What an unexpected gift to receive on the seventh day of Christmas and the first day of the New Year! Video of our “Red Shoe Night” celebrating Rhina P. Espaillat, whose papers have been added to the Burns Library archive at Boston College. It was an evening to remember. Fortunately, for those of you who were unable to attend, Christian DuPont has posted it on YouTube. Put on your red shoes and dance the blues away!
Heaps of gratitude to Betsy Westendorf, who produced this video, a document of the art-form Rhina Espaillat learned at the home of her grandmother in the Dominican Republic, and brought with her when she came to the US in 1939. Watch on YouTube
Covid-19 has made it exceedingly difficult to find a place to hold a concert! Caroline Joliffe, owner of the not-yet-opened restaurant The Joy Nest, let us us the premises to record a terrific set. Listen to my friends John Tavano on guitar, Roger Kimball on bass and cello, and Ringo (the drum machine) play up a storm to an audience of one.
Note: All events will take place via Zoom except for Saturday night’s melopoeia, which Port Media will stream on the internet and show on Newburyport Cable TV’s Comcast Channel 8. Links and further details will be made available at the Literary Festival Website soon.
Friday Evening April 23th Festival Opening Event via Zoom
6:00 PM Opening Ceremony – Living Glass: The Poetry of Deborah Warren
We kick off our festival weekend with a celebration of this year’s honoree – poet Deborah Warren. Deborah is fascinated by the mutability of things, the ever-changing nature of everything in existence. She’s aware that she has set herself an impossible task: the reality she tries to capture in her poetry was never made to stand still. In her poem, “The Glassblower,” she scolds the craftsman who “should have stopped before” it hardened, “when there was nothing yet to shatter, only possibility and prism.” What quickness and lightness of intelligence it would require to work that way—the very qualities that make Warren’s art so exquisite!
Join us to hear Deborah in conversation with Ernest Hilbert,book critic for the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post, and winner of the 2017 Poets Prize
Presenters: Vicki Hendrickson, Jennifer Entwistle, Ernest Hilbert, Deborah Warren
Saturday, April 24th – Poetry Readings via Zoom
8:30-10:00 AM Breakfast with the Poets. The Literary Festival happens only once a year—get an early start! Unfortunately, digital coffee and pastry are a poor subsitute for what Gina usually provides us. As for poetry, however, we’ve got the real thing to offer. Eight Powow River Poets, Paulette Turco, Michael Cantor, Anton Yakovlev, Joan Kimball, Kyle Potvin, A M Juster, Al Basile, and Anne Mulvey, will read from books they’ve published since our last “Breakfast” together.
10:15-11:15 AM Nagging Questions: The Light Verse of Midge Goldberg and Chris O’Carroll. Here are two poets who aren’t afraid to ask the important questions (“What’s your sign?”). They’re not afraid to ask other kinds of questions, either, including the rhetorical ( “Are you sick of being seen as a cutie?”), the metaphysical (“Is it tomorrow yet?), the questions that arise from tattoo regret (Can I unprick my skin?), and those soul-searching questions we all ask ourselves upon entering a room, (“What did I want in here?”). Midge Goldberg and Chris O’Carroll are unquestionably two of the brightest wits in po-biz.
11:30 -12:30 PM A Visit with Natasha Trethewey We are honored to present Natasha Trethewey our first annual X. J. Kennedy Prize for Excellence in Poetry. The excellence of Trethewey’s literary work is no secret; she received the 2007 Pulitzer Prize and was chosen to serve as the 19th Poet Laureate of the United States (2012-2014). In his citation, Librarian of Congress James Billington wrote, “Her poems dig beneath the surface of history—personal or communal, from childhood or from a century ago—to explore the human struggles that we all face.” Trethewey was the first Southerner to receive the honor since Robert Penn Warren, in 1986, and the first African-American since Rita Dove, in 1993. Our distinguished guest will read from her poetry and from her memoir, Memorial Drive (2020), and she will engage in conversation about her work and life with local luminary Rhina Espaillat.
12:45-1:45 PM Wary of Destruction: The Poetry of Susan de Sola & Robert W. Crawford. Both of these outstanding poets have connections to Robert Frost’s farm in Derry, NH —Crawford as founder of The Frost Farm Conference and de Sola as a recipient of the The Frost Farm Prize— but the connection goes deeper than that. Both poets are distinguished by their respect for the tradition of poetry that Frost embodied and the craftsmanship he demanded. And both of these makers seem warily “aquainted with the night,” and its way of undoing things. “The sea is a hammer, a rough refiner,” de Sola warns. Crawford doesn’t even trust himself: “Feeling the cold creep through the watery glass,/There is… a part of you—admit it!—That wouldn’t mind the starting all over again.”
