not quite a swan song
by Jacquelyn Malone | June 2016
Though I’m not leaving the Mass Poetry community, I have left the position of content manager of masspoetry.org. I look forward to having time for several projects I’m going to be working on now. But I have to say that writing for such a classy, important organization has been fun. I’ve met dozens—no, hundreds—of fascinating people, and I’ve learned much about the state of poetry in Massachusetts. It’s been a fantastic opportunity for which I am truly grateful.
I’ve been fortunate to work on the site at a time when I believe our culture is re-discovering poetry. Just look at the growth of festivals over the last decade. It’s not just our festival or the venerable Dodge or Bread Loaf festivals and conferences; check out the hundreds listed now from across the country on the Poetry Society of America’s site. A decade ago I wonder if there were more than ten or fifteen.
Though they may not yet attend a festival, many people I know seem genuinely intrigued with the idea of a poetry festival. And I’ve noticed a bolder change in a couple of friends. One recently told me she was going to try to attend next year’s festival. Another recalled how surprised she was by a brush with poetry several years ago: it seems I had invited her to a reading. I wasn’t sure which reading we had gone to, but as much as a decade later she remembered that the poet had read a poem about the Marx brothers. “Oh, Gail Mazur,” I said. She went on to say she was surprised at how much she enjoyed that reading. Since then, as a Salem resident, she has attended a few events at each Mass Poetry Festival for the past three or four years.
Gradually most people have quit looking at anyone who says they love poetry as though they have a screw loose. Sometimes people, when you bring up the subject, will voluntarily share a poem they remember from high school or college—or even elementary school. It may be a poem they were required to memorize and at the time felt irritated by the teacher’s assignment. But over the years, they remember that poem; they can still recite it with perhaps a slight mumble at some point where a word or phrase does not come to mind immediately.
One night last week as I was driving home, I turned on WBUR, and I immediately realized I was listening to a poet read. I expected one poem and then perhaps a discussion of some civic issue the poet was promoting. But no, the poet kept reading—wonderful poems about horses, a strange tree, and “the ticking sound of falling leaves.” After about 20 minutes an announcer said I had been listening to David Ferry, which I had guessed because during the time I listened, he read a portion of his translation of The Aeneid. Before him the Irish poet Moya Cannon had read, although I missed the earlier portion of the program. Together the two poets had read for an hour on WBUR’s “World of Ideas” series. An hour of reading poetry on a major radio station—wow!
I’m not sure how many years I have worked on stories as the content manager for masspoetry.org. Nor do I have any idea how many stories I’ve written. Or how many stories I have solicited from at least a hundred different writers. But I do believe in those years (five? seven?—I’m not sure) I would not have been as aware of the change in our culture if it weren’t for being so involved with Mass Poetry.
The change I’ve noticed most is one I least expected – poetry is becoming the in thing for many teenagers. Again, I probably wouldn’t have been aware of this change if I weren’t seeing it at Mass Poetry’s Student Day of Poetry events. Watching the students and interviewing teachers for stories has stamped the enthusiasm deep in my mind. In fact a story I remember really fondly was an interview I did with the Lowell school system’s Jennifer Zeuli. She spoke about a student who, when told a poet was coming to the school, expressed his initial attitude in these words: “No f*****g way I’m gonna listen to no f*****g poet.” But after Regie Gibson spent the day at the school working with students on poetry, this same kid was following him around, begging him to come back again. He was also stopping his friends in the hallway so he could read to them one of the poems he’d written.
This Lowell boy may be a late bloomer; I’ve judged Poetry Out Loud contests where high school students were cheering for their favorite reciter as if they were at a pep rally!
So, indeed, I’ll miss many aspects of working with Mass Poetry. But I’ll be around. I’m not leaving for Antarctica any time soon!
Jacquelyn Malone worked as Senior Web Writer/ Editor at IBM and Lotus Development Corp., taught both technical and scientific writing and editing at Northeastern, and writes poetry. She has won a National Endowment of the Arts Fellowship Grant in Poetry, is the author of a chapbook titled All Waters Run to Lethe, and has been published in numerous journals, including Poetry, Beloit Poetry Journal, Poetry Northwest, and Cortland Review. Her poems have been nominated for the Pushcart and have appeared on the website Poetry Daily. She is the mother of two children and has six grandchildren.