Editor Joe’s Adventures at MPF16

After a perfect start to the Festival, expectations were high for Saturday. We had agreed to split up so that each editor could attend different panels, experience different poems, and be inspired by different events. Except, of course, the first event I (Editor Joe) attend also caught Editor Sara’s interest. But who could resist “She was come back to her early sea-town home”: Sylvia Plath and the North Shore? Exploring her death and “Ariel” poems and Winthrop, MA origins.

Experts on Plath, the panelists discussed how her work is often seen through her death, a lense that shifts how the pieces she wrote years before her fateful suicide on Feb 11, 1963 are viewed. They argued that sometimes readers don’t listen to the words of Plath, but search for clues of her eventual death. I must confess to sometimes thinking of her work as a by-product of her death and not as a poet sharing her emotional journey.

The speakers also highlighted the re-occurring themes of ocean and family in Plath’s works. The panel was an enlightening way to reconsider how I process poetry, and the lives of poets.

From there, I grabbed breakfast. It’s important to combat hungry early and often during festivals – there’s nothing more embarrassing than a roaring stomach as a poet shares their work. Trust me.

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Cyndi Harbeson writes poetry for a friend

With a full belly, I wandered the festival, meeting poets and sharing our favorite writers. During the “Random Acts of Poetry” event, attendees were able to design post cards to be mailed to organizers, other attendees and some of the featured speakers. With prompts, scrap paper, border tape and a plethora of options, it was a creative way to share the fun of the festival with somone who couldn’t attend.

Next was a panel in the Peabody Essex Museum, highlighting the Cave Canem Fellows with speakers Jarita Davis, Antoinette Brim and Treasure Shields Redmond.

At the beginning of the Festival, Executive Director January O’Neil said poetry was activism in action. The Cave Canem Fellows shared that belief, with each sharing work about facing racism, family dysfunction and the current state of politics. Treasure read from her latest book Chop which focused on her connection with Civil Rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer. She encouraged listeners to be emboldened with their writing and to not be afraid of writing bad poetry because as long as the poem has emotion, it’s worth sharing.

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Ringmaster Sheri prepares to start a show at the Poetry Circus.

My final event of the day was the Poetry Circus. Since poetry is word gymnastics mixed with side-eye secrets, a bedlam of performers reciting work dressed as clowns, jugglers and a ringmaster, it was oddly fitting for the day. Among the performers was GennaRose Nethercott who wrote poems on demand. Of course I had to order a poem, and I was not disappointed. GennaRose is able to capture a heartbreaking beauty in any topic and flexed her command of language with each poem. She wrote a poem for Editor Sara as well:

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GennaRose wowed with words.

Unfortunately, I had a prior engagement and had to leave the festival early on Saturday, but I’m sure Editor Sara has stories to tell of her adventures…

Click here to read about her time at the Massachusetts Poetry Festival.

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