“Make It Local,” Say This Year’s Common Threads Planners
by Jacquelyn Malone
Attend the Common Threads program at this year’s Massachusetts Poetry Festival. And then plan to lead a session yourself later in the year.
“All poetry is local,” says Alice Kociemba, cribbing a bit from Tip O’Neil’s famous statement about politics. As this year’s guest editor for Common Threads, she’s laying plans to get poems into local groups – intimate groups – across the state, into book clubs, libraries, classes, senior centers, etc.
Common Threads is the Mass Poetry program that nudges you back to that spark you may have felt at your mother’s knee. Or in your fourth grade class. Or in high school or college. Somewhere along the way you’ve met a poem you loved. Common Threads wants to relight that flame in intimate settings among friends or perhaps soon-to-be friends.
Common Threads requires a lot of work on the part of Mass Poetry to make a gathering of would-be poetry lovers successful. Both Alice and Laurin Macios, Mass Poetry’s Program Director, have been working since last summer to choose the poems and put together a dynamic but warm collection of materials, both written and in video.
Alice became this year’s guest editor as a result of having been deeply involved in the program since its inception. “I was at the first meeting for the first Common Threads. Michael [Ansara] assembled 24 poets to brainstorm which poems should be chosen for the first package of poems. As a result over 300 recommendations came in from the 24 people!” This year Alice wanted the input of people across the state, but with slightly fewer options.
The criteria for the poems, besides being from poets with a strong Massachusetts backgrounds, included excellence, accessibility, and diversity of voice and region of the state. To that mix Alice added two other qualities: diversity of sexes – four men and four women – and what she calls “discussability.”
The suggestions came in and became part of her dining room table décor for several months. “The news would be on in the background as I was fussing over which poets/poems to include,” she says. “Subconsciously, I think that the selections were influenced and perhaps organized in a subtle response to how people turn to poetry in conflict-ridden times.”
Once the poems were chosen, Laurin jumped in, obtaining poem permissions, choosing cover art, laying out the page design for the publication and facilitating the creation of the videos. As program director for Mass Poetry she handled the program logistics as well as promotion and outreach, a concern that Alice also helps with. Laurin speaks of these projects as “sort of constant tasks,” ones that she and Alice have worked toward improving. “Sharon Shaloo of the Mass Center for the Book also “gave us a lot of advice, which was instrumental.” One of the changes was to make the publication of the poems and material available in January instead of March as well as providing a peek in September 2014 with a live webinar, which Alice conducted.
“Another idea for improving the programming was to run a new partnering poets offering, which is working out well,” says Laurin. “We also plan to have a Common Threads event at this year’s Festival – a program for which Alice has lots of great ideas.”
When I asked Alice what the most time consuming activity was, she said, “Writing the introductory essay that goes in this year’s printed edition. I didn’t want to make any grand statement about poetry, and I found it hard to get it just the way I wanted it.” What got her going in the right direction was reading an essay by the new poet laureate, Charles Wright. The other difficulty is one she shares with Laurin – getting the word out to the entire Mass literary community.
Laurin feels strongly that Common Threads should be inviting and that flexibility is the key to fitting it to intimate settings where the program can suit the requirements of local settings. “We wanted to make is possible for participants to read poems to each other, to focus on one poem if they want to with discussion and a writing prompt, or to read all the poems using the discussion questions.” She emphasizes, “There is just a lot of freedom within Common Threads so that people can connect with the poems in a way that's fun and interesting for them. I love that about it – it's a tool that can be used in different ways.”
If you are interested in conducting your own Common Threads discussion, start here, where you can access the free PDF, read tips for leading a group, and more. We’ll help you from getting started to wrapping up the complete discussion.