Fourth Massachusetts Poetry Festival – April 20-22 in Salem, MA

See the 2012 Mass Poetry Festival schedule here!

The fourth Massachusetts Poetry Festival will be held Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, April 20–22, in historic Salem. The three-day event, which will bring 1,500 poets and poetry lovers to the city, will showcase a variety of extraordinary local and regional poets, and engage the public through poetry readings, interactive workshops, panel discussions, music, film and visual arts, and performances geared toward a diverse statewide audience.

  • Readings by emerging and nationally recognized poets including:
    • Friday Night: Robert Pinsky, Major Jackson, & Maggie Dietz
    • Saturday Night: Sherwin Bitsui, Nikky Finney, Wesley McNair, & Joy Harjo
    • Sunday afternoon: Frank Bidart, Martha Collins, & Stephen Dunn
  • An exciting lineup of programming created by the Peabody Essex Museum
  • An expansive Small Press Fair
  • A Literary Magazine Fair
  • Poetry slams
  • Poetry-inspired music performances and visual arts
  • A poetry train from Boston to Salem to provide both transportation and another venue for poetry

“The Massachusetts Poetry Festival will bring a blizzard of verbal beauty to Salem, a city with a rich literary history and vibrant writing community. It will connect generations, and it will give the city and the university a leadership role in building culture in the Commonwealth,” said J.D. Scrimgeour, poet and professor of English at Salem State University. “The Poetry Festival is evidence of the vitality of the fundamental, central art of poetry,” said Robert Pinsky, former poet laureate of the United States and the honorary chair of the poetry festival.

This year’s festival follows a variety of small events across the state organized by schools, libraries, and bookstores in April as part of National Poetry Month.

For National Poetry Month, Mass Poetry will:

  • Produce Common Threads, a set of poems by Massachusetts poets to be read throughout March and April by schools, colleges, public libraries, book clubs, community poetry reading series, etc.
  • Produce a kit that includes the poems in text form, in audio form, a guide to reading and discussing each poem and several essays about each poem

 Good Deals on Hotel Reservations for the Mass Poetry Festival

Friday Evening Features

Robert Pinsky


Friday evening will be a special evening of poetry with Robert Pinsky, Major Jackson, and Maggie Dietz.
Robert Pinsky’s first two terms as United States Poet Laureate were marked by such visible dynamism, and such national enthusiasm in response, that the Library of Congress appointed him to an unprecedented third term. As poet laureate, Robert Pinsky founded the Favorite Poem Project, in which thousands of Americans—of varying backgrounds, all ages, and from every state—shared their favorite poems. The anthology Americans’ Favorite Poems, which includes letters from project participants, is in its 18th printing. The most recent anthology, An Invitation to Poetry, comes with a DVD featuring 27 of the FPP video segments, as seen on PBS. In April 2009, W.W. Norton published Essential Pleasures: A New Anthology of Poems to Read Aloud. Elegant and tough, vividly imaginative, Pinsky’s poems have earned praise for their wild musical energy and ambitious range. Selected Poems, (spring 2011) is his most recent volume of poetry. His The Figured Wheel: New and Collected Poems 1966-1996 was a Pulitzer Prize nominee and received the Lenore Marshall Award and the Ambassador Book Award of the English Speaking Union.
Pinsky has released a new CD this month with award-winning pianist Laurence Hobgood. POEMJAZZ treats a voice speaking poetry as having a role like that of a horn: speech with its own poetic melody and rhythm, in conversation with what the music is doing. To put it simply, POEMJAZZ is a conversation between the sounds of poetry and music.

Order your copy of POEMJAZZ.  

