Reading series interview: The New England Poetry Club

Interview with Wendy Drexler and Mary Buchinger of the New England Poetry Club.

Does your series happen on a regular schedule, such as the second Tuesday of the month? If so, what is it?

We have three reading series, all of which are free and open to the public: New Poetry and Open Mic is a monthly series on the second Sunday of the month from October through May; this was held at the Center for the Arts at the Armory in Somerville this past year. Each reading features three members with new books, followed by an open mic. We hosted the April and May readings on Zoom and have been pleasantly surprised by how well this has worked. Our April reading had over 100 attendees! 

Since February 2018, we have curated a monthly poetry reading on the first Friday of the month at the Old Manse. This series is currently suspended, and the Old Manse is closed at this time. 

Our most prominent series is in conjunction with the Longfellow House-Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site in Cambridge. Each summer we award the Golden Rose to a poet for his or her lifelong contributions to the New England poetry community; previous recipients include Yusef Komunyakaa, Marilyn Nelson, Mark Doty, Fanny Howe. This series, which always includes a reading by translators, will take place virtually this summer, and we have a great lineup. All readings will be on Sundays from 3 to 4 p.m. They’re listed on the National Park Service website here. (Scroll down to the calendar). Here is the summer lineup.

  • June 14 : The Golden Rose: Susan Howe

  • June 21: Student Poetry Awards (for elementary, middle and high school students) and Winner of the Victor Howes Prize in Poetry, given to an undergraduate English major in New England (2020 Winner is Jessica Chretien, from Plymouth State University in New Hampshire; prize is $1000) 

  • June 28: First Woman of the World: Poems for Eleanor by Gray Jacobik

  • July 12: Poet Wrestling in the Land of a Thousand Dances: Rosebud Ben-Oni

  • July 26: Spirit Boxing: Afaa Michael Weaver

  • August 9: Poetry in Translation: Maria Luisa Arroyo and Peter Covino

How did this reading series come about?

A version of the New Poetry and Open Mic series began when the current board was formed in 2016. Traditionally, the NEPC organized one reading per year for members with new books, but we realized one way of fulfilling our mission to engage with a wider community and support our members’ work is to provide a venue for readings. We found there was a growing number of members and potential members who were publishing books and chapbooks, and we wanted to give them an opportunity to read, celebrate, and promote their work. We also decided to offer an open mic to expand participation beyond the featured three readers. This program has been very popular, and we are booked through spring 2021.

Our series at the Old Manse in Concord was initiated by Sara Zarrelli, the Manse’s former Site Manager. This series offers members the opportunity to read in an inviting setting in the former carriage house of the historic Old Manse, home of Emerson and Hawthorne. Readers are chosen at the invitation of the Board. This series is suspended at this time. 

Diana Der Hovanessian, who was president of the NEPC for nearly three decades, started the reading series at the Longfellow House, which is one of the oldest reading series in the country. One day Diana was walking by the House and had the idea that it would be the perfect venue for poetry readings so she suggested it; fortunately, this turned into a wonderful collaboration with the rangers at the National Historic Site and the Friends of the Longfellow House who fund the series. 

What makes your reading series different from others?

Our three series are unique in offering readings from a wide variety of poets and poetry, ranging from nationally prominent poets to those in earlier stages of development, and taking place in historic settings. 

Who comes to your series?

A community of local poets, poetry lovers, and their families and friends. Our featured readers are NEPC members (excepting the summer series at Longfellow House), but all readings are open to the public and are free. Now that our readings will be virtual, we are seeing people from all parts of the country, and I imagine this trend will continue. 


Graphic advertising the New England Poetry Club’s reading and open mic series.Graphic advertising the New England Poetry Club’s reading and open mic series.

What upcoming featured poets are you really excited about?

I’m especially excited to hear all of the readers in our summer series at Longfellow House.

How does your series work now that it is online? How can people learn how to attend?

Our New Poetry and Open Mic series will resume in October; in September, we will host our annual contest winners’ reading. Links for the online programs will be available to members via the newsletter and also anyone who would like to join us can email the president for the links ([email protected]). The links to the Longfellow House summer poetry series can be found here. (Scroll down to the calendar)

Can you describe your in-person venues? Are they wheelchair accessible?

The Center for Arts at the Armory is located at 191 Highland Avenue, Somerville, MA; it is wheelchair accessible.

The Old Manse is located at 269 Monument Street, Concord, MA 01742; it is not wheelchair accessible. 

The Longfellow House-Washington’s Headquarters is located at 105 Brattle St. Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138; the readings take place on the lawn (or in the carriage house in the event of rain) and are wheelchair accessible.

What can your guests expect when they arrive? Things like a cover charge, lines, or other helpful tips.

No cover charge, no lines. The New Poetry series at the Armory has a café setting, with food and drink sold at the back. 

Are you aiming for a particular aesthetic or vibe with your featured poets?

We want to create a warm atmosphere in which people can mingle and get to know each other and then want to go home and write a poem—community and inspiration!

Does your series include an open mic? If so, is there anything poets should know before signing up for it?

Our New Poetry series (October through May, listings here) has an open mic. One page, one poem, and we limit the number of readers to 12. The summer reading series at the Longfellow House does not have an open mic.

If someone would like to be considered as a featured poet for your series, how should they go about inquiring?

If you have a new book, join the New England Poetry Club if you’re not already a member (membership is $25). Then email Jennifer Markell or myself (see the website for contact information) to let us know you’d like to read. We are scheduling into 2021. 

Do you have a mailing list or other way people can learn about your future readings? How can people sign up?

All our events are listed on our website, and on Facebook. Members also receive our email newsletter.


Photograph of Frances Dononvan, with her face taking up the majority of the frame. She is wearing glasses and smiling slightly at the camera. Behind her, a yard with a white picket fence and some yellow flowers is visible.Photograph of Frances Dononvan, with her face taking up the majority of the frame. She is wearing glasses and smiling slightly at the camera. Behind her, a yard with a white picket fence and some yellow flowers is visible.

Frances Donovan’s chapbook Mad Quick Hand of the Seashore (Reaching Press, 2018) was named a finalist in the 31st  Lambda Literary Awards. Publication credits include The Rumpus, Snapdragon, and SWWIM. She holds an MFA in poetry from Lesley University, is a certified Poet Educator with Mass Poetry, and has appeared as a featured reader at numerous venues. She once drove a bulldozer in an LGBTQ+ Pride parade while wearing a bustier. You can find her climbing hills in Boston and online at www.gardenofwords.com. Twitter: @okelle.