Mass Poetry was founded in 2008, after Mass Humanities and the Mass Cultural Council backed an effort to investigate the “state of poetry” in Massachusetts. Mass Poetry’s founder, Michael Ansara, and former Congressman Chet Atkins felt that while the Commonwealth has as many talented poets as any state, there was little recognition or support for poets, and a huge disconnect between the larger public and the wealth of poetic talent.
Ansara drafted a short thought-piece with a summary of potential activities and programs that might be included in an umbrella organization focused on resolving the acknowledged state of poetry in the commonwealth—what would eventually become Mass Poetry, with programs like The Massachusetts Poetry Festival, Student Day of Poetry, Common Threads, and Poetry on the T.
The MCC donated the time and help of Charles Coe, and Mass Humanities provided a funding grant to convene roundtables of poets in seven regions of the state in order to discuss and “diagnose” the state of poetry in MA, and to bring poets together from various schools, styles, backgrounds, and generations, bridging gaps that had existed in the community.
These roundtables helped to recognize that the Massachusetts Poetry community was fragmented and balkanized. Poetry was distant from the lives of the public, there was little access to accomplished poets, and poetry had retreated mostly to the academy, because it was the only source of revenue for some poets. The overwhelming consensus of the 120 poets in the roundtables—followed by another 150 poets in subsequent meetings—lead to the ultimate creation of Mass Poetry. In 2009, the Mass Poetry Outreach Project was formally incorporated and granted tax-deductible 501c3 status by the IRS. Mass Poetry officially enrolled 55 poetry partners, and 160 poets were asked to be on the (primarily honorary) Advisory Board. The organization also created a website (which you are now visiting) to provide resources for poets, readers of poetry, teachers, librarians, and others.
Our Goals and Principles
From the beginning, the goals of Mass Poetry have been to support poets and poetry in Massachusetts, to build new audiences for poetry, and to make poetry more accessible for those who need it most—often those who have the least access to it.
What this means for us is bringing poetry to the people, rather than requiring poetry lovers to scour small bookstores and college campuses on their own. It means focusing on young people, especially those in lower income communities, and on senior citizens, especially those living in senior centers. But, most especially, it means focusing on those who do not believe they care about poetry.
We strive to boost and participate in the growing creative economy of the state, and to create a gateway to those communities which have not shared as much in the state’s prosperity.
In our work, we have a few core principles:
• Diversity—We include poets and poetry of all styles and schools: from sonnets, to spoken word, from the heirs of the beat poets to Haiku. We include poets of all ages, genders, geographies, languages, and cultures across the Commonwealth.
• Collaboration—Mass Poetry is, if anything, a grand experiment in collaboration. We promote existing poetry and cultural organizations in every way possible—especially by building on and complementing their work.
• Paying for creative work—We pay poets. You wouldn’t ask a plumber to fix your sink for free, but artists are all too often asked to donate their creative work and are the only ones who, most times, have to pay to do their own work. We hope to assist in developing revenue streams for the creative endeavors of poets at all times, in any way we can.
Click here for an overview of our programs.
Click here to learn about our Poetry Partners.