Major Jackson makes his first appearance at the poetry festival. Jackson is the author of two collections of poetry: Hoops (Norton: 2006) and Leaving Saturn (University of Georgia: 2002), winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize and finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award. Hoops was a finalist for an NAACP Image Award in the category of Outstanding Literature – Poetry. His third volume of poetry Holding Company was recently released from W.W. Norton. He is a recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award and has been honored by the Pew Fellowship in the Arts and the Witter Bynner Foundation in conjunction with the Library of Congress.
Jackson has strong Massachusetts connections. He served as a creative arts fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University and as the Jack Kerouac Writer-in-Residence at University of Massachusetts-Lowell. He is the Richard Dennis Green and Gold Professor at University of Vermont and a core faculty member of the Bennington Writing Seminars. He serves as the Poetry Editor of the Harvard Review.
Maggie Dietz returns to the festival in 2012.  Her first book of poems Perennial Fall (University of Chicago Press) won the 2007 Jane Kenyon Award for Outstanding Book of Poetry. For many years she directed the Favorite Poem Project, Robert Pinsky’s special undertaking during his tenure as U.S. Poet Laureate, and is coeditor of three anthologies related to the, most recently An Invitation to Poetry. Her awards include the Grolier Poetry Prize, the George Bennett Fellowship at Phillips Exeter Academy, as well as fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts. Her work has appeared widely in journals such as Poetry, Ploughshares, Agni, Harvard Review and Salmagundi. She teaches at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and is assistant poetry editor for the online magazine Slate. Dietz lives in New Hampshire with her husband, the poet Todd Hearon, and their four-year-old twins.
The Festival Program Committee is working hard to finalize the last of the program elements and complete the schedule for the whole Festival. We had a record submission of 124 proposals for programing elements. The Committee has read each and every one of them.. The result will be an amazing program over Friday, Saturday and Sunday, April 20–22. Stay tuned for new announcements very soon.
Schools and Teachers: don’t forget to register for the Student Day of Poetry, March 30, at MIT. 
This day of poetry will feature small workshops for students that will be appropriate for middle school and high school students, , students  new to poetry, and student poetry club members. We will have spoken word workshops and sonnet workshops. The workshops will be led by poets from across the Commonwealth. Twenty-seven schools signed up and have room for 10 more.   Register your class or school today.

The Massachusetts Poetry Festival Saturday Night Headliners:

2011 National Book Award Winner Nikky Finney

Nikky Finney was born in South Carolina, within listening distance of the sea. A child of activists, she came of age during the civil rights and Black Arts Movements. At Talladega College, nurtured by Hale Woodruff’s Amistad murals, Finney began to understand the powerful synergy between art and history. Finney has authored four books of poetry: Head Off & Split (2011); The World Is Round (2003); Rice (1995); and On Wings Made of Gauze (1985). Professor of English and creative writing at the University of Kentucky, Finney also authored Heartwood (1997), edited The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South (2007), and co-founded the Affrilachian Poets. Finney’s fourth book of poetry, Head Off & Split was awarded the National Book Award for poetry.

Listen to Finney’s acceptance speech at the National Book Award — as John Lithgow said “The best acceptance speech I’ve ever heard — period!”

Wesley McNair: A Poet with the Voice of New England

Phillip Levine has called Wesley McNair “one of the great storytellers of contemporary poetry.” The author of six volumes of poetry, McNair’s latest book is Lovers of the Lost: New & Selected Poems. He has been awarded grants from the Fulbright and Guggenheim foundations, two Rockefeller Fellowships, an NEH Fellowship in literature, and two NEA fellowships. In 2006 he was selected for a United States Artists Fellowship of $50,000 as one of “America’s finest living artists.” Other honors include the Devins Award for Poetry, the Jane Kenyon Award, the Robert Frost Award, the Theodore Roethke Prize, the Eunice Tietjens Prize from Poetry magazine, an Emmy Award, and the Sarah Josepha Hale Medal. A guest editor in poetry for the 2010 Pushcart Prize anthology, McNair’s work has appeared on NPR’s Weekend Edition and The Writer’s Almanac, with Garrison Keillor; two editions of The Best American Poetry; and more than sixty anthologies. He has served four times on the nominating committee for the Pulitzer Prize in poetry, and has authored or edited 18 books, including poetry, nonfiction, and anthologies.

Joy Harjo and Shapeshifting

The Massachusetts Poetry Festival, in partnership with the Peabody Essex Museum, is proud to announce feature poet Joy Harjo for the 2012 festival. Harjo will be reading in conjunction with the exhibition “Shapeshifting: Transformations in Native American Art.”  Joy Harjo was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and is a member of the Mvskoke Nation. Her seven books of poetry, which includes such well-known titles as How We Became Human- New and Selected Poems, The Woman Who Fell From the Sky, and She Had Some Horses have garnered many awards. For A Girl Becoming, a young adult/coming of age book, was released in 2009 and is Harjo’s most recent publication. She has released four award-winning CD’s of original music and in 2009 won a Native American Music Award (NAMMY) for Best Female Artist of the Year for Winding Through the Milky Way. Her most recent CD release is a traditional flute album: Red Dreams, A Trail Beyond Tears.


Sherwin Bitsui

Sherwin comes from White Cone, Arizona where he lived on the Navajo Reservation. He is Dine of the Todich’ii’nii (Bitter Water Clan), born for the Tl’izilani (Many Goats Clan).

