Teaching Poetry, Mass Poetry Fest, Ekphrasis & Golden Shovels

This year has brought opportunities to focus on poetry in my work with students. In January, I was an outside reader for a MA poetry thesis in the Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Wilkes University, and this spring I’ve had the honor of teaching the ENGL 346 Writing Poetry workshop at Westfield State University. It was the class of a lifetime; the student poets and I forged an amazing community online, and I miss them already. I’ll be at WSU teaching FT composition courses again next year, which I also love and will be glad to be back to doing in person. But the teaching of poetry is particularly sustaining to me, and I’m grateful to have that on my plate this year.

I usually don’t manage to write much during the academic year, going into a bit of a creative hibernation while I focus on the work of others. But I did have a couple of fruitful flashes in the pan. In January, I wrote a group of Golden Shovels using lines from Jean Valentine poems as the spark. Valentine died on December 29, 2020 (my dad’s dying day in 2012), and I was fond of her work and of her person, having gotten to know her some during my time at Vermont College of Fine Arts, where she was deeply involved. January also marked the first anniversary of my dear friend Jerica Mazzaferro’s death, which hit me hard all year. So, writing these pieces was mixed up in all of that, and they were published in April in a special Golden Shovel section of Jet Fuel Review (my poem “Fifteen” is after Valentine’s “Eighteen,” and my poem “As Bees” is after her poem “April”).

In the middle of the spring semester, I saw a call from Mass Poetry for an ekphrastic contest featuring visual art by students from the Montserrat College of Art. Poets were asked to send responses, the winners of which would be paired with the works in broadsides to be celebrated during the virtual Mass Poetry Fest. I was immediately struck by a painting by Thomas Calimari entitled The Birch on the Shore. The painting reminded me a little of Virginia Lee Burton books I had loved as a child (Katy and the Big Snow, The Little House, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel). It also recalled my growing up in Gloucester, where Burton lived and worked for a time. It’s beautiful, but it also evoked loneliness and separation to me, when glimpsed in the midst of a pandemic keeping us from the places and people we love. My response poem “Distanced” was chosen to pair with Calimari’s work, and the painting and poem can be seen in the online gallery (and purchased as a framed broadside too – so cool!).

Speaking of the Massachuetts Poetry Festival, it’s on now through Sunday, May 16, having kicked off with an amazing reading featuring Khadijah Queen and Victoria Chang last night. There are so many fantastic panels and presentations and poets to choose from; I’m presenting during the festival in a reading & conversation featuring Massachusetts poets published by CavanKerry Press (my first full-length collection will be published by CKP on November 2 of this year). I’m looking forward to this event with poets Kevin Carey, Kali Lightfoot, and Cindy Veach on Saturday, May 15 from 6:00-7:00 EST. And Perugia Press, of which I am editor/director, is a proud sponsor of the festival. In honor of the fest, all Perugia Press books are on sale for 50% off at our online bookshop through Sunday, May 16 with the coupon code “masspoetry”! Happy poetry, one and all!

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