in the light of Lucille’s memory, but to meet her daughter, buy a book, and discover a group of like-minded people through HoCoPoLitSo whose energy and love for the arts mirrored my own. Afterwards, I was stunned at how satisfying and invigorating it was, with just one question repeating in my mind: how did I not know about this organization before, and why wasn’t I more involved?
One thing I know is that I will come to each of these annual Lucille events in the future, and that I will be attending many other HoCoPoLitSo events as well . . . as many as they can put on! But most of all, I am so thankful to Lucille who, even after she has passed, is still managing to connect me to poems. Thank you Lucille, I owe you so much.
The latest installment in our occasional series of blog posts from members of the HoCoPoLitSo board...
I’ve been a HoCoPoLitSo board member for several years now, but I am only now brave enough to make this confession: Poetry always scared me a bit. As an English major in school, I avoided poetry – I took the required Introduction to Poetry class during my senior year because I put it off ‘til the very end. I was afraid.
But during the last few years, I’ve had real contact with (and real context for) poetry. What I’ve come to accept is simply that when I read or hear a poem, either I get it or I don’t get it – either I feel something or I feel nothing. And that’s good enough.
When Martín Espada came to Blackbird Poetry Festival in 2011 and read “Imagine the Angels of Bread” I definitely, most clearly, undeniably felt something. Oh yeah. When Patricia Smith performed with the Sage String Quartet just last weekend, I didn’t just feel something – my mind was blown to pieces. And when the pieces found each other again and returned to whole, it looked different. Changed.
All of this made me think about poetry and my fear of it. This thing that made me tremble in fear had been making me feel things all my life. It had introduced me to new ideas and paths, it had comforted me, it had fired me up, and it had given me peace.
My family moved to the U. S. from Korea when I was ten years old. During the first months of my life here, my fifteen-year-old cousin taught me the alphabet using the Dick and Jane primers (which are poetic in their own way). It was also this cousin who introduced me to Shel Silverstein several years later, when she thought I was finally “ready” for poetry. I remember quite clearly how I loved the repetitive sound in this particular poem, “Ations”:
If we meet and I say “Hi,”
That’s a salutation.
If you ask me how I feel,
If we stop and talk awhile,
That’s a conversation
And all these ations added up
Silverstein’s poems were my first introduction to the idea of playing with words to create meaning – and to make people laugh.
Next “poetry” came in the form of Macbeth in the tenth grade at Wilde Lake High School right here in Columbia. That Mr. Berkowitz was a tough teacher – he made us keep a journal documenting ALL of the imageries in the play. This arduous task illuminated all the instances of amazing things that words could do – like striking fear in the reader when Lady Macbeth speaks:
[…] Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full
Of direst cruelty. Make thick my blood.
Stop up the access and passage to remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between
The effect and it! Come to my woman’s breasts,
And take my milk for gall, […]
Macbeth sealed my fate – I would study English in college.
When I was in college, I discovered “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” and it has become my favorite poem – the one that I keep in my pocket on Poem in Your Pocket Day every April. It speaks peace to me.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.
When I started teaching, Taylor Mali’s “What Teachers Make” gave me a sense of justice. On those days when I felt knocked down by unreasonable students, failing students, mean students, nice but underprepared students, Mali’s poem gave me hope.
You want to know what I make?
I make kids wonder.
I make them question.
I make them criticize.
I make them apologize and mean it.
I make them write.
I make them read, read, read.
I make a goddamn difference.
When a few years ago, my father died of cancer, I turned to Emily Dickinson, whose poems I had never been able to understand. Her poems seemed like words that were almost randomly strung together with dashes. But I realize now that I never “got” them because I never needed them before.
So We must meet apart –
You there – I – here –
With just the Door ajar
That Oceans are – and Prayer –
And that White Sustenance –
I’m not a poet. And I don’t even claim to be a poetry lover. All I can say is that poetry has been in my life – it had been sneaking up on me now and then to guide me, to help me, and to change me. And guess what? It has been doing it to you, too.
HoCoPoLitSo board member
The latest installment in our occasional series of blog posts from friends of HoCoPoLitSo. Today Lisa Wilde, director of theatre at Howard Community College and resident dramaturg at Rep Stage, has Shakespeare on her mind:
I am standing in a high school English classroom. It is 1980. I am no doubt wearing a Fair Isle sweater and a denim skirt and my hair is pulled back by tortoise shell combs. Our assignment was to memorize and deliver two Shakespearean sonnets – in my case: “Let me not to the marriage of true minds” and “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day.” I stumble through, gently, and hopefully without anyone noticing, tapping my wooden clogs to beat out the iambs– the lub/dub or unstressed/stressed pairing so like — some have said — our most essential rhythm, our heartbeat. In my head, I am counting the ten syllables I need in each line, probably the very crutch Shakespeare’s actors used to speak their lines after a night spent with too many pints in the local pub.
Other less, shall we say, conscientious students needed more propping up to get through. Perhaps their previous evening had included activities more contemporary than me sitting at my Ethan Allen white painted desk struggling to put two lines together and then another half line, until I had gotten all fourteen– the Elizabethan sonnet as a square, rhyme scheme ABAB, CDCD, EFEF, GG.
Antiquated, huh? This notion of rote memorization and declamation. Who needs to have poems memorized and ready for the moment you are called upon to make a toast or speak in memory of someone, or you struggle to find language to provide comfort to yourself or another when you cannot find the words yourself, or to express your depth of feeling in a sparkling April or melancholy October day? Surely there’s an app for that.
Of course, we speak Shakespeare all the time. Probably you’ve seen the poster about “quoting Shakespeare”: If you speak of the “green-eyed monster” or suggest “neither a borrower nor a lender be” and “to thine own self be true” and refuse “to budge an inch” “stood on ceremony,” “danced attendance” “had short shrift,” “cold comfort” or “too much of a good thing,” you have already memorized some Shakespeare. What would it take to learn fourteen lines?
My son, looking for his buddy said “Where is Hannah?” and I responded “Who is Sylvia, fairest of the fair?” I hope to aggravate him similarly throughout his life. I have on more than one occasion suggested to a friend or sibling that they should “Sell when you can, -you are not for all markets” or wondered out loud “How will this fadge?”Am I merely pedantic? Is this a snobbish tic? Probably.
A poem in your pocket is good for the day. A poem in your mind is what remains. President Obama has called for an initiative to map the human brain. I hope they find a few dozen lines of iambic pentameter in mine.
Lisa A. Wilde
Director of Theatre, Howard Community College
Resident Dramaturg, Rep Stage
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.