Four Martha’s Vineyard poets will travel to Salem this weekend to participate in the sixth annual Massachusetts Poetry Festival. Justen Ahren, Steven Ewing, Jennifer Tseng, and Rachel Baird will read poems underpinned by the theme of the ocean in a presentation named “Surrounded By Water.”
The Island presentation is one of many events spread out over more than a dozen venues in the Salem area that will feature readings, workshops, panels, and performances that are expected to attract more than 1,500 poetry lovers.
The festival is sponsored by Mass Poetry. The organization focuses on promoting poetry by creating new audiences, placing poets in schools, and facilitating connections between poets via their annual festival and an active blog on their website called Common Threads.The festival is open to the public. Poets wishing to actively participate must register and pay a modest entry fee.
Pulitzer Prize winning American poet Philip Levine and Scottish poet and playwright Carol Ann Duffy, poet laureate of Britain since 2009, are among the score of well-known and respected poets who will read at the festival in addition to dozens of poets participating in the various workshops focusing on specific topics.
Ms. Baird, who spends winters on the Vineyard and summers in Middlebury, Vermont, where she runs the Zonethree art gallery, organized the Vineyard group after she learned of the festival from a friend. “I know these poets and their work,” she told The Times. “I produced our panel of four based on the poets and poetry I thought would read well together and round out a good representation of the Island’s poetic voice.
“We had to submit an application presenting our concept, explaining our focus and presentation to a festival committee. The application went through several rounds of fine tuning before it was accepted.”
The group will read at 1:30 pm, Saturday in the library of the Hawthorne Hotel, 18 Washington Square, Salem.
Weekend events include poetry workshops, discussions, drop-in galleries around town, and children’s events at the Peabody Essex Museum. For more information, go to masspoetry2014.pathable.com.
Surrounded by Water
By M. R. Baird
The past, a solid lake of ice
Created order out of love and failure
Mixed with peptides, thunder but no sound
Translates rabbit terror into deep tracks
And standing frozen earth, a vacuum,
No air, all ether and memory left for gone.
How many windows ajar
And falling through to
Behind the last view seen
On the other side,
Held as snapshot spark,
All moveable and fluid
Frame out more questions than answers?
Through that open door
An even smaller island
Now shrinking into the distance,
Through that fallen window
The unknown river waits;
I am going there.
Rachel Baird grew up in San Francisco where her childhood affiliation with many of the beat poets was influential in her writing and her art. She will publish a book, “Uplands,” soon.
By Justen Ahren
The ground is thawing. And now the sun
has reached an angle of amber
upon the bees. The field’s mud
is stirring. This afternoon the peepers
in the shallow pond in the woods, flooded
a hunger-making sound from their throats,
and I got down to the work of writing to you.
I got down and filled my hands
with the muddy words that sat, cold in the melt,
sat in the salt and cinders beside the path,
where the crocuses open their mouths skyward,
their yellow tongues of impatience,
their veined throats wondering at the pleated earth,
through which they’ve broken
too recent to understand their coming
and what they’ve brought:
words, those sweet fictions, solid enough to reassemble
your footsteps, true enough
to serve as the bird calling to you, Love.
In my boots and jeans
With my gloves, and my shears in hand, the sun escalating,
I increase the claim my soul has staked, here
where the house throws down her shadow
upon the hours of my labor,
upon the stone wall and through the orchard —
a hundred ways this supplicant
has made appeal to the land.
The work is the prayer.
Justen Ahren is the West Tisbury poet laureate. He has published poems in numerous publications. A graduate of Emerson College’s MFA program, he is founder and director of Noepe Center for Literary Arts and the Martha’s Vineyard Writers Residency. He teaches poetry and writing workshops on Martha’s Vineyard and in Labro, Italy.
To the Sea
By Jennifer Tseng
His life a lash on the horizon.
His eyes, two raindrops fallen at last to the sea,
have joined the others, the lost visions, lost waves.
Of all the dead, there is something in the sea,
if one could sip each drop discretely one would taste
prodigies riding on Ferris wheels, prisoners painting
estuaries in green, generals kneeling at the salt-soaked
feet of peasants, women making ardent love to women…
Part of every drowned desire, its indestructible source,
appears in the form of a stranger willing to change us.
He had been striving for years, he died desiring,
vexed to the end by strangers without, within.
Jennifer Tseng lives in West Tisbury and works in the town library. Her book “The Man With My Face” won the Asian American Writers’ Workshop National Poetry Manuscript Competition and a 2006 PEN American Open Book Award. This poem is from her latest book, which was recently translated into Chinese, “Red Flower, White Flower,” winner of the 2012 Marick Press Poetry Prize.
I saw you anchored
just on the edge
outside the shoal
off Shear Pen Pond
Oscar in waders
scratchin’ for hogs
I’ve seen your
while you towed
on the rail
hunched over the board
culling the last haul
in Sou’west rain gear
was made just for you
in my small
your limit stowed
as you left
On windy days
how you’d head north
into the swell
toward Cape Cod
down the following sea
for the harbor
while Oscar washed
I sold him paint
to coat your bottom
from New Bedford
You looked so proud
your dog house hatch
top hat cocked
I saw Oscar
in the hospital
before he died
but then he drifted off
passed you on
and back afloat
with spars and sail
instead of drags
You looked so sharp
so new and light
It’s good to see you
got up in your summer rig
As if the wind
to push you
Edgartown, June, 2011
Steven Ewing, Edgartown poet laureate, is a 61-year-old self-employed dock builder who has lived his entire life on Martha’s Vineyard. Mr. Ewing is a member of the Scottish Society of Martha’s Vineyard and is the presiding poet of the annual Robbie Burns Supper.