Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Amherst Poetry Festival combines Dickinson works with contemporary pieces

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Juliette Sandleitner/Daily Collegian

Juliette Sandleitner/Daily Collegian

Poets from near and far are gathering downtown for the Amherst Poetry Festival, which will begin Thursday, Oct.1 and conclude Sunday, Oct. 4.

The annual festival, which started in 2013, is a collaboration between the Amherst Business Improvement District and the Emily Dickinson Museum. Event organizer Michael Medeiros said the spirit of the festival pairs well with its locale.

“It seemed like a perfect event for Amherst,” Medeiros said. “We already had the Emily Dickinson Poetry Marathon, where all of Dickinson’s poems were read over several days, and tying that together with a celebration of contemporary poetry fits really well together.”

The town of Amherst is working toward broadcasting the works of such contemporary poets in hopes of attracting poets from around the country.

In the past, the event has brought sizable crowds of all ages. In its inaugural year, it filled town venues including High Horse, Amherst Cinema and Amherst Books. Poets included Martin Espada, James Tate, Dara Wier, Peter Gizzi, Craig Nelson and Christian Drake.

“Last year, (the festival’s second year,) we had great crowds at our two stages on the Emily Dickinson Museum lawn and at Sweetser Park downtown,” Medeiros said. “Over 70 poets and literary groups participated over two days. Hopefully we’ll build on that this year (with) our stages set up at the museum, the Jones Library and the Pacific Lodge.”

The main stage for this year’s event is on the Homestead Lawn at the museum, and is dedicated to James Tate, a former University of Massachusetts professor and well-known American poet.

“We were lucky enough to have him featured at the first two festivals, and this is a small way we can pay tribute to his legacy in Amherst,” Medeiros said in regards to Tate.

Karen Skolfield, a local poet and faculty member at UMass’ College of Engineering, has been deeply involved in the Amherst Poetry Festival for the last few years.

“It’s such a great and worthwhile endeavor. A poetry fest in a town so imbued with poetry and history,” Skolfield said. “I’m grateful to the Emily Dickinson Museum and the Business Improvement District for combining forces and making it happen. Where else do you see the BID of any town working to get more poetry into the lives of its townsfolk?”

Skolfield is one of many excited poets brought to this event, which will be hosting more poets from outside Massachusetts than ever before.

Hosting the event with the Emily Dickinson Museum sets a deep sense of history into the annual poetry festival. The historical setting of the museum brings a new level of experience to the poets and the audience.

“When you have a place as steeped in the history of American poetry as the Emily Dickinson Museum, it only makes sense to connect with the contemporary poetry community that’s continuing the tradition,” Medeiros said.

The event is geared for all ages and Medeiros hopes young writers from colleges in the area will seize this opportunity to see “first-hand poetry that is thriving in our community.”

“The event provides people of the community with the opportunity to meet and connect with the poetry community that exists out here in western Massachusetts, including UMass-based publications like jubilat,” Medeiros said.

Skolfield echoed Medeiros, saying she recommends the event to both college students and members of the Amherst community.

“We live in such a smart, artistic, curious community,” Skolfield said. “I’d invite anyone to attend and discover or rediscover the joys of poetry.”

In addition to poetry readings, there will be an open mic, a Dead Poets’ Slam and a performance by “Waywords and Meansigns,” a group that put James Joyce’s “Finnegans Wake” to music. A family day will wrap up the festival Sunday.

The scheduling of events can be viewed on the Emily Dickinson Museum’s website at www.emilydickinsonmuseum.org/amherstpoetryfestival.

Kristen Forscher can be reached at [email protected]

 

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