I (Editor Sandy) spent 13 and a half hours experiencing poetry events and volunteering at the festival, starting the Saturday with yoga poetry and ending with dragging my boyfriend to a poetry slam!
Yoga is not my forte – I’d never done it before – so when I showed up to the top floor of Old Town Hall in Salem to find most of the people there wearing yoga pants, I felt out of place in my jeans. Luckily, the movement wasn’t the flexible feats you see in yoga magazines, but rather just small breathing exercises to relax the mind and enhance creativity.
The workshop went past the scheduled hour, which was fine with all of us since we were getting into the rhythm of the movement and writing. It did mean I missed the workshop for making keepsake books, which I had been looking forward to. But it did enable me to get a maple frosted roll and a coffee, which I really needed after heading into Salem before having breakfast or coffee.
While I was enjoying my late breakfast, I looked through my program to see what events were happening and, after eating, headed straight to the Poetry Circus where I enjoyed performers, visited the writing prompts tent, and had a poem written for my boyfriend. When I was waiting to ask for a poem, a little boy, maybe eight or ten, was in line before me and offered a poem to the girl in return for the poem she had given him. He recited it from memory as well as any of the professional poets I had seen all weekend. I’m so glad the appeal of creating art and writing can begin at such a young age.
After I thoroughly enjoyed the circus, I headed to the Headline Event with Charles Simic, David Rivard, and Laurin Becker Macios. I knew Laurin from volunteering at last year’s festival (she’d coordinated all of us volunteers!), so it was a thrill to see her in a different context. She headed off the event with poetry inspired by her native Colorado landscape. The poem that stuck with me the most was about bees and had very vivid imagery of one of the most important creatures in the world. She told us how Charles Simic had been an inspiration to her, how he taught her to be playful, which he proved in his own presentation.
David Rivera commented on the unexpectedness of where the word goes after it leaves your presence. Little did he know of the unexpectedness of what happens during headline events at the poetry festival. While he was reading his poem “Ghosts on the Road,” the lights in the Morse Auditorium suddenly went out. All you could see was darkness and the pale glow of cell phones reflecting off the confused faces of the audience. The lights came back on almost immediately, and the event had a more special significance to it.
Charles Simic is an inspiration to the two other poets at the reading, as well as to the audience. His humor can be seen in the fun stories of his poems. Take “The Flea,” for example, a well written poem about a flea’s experiences in a dog owner’s household and the things it sees.
After the event, I rushed out to the Mass Poetry Festival headquarters at Old Town Hall to check in and get the materials I needed to start my volunteer shift. I was going to be a venue captain at the Peabody Essex Museum, making sure all the events were set up properly, answering any questions people might have, and being a liaison between PEM and headquarters in case we needed something. For the first half hour or so I was running between the three areas where events were happening, giving the volunteers there my number and making sure they were all set. After a little while, things slowed down. I kept my phone out in case of a call from one of the other volunteers, but things seemed to be running smoothly. Towards the end of the three-hour shift, I started to realize just how hungry not eating lunch made me.
And yet when I finished, I went to the top floor of the Old Town Hall to help set up for the VIP reception for poets and volunteers as per tradition since 2013 – the year before I started volunteering annually for the festival. It all started that year when I ran into one of my professors from Salem State who was on the way to setting up for the reception and volunteered to help her. Ever since then, I’ve been volunteering for the festival and go to the reception early to help her set up.
I mingled with fellow volunteers and poets, helped clean up after the reception, and went to grab a quick bite before going to the Saturday Night Headline event at the Universalist Church that’s tucked away and hard to find, or give directions to if you’re a volunteer. It was then that it started to sink in that the festival was reaching its climax.
The headline event started with two very talented student poets. They were followed by Mark Doty and Marie Howe. Mark Doty started with a light dog poem followed by a much serious current event poem called “In Two Seconds” about Tamir Rice, a twelve-year-old boy who, within two seconds, was seen by a cop and shot for having what looked like a gun in his hand but was really just a toy.
January O’Neil, the Executive Director of the festival, said of Marie Howe, “she reminded me how to be present.” Marie started her reading with a poem about walking further in New York than she’d ever gone before, then read about Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus’ disciples (very fitting subject given the location of the reading), and, the most memorable poem, about penises and the various shapes they take. The poem almost gave them each a personality.
The night wrapped up pretty well at the Bambolina restaurant, with great pizza, nice drinks, and a poetry slam! Now, slam poetry subjects may be serious (thinking back to Mark Doty’s poem about Tamir Rice), but the way it’s performed, the way the slammers use their voices and bodies to send a message, to make people feel, is truly amazing and something all lovers of poetry should experience.
Stay tuned to find out how Sunday went!