2:00 – 3:00 Public Poems and Private Songs: The Poetry of Martha Collins and Ernest Hilbert. Martha Collins has written extensively about American’s open wound —race and racism— including a book-length poem based on a lynching her father witnessed as a child. Her most recent book, however, is a sequence of poems so private that she did not originally intend to publish them. Ernest Hilbert, too, has dared to wear the mantle of the public poet. Critics often compare Hilbert to Robert Lowell, not only because he allows his personal demons a say in his poetry, but also because, in many of his poems, his intended audience is not one reader or a small group of aficionados, but our nation, these hardly-united States —whether or not our nation is willing to listen.
3:15 – 4:15 The Art of Conversation: The Poetry of Rachel DeWoskin and Charles Coe. Anyone who pictures the poet as a stock character should be forewarned: here are two poets who break the mold. Rachel DeWoskin, who has authored five critically-acclaimed novels and once starred in a Chinese soap opera, and Charles Coe, who has mastered the didgeridoo, an Aboriginal wind instrument, bring to the art of poetry unique sensibilities and a world of talent that crosses over into poetry’s sister-arts: DeWoskin is an award-winning writer of prose, and Coe has an extensive background as a jazz vocalist, having performed and recorded with musicians throughout New England. What these two individuals do have in common is a recognition of how the arts speak to one another and a willingness to breeze past boundaries, to “open the imagination to the fantastic possibilities of a new way to look at – and see – the world.”
4:30 – 5:00 PM Linda Pastan- Underneath the Ordinary is often described as a domestic poet, one who finds art in the quotidien. She does not refute that characterization, but adds, “I am indeed interested, you might say obsessed, not with ordinary life per se but with the dangers lurking just beneath its seemingly placid surface.” “For Jews,” she writes, “the Cossacks are always coming.” Pastan’s interiors offer each of us journeyers a place to rest awhile and consider the things that matter.
Saturday Evening, 7:00 PM
The Diminished Prophets. On Saturday night, our weekend of events comes to a close with a performance of melopoeia, a stirring combination of music and poetry featuring poets Rhina Espaillat and Alfred Nicol, guitarist John Tavano, and bassist/cellist Roger Kimball. Don’t miss it!
Daniella Gitlin and the other wonderful volunteers at Word Up Bookshop in New York have made available videos of the Rhina Espaillat Symposium which took place in October. It was a memorable day. People came from as far away as Los Angeles to show their admiration and affection for Rhina, and she, of course, reflected all that loving energy right back on us. I’ve been comparing her to a mirror ball when I talk about what happened that day.
So much happened that day. These videos are studded with gems. Leslie Monsour borrowed John Tavano’s guitar to sing —beautifully— a song she’d composed using one of Rhina’s Spanish poems as lyrics. Harvard Professor Lorgia García Peña revealed that, ever since hearing Rhina read at Dartmouth over ten years ago, she has carried Rhina’s poems with her as a daily source of inspiration. Paula Dietz of The Hudson Review celebrated her friendship with Rhina. The young scholar Dan-el Padilla Peralta delivered a riveting essay. Juan Matos read his poetry with a passion that moved even the Spanish-challenged, like myself. Nancy Kang and Silvio Torres-Saillant, authors of the first full-length study of Rhina’s life and work, presented new papers. It’s impossible to list all the treasures to be found in this trove. It’s worth coming back to, whenever you want to be reminded what literary community looks and feels like. Here’s a link to the links: Rhina Espaillat Symposium
Rhina Espaillat, John Tavano and I have added two other terrific musicians to our melopoeia ensemble, Roger Kimball and Kate Sullivan. We’re calling ourselves The Diminished Prophets. Our second performance as a group will be on Thursday, April 11, at the Charlestown Campus of Bunker Hill Community College. The program begins at 1 PM
John Tavano and I were thrilled to hear Parisian singer Anne Marie Codur and pianist Jill Borenstein perform our song, “La Girafe” at the Boston National Poetry Month Concert last night. It was a wonderful evening all around: Sufi poetry read to the accompaniment of the Turkish bowed tambour, Derek Walcott’s poetry paired with the mesmerizing sound of steel pans —even a Japanese pop song!
The Boston National Poetry Month Festival arrives every April like poetry’s Opening Day. I’ll be one of the Thirteen Keynote Poets reading in The Commonwealth Salon at 700 Boylston Street on Friday, April 7. And on Friday evening, as part of the Poetry, Music and Dance Concert, Anne-Marie Codur and Jill Borenstein will perform “La Girafe,” a song I wrote with guitarist John Tavano.
I’m both excited and a little daunted to be part of the Words and Music Symposium at Berklee College of Music coming up in April. John Tavano and I will talk about the songs we wrote for our CD, The Subtle Thread. The French vocalist Anne-Marie Codur will perform “La Girafe”!