Celebrating the Word

10/08/2009
By From the Lowell Sun

By Nancye Tuttle

LOWELL -- Award-winning poet Michael Casey always thought that the "best way to clear a room" was to start talking poetry.

But Casey, a Lowell native, believes his theory will be proven wrong next weekend with the second annual Massachusetts Poetry Festival. Events are being held from Thursday, Oct. 15, through Sunday, Oct. 18, at venues ranging from Lowell, Cambridge and Boston, west to the Berkshires, and south to New Bedford and Martha's Vineyard.

"It's terrific there's so much interest," said Casey, whose first book, Obscenities, a series of graphic poems based on his Vietnam war experiences, won the Yale Series of Younger Poets contest in 1972 and was published soon after by Yale University Press.

Casey, who graduated from Lowell High in 1964 and Lowell Technological Institute in 1968, shares his work at two events. He reads Lowell-based mill poems and war poems, along with Jessica Smith, Caleb Neelon and Capoeira Rosa Rubra with Mestre Calongo at the Urban Village Arts Series (UVAS) event on Friday, Oct. 16, at 7:30 p.m.

On Saturday, Oct. 17, at noon, he participates in the "Light Verse for Dark Times" readings at Cobblestones.

Lowell, which is hosting several events, is a natural fit for the festival, says Paul Marion, a poet himself and executive director of outreach at UMass Lowell, one of the its presenting partners. It "confirms Lowell's status as a major cultural capital in the state. The city has a great reputation for producing large-scale events, like the Folk Festival and the Summer Music Series, so having it here was logical," he said.

More than 2,000 people attended last year's festival, which was held exclusively in Lowell. With the festival's expansion statewide, Marion predicts that number could grow to 10,000.

"There's a reservoir of enthusiasm for poetry across the state -- the festival gives it shape," he said. "It's truly a window into the health of poetry as a writing form. There are a lot of people doing it and a lot of people interested in it."

The kickoff on Thursday, Oct. 15, includes events in Boston, Worcester, New Bedford, Salem, Amherst, Martha's Vineyard, Berkshire County, as well as in Lowell.

At the Berkshires event, being held at Edith Wharton's The Mount in Lenox, poetry publishers will discuss their selection process. At the Boston Public Library, moderator Christopher Lydon of NPR's Open Source, along with Gail Mazur, Lloyd Schwartz and other poets, will discuss poetry in hard times, with readings from the best of classic and contemporary Massachusetts poets.

The Lowell event, to be held at the Lowell National Historical Park Visitors Center, is being presented by the Hellenic Culture Society. It will feature Walter Bacigalupo, Partha Chowdhury, Ala Khaki, Lynne Lupien, LZ Nunn, Jeremiah Menyongai, Dave Robinson, Tony Sampas, Diana Saenz, Dimitrios Booras, Sophy Sam and others reading poems that reflect their roots and heritages and the overriding theme of poetry in tough times.

On Friday, the festival's focus shifts to Lowell, with high-school and college students participating in readings and workshops at the Inn and Conference Center at UMass Lowell.

"We'll have 40 kids attending -- most have submitted work and are members of our after-school poetry society," said Suzanne Keefe, chairman of the English Department at Lowell High School.

Workshops on topics ranging from finding emotion to rhyme schemes will be held, along with readings and more. An anthology of student work is planned. Lowell High's communications academy students will tape the events.

On Saturday, from 11 a.m. to midnight, downtown Lowell will be awash in poetry events, slams and workshops at St. Anne's Church, Barnes and Noble, Cobblestones, X/O Gallery, ALL Arts Gallery and the Pollard Memorial Library

The fest ends Sunday with youth and family programming at the Children's Museum in Boston and a jazz and poetry event featuring former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky and others at Harvard University's Woodberry Poetry Room.

The festival, notes Marion, truly showcases "the breadth of Massachusetts' poetic heritage."

All events are free; donations welcome. Visit www.masspoetry.org for information and to register for workshops and seminars.