For the first time since its 10-year celebration in 2018, The Mass Poetry Festival returns this week with a virtual event. The 4-day festival runs from May 13th through May 16th and will showcase poets from across Massachusetts and the country. Attendees can join over 50 events online from their homes.
Zydalis Bauer spoke with MP Carver, the Festival Director, and Crystal Valentine, the Festival Manager, to learn more about the event and how poetry — one of this region’s most famous art forms — can be so powerful.
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Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: For the first time since its 10 year celebration in 2018, the Mass Poetry Festival returns this week with a virtual event. The four day festival runs from May 13 through May 16th and will showcase poets from across Massachusetts and the country, as well as including over 50 events for attendees to participate in.
I spoke with MP Carver, the festival director, and Crystal Valentine, the festival manager, to learn more about the event and how poetry, one of this region’s most famous art forms, can be so powerful.
MP Carver, Mass Poetry Festival Director: The festival actually began in 2008 in Lowell. Mass Poetry was an organization founded by Michael Ensara. And part of its mission was to bring poetry into public spaces, and also to create a market and space for poetry where poets would get paid.
That’s one important aspect of the festival: all the poets who perform for us or share their work, everybody is compensated. Of course, not as much as we would like and as they deserve, but I think in this world, sometimes I think people think that maybe poetry, unlike other arts, is something that maybe doesn’t have as much value.
And so part of Mass Poetry is mission is about changing that, as much as it is about bringing poetry, I guess, into public spaces and into the world.
Zydalis Bauer: Now, this biennial event is already underway and is featuring over a hundred poets and including more than 50 events over the span of four days. What can attendees expect at this year’s festival?
Crystal Valentine, Mass Poetry Festival Organizer: So, we have a lot of amazing events and honestly, we have events for all types of poetry lovers. I’d first like to highlight some of our headliners.
So, we have headliners such as Khadijah Queen and Martín Espada. We have a Naomi Shihab Nye. We have — and I think it’s about eight headliners. So, the list can go on and on and on, and that’s just to name a few.
And the headliners will actually be happening every single night. So, if you miss one of the headliners, no worries. You can definitely come by and come back and see some more headliners.
Zydalis Bauer: Now, MP, before joining the festival team as director, you have been a long time supporter of Mass Poetry through participating in workshops, volunteering, fundraising, and more.
What impact has the festival had on you personally, and in the work that you do as a poet and visual artist?
MP Carver: More than I can say, honestly. As as a young poet, I guess alone in Salem, I just happened — the first year the festival was in Salem, I just happened to see the sign. And at that time, I knew in my life that poetry was what I wanted to do and what I loved.
But I really didn’t have any community of poets around me. I didn’t study, I didn’t study poetry in college. I took a couple of workshops, but it wasn’t my major. And so, I really didn’t have a lot of connections or a community around me. And so that’s really — the festival is really what gave me that.
And what, sort of, where I built a lot of the relationships that have been really vital to me in my life. The Salem community is unbelievable, and it’s how I ended up going back for my master’s degree and getting tied in with all sorts of opportunities, as well as being able to build my own art. And I guess having the heart to continue on as as an artist, which is not easy to do alone.
Zydalis Bauer: And Crystal, you are a nationally and internationally acclaimed poet who has received numerous recognitions, including being the former New York City Youth Poet Laureate.
In your bio, you state that you are a generator and fierce protector of Black joy. As our country faces a national reckoning around social and racial justice, how can poetry make a difference during these times?
Crystal Valentine: For me, poetry was always kind of like a community gathering kind of thing. So, I did a lot of slam as a high schooler. And, you know, we always centered poetry and community. So, when I do my poems, I’m always thinking about my community, making sure that they feel included, making sure they feel seen.
And it’s just a great way to just bring people together. And even, you know, through poetry, even if you have, like, contrasting ideas or contrasting opinions by literally listening to a poem, you will just see a different kind of view from someone else that you might not have thought to listen to otherwise.
Zydalis Bauer: New England is well known for producing many famous poets, writers, and authors, including Emily Dickinson, Henry David Thoreau, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, just to name a few.
Why do you think that this region is so influential? And how do you plan on honoring the rich history and legacy and poetry in this year’s festival?
MP Carver: The rich history here really keeps coming forward into the present. You know, there are so many wonderful poets and writers here, who I think are so open and who are so willing to sort of help the next generation of poetry.
And then also to try and share poetry through, not just events like the festival, but writer series and open mics are happening here all the time. Even in the middle of the pandemic, there were some times when, you know, in this area, you could have gone from your own living room, you could have been at an event every single night.
In terms of the festival,this year is, I think, one of the one of the more international years. One of the few advantages of our current situation is that we can bring people here, when maybe in other years we wouldn’t be able to afford to fly so many people from other states, you know. Or we’d have to worry about a different level of logistics costs.
But three of our amazing headliners are Massachusetts poets. Martín Espada and Dara Wier are both from UMass Amherst. Amazing poets. And Arianna Reines is actually, is a local poet as well, originally from Massachusetts. And in addition to a number of amazing events.
Zydalis Bauer: And I know that one of the events that is also going to be featured is a walk, a virtual poetry walk for Emily Dickinson. Talk to me a little bit about that event.
Crystal Valentine: It’s going to be a kind of a virtual tour, just going through some of her artifacts and people from really anywhere will be able to kind of attend. So, I think that is also really great that we also are moving forward with our new generation of poets, but also not forgetting, kind of like the foundation of like where, specifically Massachusetts poetry, comes from.
Zydalis Bauer: For people who might not feel like poetry is for them or who might not know much about it, what would you like to tell them about the art form and why should they give it a chance?
Crystal Valentine: Poetry can really be for absolutely anybody. The thing that we have in common is that we kind of communicate with each other through a medium of language, right? No matter what language you speak. And that’s how we kind of communicate. So, if you kind of communicate through that, that’s basically the grounds of poetry.