Beautiful weather graced the Featherstone lawn for the summer solstice eve celebration, which was filled with poetry and music, and ended with a ceremonial fire. The event is meant to be a family-friendly outdoor picnic featuring Island poets.
“Children love to attend, and can run free on the hills near the stage. Audiences bring beach chairs, blankets, and food to add to the evening,” said Margaret Emerson, the host of the festivities. On this occasion, the audience of young and old alike sat in rapt attention during the moving readings. Some were light and others more serious, with poets saying it more accurately reflected the times in which we live today. The event takes a lot of coordination, and Emerson graciously took time beforehand to answer some questions from The MV Times.
When did the summer solstice celebration begin?
It was conceived by two Island poets, William Waterway and Ellie Bates. They wanted to celebrate the beginning of the season, and collaborated with Ann Smith at Featherstone, who invited them to use the outdoor stage for the event. The first summer solstice reading was held in 2011. The celebration has remained unchanged over the years. It has always included music, sometimes dance, and always the focus is poetry. William Waterway brought his talent for playing the American Indian flute to the stage in accompaniment to his poems. Various musicians have performed over the years, and we have continued the American flute tradition with Carole Vandal, who performs for the fire ceremony at the end of the program as she has in past years.
How did you become involved with summer solstice?
When William Waterway died in 2015, the Martha’s Vineyard Poets Collective was asked to plan the event for 2016. I volunteered to be the organizer, and with the help of many others at Featherstone as well as poet colleagues, especially Ellie Bates, the program continues. This is my third year being the organizer. I enjoy doing the event because poets love to read, and Featherstone’s ambiance is special on an early summer evening.
How do you select the poets?
I invite different poets to read every year. I always include the current poet laureate of Martha’s Vineyard, who this year is Justen Ahren, and a young, fresh poet, a new poet, an old, wise poet, a musical poet, a funny poet, and a balance of male and female poets. I do not give the readers a topic. That way, the audience gets to hear the poet’s choice and can experience many different worlds and stories in the two hours of poetry.
This year’s poets included Ellie Bates, William Binzen, Rachel Convery, Steve Ewing, Jill Jupen, Mark Alan Lovewell, Arnie Reisman, Valerie Sonnenthal, Spencer Thurlow, Jennifer Smith Turner, Carole Vandal, and Island poet laureate Justen Ahren.