Last Feature on the Festival – New Pulitzer Prize Winner and a Poetry Carnival (!)

by Jacquelyn Malone
Check out the full schedule here.

Gregory Pardlo

Gregory Pardlo

This post is a mixed bag, calling your attention to a late breaking news story on poetry and how it relates to the festival and to a feature you might never expect at a poetry festival – a poetry carnival! We have two interviews, first, with the publisher of this year’s winning Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and, second, with the ringmaster of the carnival.

Let’s start with the Pulitzer winner, Gregory Pardlo, who is reading with a group of other poets published by Four Way Books (Check group readings). We have an interview with Martha Rhodes, the founder and editor of Four Way. After that brief interview we’ll talk to Shari Kaplan, the ringmaster for the surprising and exciting poetry carnival. 


It isn’t often that poetry is featured as the lead story for the online NY Times, but this week Gregory Pardlo graced that top spot. Martha Rhodes, the founder and editor of Four Way Books as well as a distinguished poet in her own right, talked to us about Pardlo and about Four Way Books, which published his winning work.

Here are my questions to Martha:

Martha Rhodes

Martha Rhodes

·      Digest  is Pardlo's second book. How did Four Way come to publish his Pulitzer Prize winning second volume?
I was familiar with his work and asked him to let me see his new poems. Eventually, he sent the manuscript to us.

·      Besides winning the Pulitzer, has the book been singled out for other notice or awards?
Yes, yes and yes.   Nominated for the NAACP Image Award, Nominated for the Hurston Wright Legacy Award (winner will be announced next fall), Finalist for Foreword Indiefab book of the year

·      When did you learn the book was in the running for the Prize? Were you notified that Pardlo had won before the formal announcement?
We nominated his and other books for the prize. We were told when everyone else was told -- via internet announcement. 

·      How long has Four Way been publishing poetry? What other awards have your authors won?
We have been publishing since 1993 with first books in 1995. Books have been nominated for and / or received terrific praise -- from Boston's Grub Street awards (3 x) to Massachusetts Poetry Award, to National Book Award Finalist, Lenore Marshall Award, Lambda, and many, many more. 

Poetry Carnival

Shari Caplan, as a poet and actress, has been busy with all kinds of poetry and performance events, including some inventive programs for the festival in past years. It isn’t surprising that she came up with the idea for a carnival especially for poetry lovers.

·      What will be some of the surprising events in the carnival?
There will be fun twists on some recognizable carnival games, a chance to discover your future, and poems from your favorite carnies.

·      If there are any events you want to remain a surprise, can you give us some tantalizing hints about them and why people will be excited by them?
There will be a physical representation of the interaction between words and the blank page like you have never seen before and will never see again!

·      How did you come up with the idea for this part of the program? What will be your role?
Last year, we put together a Fairy Tale Poetry Tour for the festival. We stationed poets in a loop around downtown Salem in locations where they read poems inspired by fairy tales. In creating that, we wanted to highlight the city’s historic and mystical features, to attract audience members who had not previously known about the Poetry Festival, and to create something that added to the festival atmosphere. The fun of that experience inspired us to do something similar this year. Carnivals and circuses combine the grotesque with the glamorous, the preternatural with the deeply human; hearing the stories of sideshow acts through poetry just seemed like a natural fit. I am also lucky to know skillful artists of all types and many adventurous performers who I knew would help make this wacky idea not only possible but high quality. I will be in character as the Ringmaster, guiding audiences to the carnival, helping them find fun, and reading them some poems of my own.

·      Is this a wander-in, wander-out event, or is there something new each hour? The schedule mentions more than one tent. Will events be going on in all of them at the same time?
This is a wander-in, wander-out event and acts occur simultaneously. Choose your own adventure! Our performers await your entrance!

·      Why do you think our audience will enjoy a "poetry carnival"?
There is no question as to poetry’s stodgy, intimidating reputation. Even poets sometimes will admit that they are bored at readings. Professional writers in other genres have told me they “just don’t get poetry.” As someone who believes deeply in the visceral power of art, I am always seeking new ways to bring poetry to the people, to show them that as much as art can teach us about ourselves and our world, it is also meant to just be enjoyed. I ask myself, as a theater artist and poet, what makes people who do not practice the dramatic arts come to plays and how can I help convert those who do not write poetry into supporters of it? A Poetry Carnival seemed like a good way to do that. For those who already love poetry, our theme offers a highly original reading experience, one where you can get closer to the mystery of old-time traveling carnivals.

Shari Caplan

Shari Caplan

Shari Caplan is a poet and actress who dabbles in play and screenwriting and makes her living by tutoring at Bunker Hill Community College and sorting donations at Boomerangs run by AIDS Action. She is the Director of The Theatre of Words & Music, a bi-monthly event series at The Salem Athenaeum, where she is also the Writing Program Director. Shari is interested in bringing poetry to the masses, breaking molds, and finding new avenues of expression. Since graduating from Lesley University's MFA Program, her poetry has been published in Paper Nautilus and by Bone Orchard Press. Her short film, Empty Room, won Best Film, Best Writing, Best Actress, and more at the NH48 Film Project Screening. Her next film, The Whisper Chain, which she wrote and starred in, is forthcoming. Shari is currently working on a new stage adaptation of Pinocchio.