Around the Writers’ Table: National Poetry Month on M.V.

— Illustration by Kate Feiffer

Since 1996, April has been designated National Poetry Month. While there are a few readings and workshops afoot, I’m a bit surprised there isn’t more going on locally, given the poetry this place inspires and the number of poets living on the Island. For me personally, this year’s National Poetry Month has been something I’ve been eagerly anticipating, as a book of poems I illustrated was published on April 1. The book, which is a rather short book with a long title — “The Lamb Cycle: What the Great English Poets Would Have Written about Mary and Her Lamb (Had They Thought of It First) — isn’t the only book of poetry with Vineyard connections to be published this month.

“To 2040” (Copper Canyon Press) is the 15th collection of poems by Pulitzer prizewinning poet Jorie Graham. Graham, a West Tisbury resident, begins the book by asking, “Are we /extinct yet. Who owns /the map?” Her writing in this collection has been described as “sparse lines that move with cinematic precision.” Even the words used to describe this collection are poetically enticing and evocative. “Graham is part historian, part cartographer as she plots an apocalyptic world where rain must be translated, silence sings louder than speech, and wired birds parrot recordings of their extinct ancestors.”

“Sleeping as Fast as I Can” (Slant Books) is the forth collection of poems by seasonal Oak Bluffs resident and awardwinning poet Richard Michelson. Confronted with the divisiveness, and global and political challenges of recent times, Michelson asks in this collection of poems, “How can we find the joy and wonder in our lives?” and “How does one act responsibly in a world that is at once beautiful and full of suffering — balanced precariously on the edge of despair and ruin?”

“jinx and heavenly calling: I Poached a Portion of My Mother’s Love Letters to My Father 1953-1954” (Lily Poetry Review) by Kelly DuMar, a seasonal Chilmark resident, is a collection of what she describes as “epistolary erasures.” DuMar uses the love letters her mother wrote her father during their courtship and “distills her mother’s intimacies, anxieties, and endearments, engaging readers in the captivating dynamic of a couple falling into a 50-year future.” She explains, “I have poached the letter writer’s original words, taken them out of context, and created my own imaginary context.”

“The Lamb Cycle” by David R. Ewbank, with illustrations by Oak Bluffs resident and the writer of these words Kate Feiffer (Brandeis University Press) is a twist on the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Ewbank, a retired English professor, channels the great English poets for their take on the story of Mary and her lamb. D.H. Lawrence’s Mary longs for her lamb as any woman longing for her lover, and Tennyson’s lotus-eaters become “the Clover Eater.” It was an honor and a thrill to add my drawings to this clever poetic parody.

Asked about the importance of National Poetry Month, M.V. poet laureate Jill Jupen said, “I think a poem is a story told on a different plane, using only the necessary words. The reason poetry is important is you provide people with these stories they wouldn’t have otherwise heard. And Poetry Month, one can hope, reminds people that these great stories are out there by the hundreds, and to please go and read them, and to take a chance. Write their own stories,”

Even if poetry isn’t your thing, why not give it a try during National Poetry Month? Read a poem, write some poetry, and head out to the events that will be taking place on the Vineyard this month. (If you have an event or book that I didn’t know about, please add it in the comments section. I apologize if it wasn’t included.)

  • Poetry prescription and reading with C.I. Marshall. Marshall will listen to you read and discuss your poems, and then prescribe possible ways to improve them. This will be followed by a reading of Marshall’s “The Locksmith Journeys Into the Afterlife” on April 8 at 2 pm at the Chilmark library.
  • Eleanor Bates, whose book “Poems for the Summer Fall Winter Spring” (Kelsay Books) was published in February, will be giving a reading at the West Tisbury library on April 13 at 4:30 pm.
  • Awardwinning poet Carl Phillips, who is also a four-time finalist for the National Book Award, among numerous other honors, will be speaking and reading about his latest book of poetry, “Then the War” (FSG Adult) on April 4 at 7 pm, live at Pathways and on Zoom.
  • Kate Feiffer will be hanging out and signing copies of “The Lamb Cycle” on the front porch of Edgartown Books on April 16 from 2 to 4 pm.
  • Richard Michelson will be Zooming into Pathways on April 25 at 7 pm to read from and discuss “Sleeping as Fast as I Can.”
  • Students from Island schools will be showcasing their poetry on April 26 at the Vineyard Playhouse from 4 to 6pm. This event is a partnership between the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse, Featherstone Literary Arts, the Charter School, and the M.V. Regional High School.
  • “The Craft of Poetry” workshop led by Tain Leonard-Park takes place on alternate Wednesdays from 4:30 to 5:30 pm. Online, sponsored by the West Tisbury library.
  • The Martha’s Vineyard Poetry Reading Group meets the first Monday of each month virtually at 10 am. Meeting leaders select a poem or poet to discuss each month. Sponsored by the Vineyard Haven library.

“Around the Writers’ Table” is a column about writers and writing on the Vineyard. Please email with your writing-related news.