What Mass Poetry Offers for Your Support of Our Programs

by Jacquelyn Malone

When you contribute to Mass Poetry, 89% of your money goes to our programs. We’re telling you this because we need your support to continue all that we sponsor.

Mass Poetry is happy with what we are able to accomplish, but even more, we are happy we accomplish our programs on what the non-profit world considers a jaw-droppingly low budget.  Here’s our line-up of activities:

  • The annual Massachusetts Poetry Festival
  • Multiple Student Day of Poetry sessions – both regional events and school specific events – which will reach approximately 6,000 students this year
  • Several professional development sessions for approximately 60 teachers in the past year
  • Hundreds of Common Threads poetry discussion groups
  • U35 readings promoting young, emerging poets
  • 40 poems on the MBTA (number includes those that will appear before the end of this year)

We’ve done all this while insisting that poets be paid for work in our programs.

And guess what our spending was for last year? We ran all these programs on a budget of $155,000! We should also admit that we had considerable backing from the Peabody-Essex Museum, Salem State University and U Mass Boston. Our deep gratitude to all three institutions.

Massachusetts Poetry Festival

But the listing of our programs only touches the surface. Mass Poetry had its origin with the festival, and it still is what most people know us for. But pulling off such a large event requires planning and money. However, to get a feeling for the value of the festival, you really have to be there to truly catch the energy of those who attend the three-day event in Salem. Each spring Mass Poetry brings in poet laureates, Pulitzer Prize winners, and celebrated poets from across the country to wow our audiences with their readings, their workshops and their panels. Who can put an economic value on that kind of audience experience? But here are a couple of people who give you the flavor of the event:

In the hurly-burly of the Festival, it’s hard to find a quiet moment.  But this year, I stood still one morning and felt the Festival flow around me.  The early rising volunteers who set up tables and signage; booksellers setting out their wares; panelists going over notes; drivers heading to Logan; Headliners laying out their clothes in hotel rooms; Festival goers making their schedules for the day.  All this effort, for poetry.  Surely the work of all these poets and lovers of poetry must tip the world’s balance toward beauty and connection. Then I hurried to my next reading.   -Dawn Paul

There is something delightful about battalions of poets invading Salem. The witches approve. I can feel their emanations rattling in the woodwork of the old buildings and rising from the espresso machines. The old town becomes a stage set for this shamanic enterprise -- Essex Street lined with tables of books and the Sophia Room of the Hawthorne Hotel packed to capacity for the presentations.   -Doug Anderson

We can’t bring this kind of pleasure to Massachusetts without your financial support.

Student Day of Poetry at Newburyport High School

Here’s a look below the words of those mere earlier listings. At Newburyport High School we did a survey of students prior to the school’s specific Student Day of Poetry. Before that day, only 34% of students reported an interest in reading poetry. After the day, 70% reported a desire to read poetry. And the number of students who were interested in writing poetry rose from 44% to 65%. Here are a couple of comments from students after the day:

“I liked how the whole school came together and we were supportive of each other, because that type of unity doesn't occur often. I appreciated all of the poems shared and admired the people brave enough to share them.”

“I liked all of the different styles of poets and how they each presented such different things in different ways -- it showed me there's not just one way of writing poetry.”

According to Laurin Macios, our Program Director, in 2014 we had 4,200 students involved in SDOP, 1,200 of whom were at our statewide SDOP at U Mass Boston and 3,000 attended through in-school SDOPs. This year our attendance expectation is 1,800 ahead of last year. For our participating workshop leaders in all these events, we must provide them with a small salary for their efforts.

Other programs

Of the hundreds of thousands of MBTA riders who sit bored or hang on to their straps during the morning and evening commutes, we have no analytical data on the impression our Poetry on the T program is making. But we do have lots of anecdotal stories. All Mass Poetry staff has been struck by how many people tell us about a particular poem they loved. And this from people who didn’t know they had an interest in poetry!

And Common Threads? Though poetry lovers attend the workshops in libraries, senior centers, book clubs, suppers among friends and numerous other groups, a majority of the attendees are not what we would call poetry devotees. But they come away affected by the poems and the discussions.

The U35 program has so far sponsored nine readings with 27 young emerging poets, giving them an audience.

In addition to these programs, we run various workshops and readings throughout the year, plan poetry programs for The Boston Book Festival, and are the fiscal sponsor of  MassLEAP and Louder Than a Bomb MA.

To keep all these activities going we really need your donations.