Poetry Festival brings Island poets together

The Martha's Vineyard Times

Poetry Festival brings Island poets together

By Gwyn McAllister
Published: October 22, 2009

Last Thursday, Oct. 15, the second annual Massachusetts Poetry Festival kicked off with simultaneous readings at eight venues across the state, including Martha's Vineyard. The festival, based in Lowell, continued with a series of readings, workshops, and other poetry related events through the weekend.

Lee McCormack, Martha's VineyardLee McCormack of West Tisbury performing one of his poems at the Island meeting of the Massachusetts Poetry Festival last week at the Louisa Gould Gallery. Photos by Susan Safford

When Island poet Michael West discovered that there would be festival events in satellite locations this year, he pushed to get the Vineyard included. "I approached them and said you need a satellite event here since most people on the Island can't get to one of the other scheduled readings," he said. Martha's Vineyard was added at the last minute to a list of locations that included Boston, Salem, Worcester, Amherst, New Bedford, and the Berkshires.

As similar groups gathered in those communities around the state, a group of poets organized by Mr. West and his wife, Linda Black, entertained a small audience on Thursday at the Louisa Gould Gallery in Vineyard Haven.

Daniel Waters, Martha's VineyardSomething a little different: Daniel Waters performed original songs in English and Portuguese.

The two poets joined forces when they married a few years ago, creating Island Voices, and hosting poetry readings at a number of venues, including Outerland, Che's Lounge, and the West Tisbury Library. Island Voices, Mr. West explains, is an effort to solidify the poetry scene by bringing local poets together and broadcasting readings and other events through their website,

Here on the Vineyard, which boasts its own roster of talented poets, a crowd of about 20 people who gathered at the Louisa Gould Gallery was treated to work by some of the core members of the local poetry scene, all of them doing their best to keep the art thriving on the Vineyard.

Ms. Black did a wonderful chanting reading of her poem "I Remember You," a moving ode to a dead lover that came to her in a dream. Mr. West read three poems including two tributes - a powerful work about his mother's death and a charming portrait of the late Maynard Silva.

The evening began with Justen Ahren, who teaches a poetry workshop as part of the ACE MV program, and is co-founder with Fan Ogilvie of the Martha's Vineyard Writers Residency. Mr. Ahren read a poem by Hayden Carruth and then treated the audience to one of his own, written from the perspective of a homeless woman he encountered in Memphis. The poem, which is part of a series written in the woman's voice, creates a wonderfully vivid vision of an imagined apocalypse.

Michael West, Martha's VineyardMichael West (at the microphone) served as master of ceremonies at the gathering.

After saying, "The metaphor for this country these days seems to be the Icarus story," Fan Ogilvie, poet laureate of West Tisbury, read two poems, one by Elizabeth Bishop and an equally powerful one of her own. Both poems use the destructive force of the ocean as metaphor. Last summer Ms. Ogilvie organized a popular poetry series at the Featherstone Center of the Arts, where she teaches.

William Marks, one of the last to read on Thursday night, presents live poetry readings on MVTV, and is also one of 13 members of the Cleaveland House Poets, a group which has been gathering for over 30 years and which recently published their first book, "Wednesday's Poets."

The indefatigable Mr. Marks served triple duty at the festival by videotaping, reading, and playing the opening and closing music on two of his hand-carved native American flutes. The haunting flute music set a peaceful and meditative tone, in sharp contrast to Mr. Marks's poem, "Hard Times," which he wrote specifically for the event. It depicts a series of harrowing scenarios that helps put our current hard times into perspective.

Dan Waters, who Mr. West introduced as a "master of the witty quatrain and sonnet," departed from his usual work by playing acoustic guitar and singing two original songs. He prefaced his performance by explaining that he grew up in Brazil, where poets write songs and poems with equal ease. The two songs, a sad song and a bitter love ditty, were performed first in Portuguese and then in English.

Also reading were Richard Skidmore and Nikoletta Nousiopoulos, a visitor from West Falmouth who read a series of short poems based on the letters of the Greek alphabet. The formal reading was followed by an open mic where three audience members lent their work to the evening, including Gladys Swan, one of the writers-in-residence at the Point Way Inn.

Louisa Gould, a painter, photographer, and owner of the Vineyard Haven gallery bearing her name, hosted the event. A long-time supporter of the arts on the Island, Ms. Gould says, "I open the doors to many nonprofits to host their events in order to help sustain the cultural community."

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