, Salem, MA


May 1, 2014

'Connected to being human'

Poetry festival enters fifth year

The Mass Poetry Festival isn’t just for poets.

Though several sessions at this weekend’s event will focus on matters of craft, even these are well attended by people who’ve never tried to write a poem.

“You explore new things,” said Jennifer Jean, who teaches poetry at Salem State. “A lot of people who come, who are not writers, love learning. It keeps them alive and connected to being human.”

This is the festival’s fifth year, and most of the readings and sessions will again take place at Peabody Essex Museum, while a number will also be held at the Hawthorne Hotel and other venues around Salem.

“This year we pared down the (number) of sessions from 95 to about 80,” said January O’Neil, festival director. “We rely on so many volunteers and venues that we don’t want to put too much of a toll on resources.”

But there are still plenty of programs to attend, on everything from culinary poetry, to poetry and medicine, to “Migrants, Monsters and Mutants” in poetry.

There will be a discussion of sestinas, a 700-year-old form in which “six words appear at the end of 39 lines over the course of six, six-line stanzas and a three-line finale,” according to the festival’s guide.

Other sessions will address general themes such as writing about relationships, and on fluid sexual identities, to another on writing and taboos.

“We’ve also got two good slams,” O’Neil said. “Friday night is a college slam. The Saturday night slam is Boston versus New York.”

Families who attend can also have fun by visiting interactive, poetry-themed installations, calligraphy classes, and book-making activities.

There are 14 headliners reading their work this year, in pairs or groups of three, with many major voices along with a few poets who are just beginning to reach wider audiences.

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