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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

HoCoPoLitSo is a nonprofit organization designed to enlarge the audience for contemporary poetry and literature and celebrate culturally diverse literary heritages. Founded in 1974 by National Book Award finalist Ellen Conroy Kennedy, HoCoPoLitSo accomplishes its mission by sponsoring readings with critically acclaimed writers; literary workshops; programs for students; and The Writing Life, a writer-to-writer interview show seen on YouTube, HCC-TV, and other local stations. HoCoPoLitSo receives funding from the Maryland State Arts Council, an agency funded by the state of Maryland and the National Endowment for the Arts; Howard County Arts Council through a grant from Howard County government; The Columbia Film Society; Community Foundation of Howard County; the Jim and Patty Rouse Charitable Foundation; and individual contributors.

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

Shakespeare on My Mind — a Guest Post by Lisa Wilde

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:

ShakespeareI 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

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