gregory pardlo returns to the 2016 massachusetts poetry festival
At last year’s Massachusetts Poetry Festival, Gregory Pardlo was not a featured poet. He read with a group of poets representing Four-Way Books. But in the time between planning for the festival and the actual event, Gregory’s status had changed: he had won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Last year’s Massachusetts Poetry Festival was his first reading since the announcement of the prize, and anyone who heard him read last year noticed both his pride and his modesty is stepping into his new role. It was as though he’d just awakened into a charming land, but one with much more scrutiny. He was gracious but seemingly a little astonished at his new status.
This year he will be featured at the 2016 festival in Salem, which runs from April 29 through May 1st. Here is our Q&A with him.
What do you find most interesting in the poetry world today?
I think technology has created new inroads for poets. Poets no longer rely so much on academic institutions and venerable old literary journals for access to readers. This, and the efforts of poets working in collectives has had a profoundly diversifying effect. We see as much of a range of aesthetics and politics as we see a range of stories and perspectives represented.
What value do festivals have for the poetry loving world and for American culture in general?
Poetry and literary festivals are important for many reasons. Fundamentally, they give us a way to ritualize our celebration of poetry just as national and religious holidays keep us mindful of what we hold dear. As we experience daily pressure to exchange data and to "manage information,” leaving fewer opportunities to read for pleasure, poetry festivals have come to serve as essential oases of cultural exchange.
Tell us about your experiences as the Pulitzer Prize winner in poetry last year.
Of course, I’m deeply honored by the recognition of the prize. Fortunately, my wife and kids are not easily impressed. They have no problem reminding me that I’m no different—no better or worse a poet, and no better or worse a husband and father—than I was before the prize. This helps me keep things in perspective, but I do treasure the opportunities to travel and meet poets and writers from around the world. Such opportunities feed my work, which only makes the whole process even more rewarding and productive for me.
What are you looking forward to at the Mass Poetry Festival?
I’m really looking forward to returning to the Mass Poetry Festival this year. I gave my very first reading as a Pulitzer Prize winner at last year’s festival so this festival is something of a homecoming for me. On top of that, there are always such great audiences filled with poets and poetry lovers at the Mass Poetry Festival, I can’t help but feel I’m at home amongst friends.
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Gregory Pardlo was born in Philadelphia in 1968. He is the author of two poetry collections, Digest (Four Way Books, 2014), which received the 2015 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry and was shortlisted for th 2015 NAACP Image Award, and Totem, which received the American Poetry Review/Honickman Prize in 2007.
His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in American Poetry Review, Boston Review, Callaloo, Gulf Coast, Harvard Review, The Nation, Ploughshares, Tin House, and Best American Poetry 2010, as well as several anthologies, including Angles of Ascent, the Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry. He is the recipient of fellowships from Cave Canem Foundation, the Lotos Club Foundation, the MacDowell Colony, the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, and The New York Times.
Pardlo is an associate editor of Callaloo and lives with his family in Brooklyn, New York.