Sherwin received his BA from the University of Arizona and an AFA in Creative Writing from the Institute of American Indian Arts. While at the Institute, Sherwin studied poetry and painting and received a Truman Capote Creative Writing Fellowship. Additionally Sherwin has been granted an Individual Poet Grant from the Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry, a Lannan Foundation Marfa Residency, a 2006 Whiting Writers’ Award, a 2008 Tucson MOCA Local Genius Award, a 2010 PEN Open Book Award and an American Book Award for his book Flood Song.


Sunday afternoon’s poets:

Frank Bidart’s first books, Golden State and The Book of the Body, both published in the 1970s, gained critical attention and praise, but his reputation as a poet of uncompromising originality was made with The Sacrifice, published in 1983. All three books are collected In the Western Night: Collected Poems 1965-1990. His position in American letters has been solidified through his later works, including Desire, Star Dust, and Watching the Spring Festival. Desire was nominated for the triple crown of awards—the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award—and received the 1998 Rebekka Bobbitt Prize from the Library of Congress for the best book of poetry published during the previous two years.

About his work, the former U.S. Poet Laureate Louise Glück has said, “More fiercely, more obsessively, more profoundly than any poet since Berryman (whom he in no way resembles) Bidart explores individual guilt, the insoluble dilemma.” And about his career as a poet, she said, “Since the publication, in 1973, of Golden State, Frank Bidart has patiently amassed as profound and original a body of work as any now being written in this country.”

His honors include the Wallace Stevens Award, the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Foundation Writer’s Award, the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award given by the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Shelley Award of the Poetry Society of America, and The Paris Review’s first Bernard F. Conners Prize for “The War of Vaslav Nijinsky” in 1981. In 2007, he received the Bollingen Prize in American Poetry.

Martha Collins is the author of White Papers (Pittsburgh, 2012), as well as the book-length poem Blue Front (Graywolf, 2006), which won an Anisfield-Wolf Award and was chosen as one of “25 Books to Remember from 2006” by the New York Public Library. Collins has also published four earlier collections of poems and two collections of co-translated Vietnamese poetry. Her other awards include fellowships from the NEA, the Bunting Institute, the Witter Bynner Foundation, and the Ingram Merrill Foundation, as well as three Pushcart Prizes and a Lannan Foundation residency fellowship. Founder of the Creative Writing Program at UMass-Boston, she served as Pauline Delaney Professor of Creative Writing at Oberlin College until 2007, and is currently editor-at-large for FIELD magazine and one of the editors of the Oberlin College Press.

Stephen Dunn is the author of 16 collections of poetry, including the recent Here and Now and What Goes On: Selected & New Poems 1995–2009. Different Hours won the Pulitzer Prize in 2001, and Loosestrife was a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist in 1996. His other W.W. Norton books are New & Selected Poems: 1974–1994, Landscape at the End of the Century, Between Angels, and Riffs & Reciprocities: Prose Pairs. Local Time (William Morrow & Co.) was a winner of The National Poetry Series in 1986. A new and expanded edition of Walking Light: Memoirs and Essays on Poetry, was issued by BOA Editions, Ltd. in 2001.The winner of many awards and fellowships, Dunn is Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, but spends most of his time these days in Frostburg, Maryland, where he lives with wife the writer Barbara Hurd.

Small Press & Literary Magazine Fair

Already, we have 24 participants registered for the fourth book fair at the poetry festival. We have moved the location to one that will give each table more room and will have restaurants and cafés adjacent to the displays. We have designed the space for 40 participants. So we are looking for 16 more magazines and small presses. If you have not registered yet you can do so now by clicking here. The charge is a massive $25. We expect more than 1,000 people to peruse the tables and buy books and magazines — so sign up now.
Look for more news from us very shortly. And keep checking our always improving website:, which has blog posts, resources, festival updates, student and youth program information, the forthcoming Common Threads program. Also, watch the videos we’ve included in the sidebar.

Volunteers Needed

The Festival is a huge undertaking and we need your help. We are currently looking for volunteers to help with a number of tasks.  Read about how you can help.

Calling All Bad Poets!

Back by popular demand. Steve Almond presents the idea that our very worst poetry can teach us something about writing better. Become part of the fun and learning by submitting your worst poem ever to  Let’s face it even the best poets have some cringe-worthy verse hidden away in the archives.


  1. [...] post-conference depression at having to return to normal life, you can still get excited for the 2012 Massachusetts Poetry Festival! The festival runs from April 20th – 22nd in the lovely North Shore area of Salem, MA. There [...]

  2. [...] learn more about the fourth Massachusetts Poetry Festival to be held Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, April 20–22, in historic [...]

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