Celebrating Rhina P. Espaillat on YouTube

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!

Boston College Hosts A Red Shoe Night for Rhina Espaillat

An evening extravaganza of poetry, music, and tributes celebrating bilingual Dominican-American poet and translator Rhina Espaillat and the donation of her archives to Boston College, featuring Dana Gioia, Julia Alvarez, Silvio Torres-Saillant, Nancy Kang, Sarah Aponte, Alfred Nicol, Roger Kimball, Riikka Pietiläinen Caffrey, Kristin Vining, Riikka Pietiläinen Caffrey, and more … and Rhina!

The program will begin at 5:30pm and continue through the evening. Come when you can, leave when you must. Free food and beverages. Books and CDs available for sale and signing. Admission is free and all are welcome. Bring your friends! Put on your red shoes!

Thursday, September 28

5:30 PM

O’Neill Library Reading Room

Leslie Monsour Introduces Rhina Espaillat

Leslie Monsour. Rhina Espaillat: A Critical Introduction. Story Line Press (2013) 

Reviewed by Alfred Nicol

Often, when Rhina Espaillat is invited to read her poetry, the person who introduces her begins by saying, “This poet needs no introduction.”  Yet Leslie Monsour’s Rhina Espaillat: A Critical Introduction has much to offer the lucky reader who has just discovered Espaillat’s work as well as those of us who think we know her well. The first of the book’s five sections is an elegant meditation on her poetic achievement, pairing her “deep regard for craft” with her insistence that poetry must remain accessible, must communicate with the reader: “I’m after the meaningful ordinary… that everyone else can understand and that can serve as a bridge between my life and everyone else’s.” 

Here and in the succinct biography which follows, Monsour’s intelligent, witty prose seemingly follows the play of thought, inviting the reader along on a leisurely stroll while calling attention to the high points of Espaillat’s poetic achievement and the major events of her life as she goes, as though happening upon these things by accident. We get all the pleasure of a tour without the aggravation of an itinerary. It is only after the fact that we notice how the arc of the narrative ends with Espaillat’s triumphant return to be be honored in the country from which her parents were exiled.

The felicities of Monsour’s style are no less evident in the book’s third section, which includes close readings of several poems that hint at the riches to found in her work as a whole. She cleverly displays a bit of that abundance by inserting a partial list of the urban and suburban animals Espaillat has written about: “Among Espaillat’s menagerie we meet a startled, ill-fated cockroach; an escaped terrarium crab; a rat nesting in an automobile engine; a bored zoo seal; a marauding woodchuck; and a camera-shy raccoon, keenly observed with the humane, philosophical involvement Burns gave his mouse…” A consideration of Espaillat’s frequently anthologized poem “Bilingual/Bilingüe” leads to an appreciation of her work in translation, and to this remarkable insight: “Espaillat’s naturally inclusive impulse to link diversities allows her to translate poetry with a facility she stores somewhere deeper and richer than intellect.”

Part IV of Monsour’s Introduction is a wide-ranging interview, in which Monsour’s astute questioning gives her subject an opportunity to expand on the themes discussed in these essays; that is to say, Rhina is invited to introduce herself. Monsour somehow prevails upon her to read a poem published in the November 1947 issue of Ladies Home Journal, which Espaillat dismisses as a “sappy love poem” written at a time when she “didn’t know which end of a guy was up.” 

And in the last section of the book, Espaillat speaks without interlocutor. We are presented with Espaillat’s poem, “Impasse: Glose.” Monsour’s graceful decision to step back and give her book’s subject the last word is of a piece with everything else she’s done so admirably in this book. Rhina Espaillat: A Critical Introduction is essential reading for anyone who loves poetry.  

2021 Newburyport Literary Festival Poetry Events (April 23-24)

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 CeremonyLiving 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!