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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 Beans with No Salt: a Performance of Poetry and Percussion with Steven Leyva and Josh Soto
Kittleman Room of Duncan Hall
Howard Community College
February 6, 4-6 pm (Get Tickets)
Join HoCoPoLitSo for a coffeehouse afternoon of poetry and music, flavored with a bit of Zydeco as a warm-up for Mardi Gras.
Baltimore poet and Little Patuxent Review editor Steven Leyva reads from his work, centered around his tuneful hometown of New Orleans. He will be accompanied by drummer Josh Soto on congas and drum set. Coffee and snacks will be served before and during the performance, and a question and answer session follows.
In Créole the word Zydeco could translate to “Green Beans,” but colloquially a better approximation would be “Beans with no salt,” which is a sly way of expressing hard times. The reciprocal movement between lack and plenty, famine and feast, often inspires innovation in literature and music, making the borders of genres porous. Using improvisation, audience participation and a bit of luck, Leyva and Soto seek to carve out a space in the ear and imagination where hard times breed a new music for the heart, and percussion becomes the poet’s blank page.
This event is presented by HoCoPoLitSo in partnership with the Columbia Festival of the Arts winter performance series, “Beyond the Blues.” Join us for Poetry and Percussion at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016, at the Kittleman Room on the campus of Howard Community College. A book signing and reception will follow. Tickets are $15 general admission and $10 for students and seniors. They are available online through Brown Paper Tickets.
The Friday Professional Development Day for Howard County’s English and language arts middle and high school teachers was cold and damp, there was a car fire on Route 29 that jammed traffic for an hour, and teachers were rushing in late and texting their supervisors.
Steven Leyva had one hour to convince those teachers that poetry was worth teaching.
Leyva faced the auditorium of 220 educators and cleared his throat.
The power point he had prepared flashed the question: “Why Poetry?”
Leyva, sponsored by HoCoPoLitSo to give the teachers a poetry pep talk, passed around two sheets of paper, asking the teachers to write two collective poems. The first lines? “I know that poetry is not” and “Poetry has power.”
At first, some of the teachers were imitating their students — coughing, checking their phones, shuffling papers. But as Leyva explained that he edited the Little Patuxent Review, taught in the Baltimore City schools for years (a round of applause for that one), and was now a professor at the University of Baltimore, they quieted down.
Then a quote from Richard Howard appeared on the screen: “Verse reverses, prose proceeds.” Leyva started to talk about the “magical” things poetry can do: act as a force for healing, open up a student who is closed down, make connections between people, create empathy.
But everyone has to start as a novice, he says, even teachers.
“This is vital when we’re trying to engage students who may not be interested or receptive to poetry,” Leyva said. “It’s OK to be a beginner. You’re don’t have to be good at this right away.”
He read Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese,” and talked about letting the language wash over you as you read, about how meeting a poem is like meeting a new person because it’s both intimidating and exciting.
“It’s demanding, it’s hard, but that’s the beauty of it,” he said. “Some of them may have past negative experiences with poetry, they may have anxiety over misinterpreting.”
Too many classrooms treat poetry as a riddle to be solved, he said, “it must be an experience,” and then quoted one of his professors, “Art doesn’t need our judgment, it needs our attention.”
He asked for volunteers, and four teachers trooped up to the stage to read “Memory from Childhood” by Antonio Machado. The first teacher read the words of the poem. The second vocalized each piece of punctuation, “Comma!” or “Colon,” he boomed. The third said “line break” at each line break, and the fourth said “stanza break,” when the poem reached that point. If they messed up, as they did several times, they had to start again at the beginning, which drew hoots and laughter from their fellow teachers. The audience, he explained, had to recite the title and be the silence in the poem. That exercise, Leyva said, showed students that everything in the poem, even its white space, is put there on purpose, and needs a reader’s attention. “Everything matters,” he said.
By the time he had the teachers yelling out each personal pronoun (“Me!” and “My,” they chorused) in Lucille Clifton’s “Won’t You Celebrate with Me,” they were leaning forward in their chairs, more than interested.
And when a YouTube clip of “Direct Orders” by Anis Majgani wasn’t loud enough because of a sound system glitch, someone called out, “Read one of your poems!” Leyva did, reciting a poem about New Orleans, his hometown.
He went on to talk about form, rhyming (“you’re saying these two things belong together — “there’s a reason why wife, life and knife all rhyme,” he said), resources, and the skills that reading poetry can develop (qualitative judgment, empathy and imagination).
Teachers asked him about web sites and Split This Rock, stayed after to talk to him about submitting poetry to the Little Patuxent Review, and wrote down the TED talks and books he suggested. And a few gave him a standing ovation.
Jocelyn Hieatzman, a teacher at Oakland Mills High School, wrote afterward about the program, “I spend the next hour listening, and interacting, and awkwardly jumping onto the stage, and feeling chills and tears and ideas flow through me. I shout ‘N’Awleans’ and listen to spoken word from the Seattle Grand Slam poetry championship; I listen to Stephen Leyva recite his own poetry from memory like his life depended on it; I read through poems that touch on complex ideas and sadness and culture and race and identity and beauty. Suddenly, everything is important, everything has weight. I think of our students and their big emotions and secrets and ideas and gifts.
“There’s still a car fire snarling traffic on Rt. 29, and we are are still distracted and cold and worried about all the the things that middle and high school teachers worry about. But ‘we’ have become a ‘we’ and share a collective experience, and we dig deep, and we remember why we love to teach what we teach, and we carry this on. And we carry this on. And suddenly … everything is important, everything has weight.”
And those community poems? The ones Leyva asked the teachers to write, with each contributing a line? The paper filled up fast. The writing is tough to read, but the poems are published here, and like most poems, they’re worth reading.
— Susan Thornton Hobby
HoCoPoLitSo recording secretary