When I arrived at the Salem Athenaeum on Saturday, November 14, for the Salem Lit Fest, I was early for the “Sci Fi and Fantasy in Poetry” panel. While I was waiting for it to start, I encountered Elisabeth Weiss, a writer whose workshop I took a week ago. The thing I love most about being in the literary world and attending events in Salem is that you start seeing the same people and build a community of fellow writers.
As it turns out, the two panels that kicked off that day of the festival were combined because so many people were interested in both. That may have been the reason why I was standing in the entrance to the downstairs room of the Athenaeum when the panel I was waiting to attend was supposed to begin. When, finally, people started coming down the stairs, their faces were lit up with the joy of inspiration, making me regret not getting to the festivities sooner.
I can’t complain, though. Starting the day with Sci Fi and Fantasy is a good way to begin the festival! The presenters, Heather Hughes and Ellen Goldstein, shared some quotes and thoughts about the relationship between science fiction and science, and then shared their poetry, which took place on other worlds. They coordinated well, each poem complimenting the other, which was unique considering they hadn’t known each other before being placed on the panel together. The most memorable poems to me were the one in which someone caught hypothermia and, at the end when they shared a poem by someone else, the “Litany in Which Certain Things Are Crossed Out” by Richard Siken was fun to listen to, despite its length.
After a lunch break that felt faster than it was, we, Buck Off Magazine, presented our panel about starting and maintaining a magazine, along with Nora Delaney, a member from The Critical Flame, a publication that focuses on literary criticism and culture. We exchanged tips with each other and gave advice to an audience of writers, some who were considering starting up their own magazine. Editors Joe and Editor-in-Chief Sara showed a photo-only slideshow that went along with our guide to starting a magazine (available on our website for a limited time). After, Delaney explained about the history and current format of her magazine and their submission process.
After Q&A, the day was wrapped up with Open Mic. I decided to share some of my work(and maybe I’ll share some with you, too!). Nervouse was the best way to describe the moment but I happen to have my beginning of a werewolf version of Cinderella with me in the same notebook I was using to take notes at the festival. Fate? Perhaps. It was perfect as what better event to follow reading at the open mic than a “Pick a Prompt,” where I can get down to writing?
I chose “How To Tell Your Story Live.” We listened to “Coming to Term,” a story about a woman’s second pregnancy, orated through speakers connected to the laptop Audrey Mardavich, the event’s presenter, who works with The Moth. It was a memorable story that gave me goosebumps and made me want to hear more.
The table was full of scraps of paper with prompts for choosing a story from our own lives to write about after listening to someone else’s story. I didn’t see how I could compete with that (my life’s not that interesting), but I gave it a shot. Once I started writing, it was difficult to stop. The other aspect of this workshop was telling our story out loud. This I had just as much trouble with as writing it, but I told my memory without even looking at what I had written. The event I wrote about has resurfaced in my memory since it occurred in fourth grade, so it must be important. Although things that happen in fourth grade don’t feel very life changing, like a pregnancy is. I was so involved with talking about my story that I hardly noticed the room starting to fill up with people to attend the final event of the night.
Benshi are the people involved with the Japanese art of narrating silent movies, and that’s what this last event was about, except with poetry. Each of the presenters shared a poem they had written to share along with a video clip. Shari Caplan, formerly of the Theatre of Words and Music, introduced the art to us with a clip of Midori Sawato narrating “The Water Magician.” Following this, Caplan read a poem aloud while playing, and pausing to coincide with her poem, a clip from Disney’s Cinderella. It struck me that this particular fairy tale kept coming up, with me reading the beginning of my version in the open mic, and after hearing another poem about it as well. This was the only poem for which the clip was paused, to suit the timing of the poem.
It wasn’t just movies that were shown/ narrated. Casey Roland, also formerly of Theatre or Words and Music, performed her piece to a music video that inspired her. This group of talented individuals strive to present poetry in new and creative ways. You never know what they’ll present, which makes things interesting and keeps me, and, I would imagine, the rest of their audience, inspired.