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
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!
I keep a file labeled “100 Books,” which is a list of the best books I’ve read in my life. There aren’t really a hundred books on it yet. One of the books on my list exists only in manuscript: I had the extreme good fortune of reading a GBC-bound photocopy of that work. It is a translation of the poems of Jorge Luis Borges by the poets Robert Mezey and Dick Barnes, for which they never received permission to publish.
In 2017, Bob Mezey agreed to read at the Newburyport Literary Festival. In his correspondence he was fretful about his travel arrangements, about the sound system, about the amount of time he’d be given to read. And when he arrived, he appeared old and frail. My wife Gina attentively helped him get back and forth from his room at the inn to his reading. I’d arranged for Mezey to be the final reader, pairing him with Robert Shaw, saving the best for last. When it was Mezey’s turn, he asked for the microphone to be shut off, which didn’t seem like a good idea. Then he brought the audience in closer, where they gathered in a semi-circle near the podium, and he began his reading. It was something to see, something to hear: the authority returned to his voice, he read with great expression and a sense of humor. We saw laughter in his eyes, we heard more than personal sorrow in the words he spoke. He did me the great favor of reading his wonderful narrative poem, “The Golem,” which I’d requested. It was an unforgettable reading.
Robert Mezey died of pneumonia on Saturday, April 25. America has lost one of its finest poets.
Here is a link to his obituary in The Los Angeles Times, written by Dana Gioia.
8:30-10:00 AMBreakfast with the Poets: Wake up on this festive day with coffee, pastry and poetry. The locally-based, nationally-recognized Powow River Poets never leave their readers in the dark! Anton Yakovlev, Jose Edmundo Ocampo Reyes, Toni Treadway, David Davis andA. M. Justerwill read from books they’ve published since last year’s breakfast. (There must be something in those pastries Gina bakes.)
10:00 AM The Poetry of Maryann Corbett & Nausheen Eusuf: Two remarkable poets whose work appears in Best American Poetry 2018, Maryann Corbett and Nausheen Eusuf know that, whatever poetry is about, it is always about language. It is a kind of liberation to recognize that. Both poets, Eusuf with her virtuoso wordplay and Corbett with her knowledge of ancient tongues, employ a whole range of language—different tones and voices, high and low modes of speech, allusions, quotations, and puns—to touch on things that matter either for the moment or for eternity.
11:00 The Poetry of January O’Neill & Ned Balbo: “The world is too much with us,” but ultra-contemporary poets January O’Neil and Ned Balbo have not turned their backs on it. Their poems make room for tattooed girls and young men in grey hoodies, reruns of Star Trek, LSD and Wikileaks, hospital corridors and crabcake recipes and Smart TVs. Here you’ll find elegies for Prince and David Bowie and odes to brownies for Sunday breakfast. And family: imagined and real, close-knit and departing. Somehow, in the middle of so much stuff, a space is cleared for these poems to become “vessels of almost uncontainable longing” where— always—“there is that question of how to love.”
1:00 The poetry of Daniel Hall & Mary Jo Salter: It’s no wonder that these two distinguished poets are also distinguished teachers of poetry, Daniel Hall at Amherst College and Mary Jo Salter at Johns Hopkins. Each of them is a consummate craftsperson, and both seem to embody the ancient idea of sprezzatura, choosing “to avoid affectation in every way,” perfecting their art by making it appear to occur naturally and without effort. This is poetry that rewards our attention without clamoring for it. As in a clear night’s sky, we’re offered much to marvel at.
2:00 The Poetry of Major Jackson & Sydney Lea: Besides the state in which they reside, what these two Vermont poets have most in common is, paradoxically, what sets them apart. They don’t sound anything like each other —nor does either of them sound much like anyone else. “The poetry Major Jackson offers us…sounds different from any other being written today,” writes one reviewer. “The truth is, no one writes—or has written—like Sydney Lea, except maybe E. A. Robinson,” writes another. Here are two unique and original voices in contemporary American poetry.
3:00 PM The Poetry of Rhina P. Espaillat & David Ferry: Biographies of famous poets sometimes leave us with the impression that poetic talent and decent behavior may be inversely proportional. That’s not the case with Rhina Espaillat and David Ferry, two of America’s finest poets, whose poetic visions are extensions of their personalities. Ferry, who volunteered for years at a dinner for street people, gives voice to the homeless and isolated in his poems. The poems of Espaillat, whose kitchen table has been the site of so many creative collaborations, envision humanity as “one single family.”
We’re proud to announce the list of terrific poets who’ve agreed to read in Newburyport on April 27, 2019:
Mary Ann Corbett
Rhina P. Espaillat
José Edmundo Ocampo Reyes
Mary Jo Salter
See the festival website for more detail as the event approaches. It’s going to be a day to remember.
The Newburyport Literary Festival is happening this weekend. Here is the complete schedule. It’s going to be a beautiful day!
8:30 M Breakfast with the Poets: Four Powow River Poets with new books, Bill Coyle, David Davis, Nancy Bailey Miller, and Anton Yakovlev, along with special guest, David Berman.
10 AM Deft with a Dagger: A. M. Juster & Alexandra Oliver. You’ll die laughing.
11 AM The Play of Thought: Deborah Warren & Dan Brown. “Wit” has meant different things at different times. My favorite definition is from the 17th century: “Natural Wit consisteth in two things: Celerity in Imagining (that is, swift succession of one thought to another), and steddy direction to some approved end.” Here are two of our wittiest contemporaries.
1 PM Imagination Without Pretense: Kevin Carey & Midge Goldberg. William Wordsworth would have loved these two poets, who write about “incidents and situations from common life” in “language really used by men [and women].” That’s probably what makes them both favorites of Garrision Keillor as well.
2 PM Licensed by the Muse: James Matthew Wilson & Catherine Chandler. In a time when many poets declare themselves “liberated” not only from meter and rhyme but even from punctuation and the rules of grammar, these two poets have devoted themselves to the study and practice of Engish verse technique, tapping into a creative wellspring over 700 years old. Theirs is truly “roots” music!
3 PM Master Craftsmen: Robert Shaw & Robert Mezey. Robert Mezey has been accused of “an unyielding poetic integrity;” Robert Shaw would plead guilty of the same offense. That may explain why these two excellent poets have stayed out of the spotlight despite lifetimes of high literary achievement. Like skilled burglars, their focus is not on getting attention but on getting the job done.
The 2016 Nemerov Sonnet Award winner is Midge Goldberg for “Tennis Pactice Against the Garage Door.” Because the Nemerov Award is a prestigious prize, many of the today’s finest poets enter the competition. Among the finalists were two other poets who’ll read for us at the Newburyport Literary Festival next spring, Robert Mezey and Anton Yakovlev.