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PoemCity: ‘Our Most Magical Time of Year’

Michelle Singer transforms the windows of the former LaBrioche space in City Center with poems by Main Street Middle School students, preparing for a month-long city-wide celebration of poetry. Singer is Kellogg-Hubbard Library’s adult programs and outreach coordinator and the lead organizer in the 14th PoemCity in Montpelier. Photo by John Lazenby.
In the spring, “PoemCity” transforms the streets of Montpelier into a walkable anthology of verse. From the poetry garden down Stone Cutter’s Way to the wilds of Elm Street, the city of poetry is in full bloom. Poems decorate the windows of downtown businesses in celebration of National Poetry Month. Thanks to the efforts of Kellogg-Hubbard Library and its sponsors, the Vermont capital offers a community-wide poetry festival with readings, workshops, and events held throughout April. 

“This is PoemCity’s 14th year, and there will be more than 350 poems up in Montpelier storefront windows for the month of April, including 100 poems by students,” said PoemCity organizer Michelle Singer. 

Sixty Vermont cities and towns are represented in PoemCity this year. With a poetry reception and jazz performance bookending this season, there will also be more than 30 community-generated poetry programs around Montpelier, including a collaboration with the Vermont Humanities Council’s “First Wednesdays” program.

“To live in a place that celebrates poetry like the library does with PoemCity is incredible,” said Singer, the library’s adult programs and outreach coordinator. “It allows the community to take a chance and share their work in public, and for the public to take the opportunity to interact more fully with their community. I love hearing from folks about how excited they are about PoemCity and what an uplifting part of spring in Montpelier it is.” 

Singer said, “When Rachel Senechal started this, she said everyone is a poet.” The East Montpelier resident formerly worked with Senechal, who co-founded PoemCity in 2009 along with then Montpelier Alive volunteer Phayvanh Luekhamhan.

This year, there’s something new lined up: All PoemCity 2023 poets will be included in a printed anthology published by local press Rootstock Publishing. The anthology is available for pre-ordering. “PoemCity Anthology: 2023” will also be for sale online and at bookstores on April 25. The cover art by Amanda Weisenfeld, “Fox Contemplates Rabbit as God,” is a visual response to one of the anthologized poems.

“We’re thrilled to finally realize a long-term goal of publishing a book of PoemCity poems,” says Rootstock publisher Samantha Kolber. “I’ve been participating in, enjoying, and volunteering for PoemCity from its inception, so it feels pretty special for me and my company, which I acquired in the fall, to help publish this printed anthology. I love how community poets are all represented here, from award-winning poets to first-time poets and even students from grades 1 through 6. My own daughter, age six, has her first poem published in it! It feels like a real community project, just like the month-long PoemCity Montpelier event. I’m also excited the book will be available for purchase in all global markets, online, and in indie bookstores, so hopefully more poetry lovers will find, and fall in love with, our Vermont poetry community.” 

Vermont Poet Laureate emeritus Chard deNiord, who contributed to “Poems Around Town” in Brattleboro, spoke to the magic of Montpelier’s PoemCity, where neighbors and strangers read each other’s poems in books and storefront windows. He said, “Like the new life that emerges each spring in miraculous rebirth, poetry both rejuvenates and redefines those who read and write it. It works as an intellectual, emotional, and spiritual anodyne to the hackneyed routines of daily lives, surprising us continually with ‘things’ we didn’t know we knew.” 

Poems adorn almost every available window and wall in downtown Montpelier during April, the city’s 14th PoemCity celebration. Photo by John Lazenby. 
Running through the month of April, PoemCity 2023 celebrates National Poetry Month with more than 30 community-generated poetry programs around Montpelier. Although this article shares some noted events, you may find this year’s overview to be more like a series of love poems. For full programming details, visit kellogghubbard.org/poemcity

In late March, JC Wayne wove paper hearts using the Danish craft of “Julehjerter” to celebrate PoemCity 2023 in the Hayes Room of Kellogg-Hubbard Library. During the workshop, one community member said, “I look forward to this every year,” while making broadsheets of past PoemCity poems into paper hearts. 

An April 1 “Moveable Feast” on State and Main Streets was rescheduled for April 15. Organized by Bon Mot radio-host Rick Agran, a radio documentarian, the event will “attempt to lead two kinetic readings as experiments in moving people and poetry along city sidewalks.” A poetry ambassador, Agran helped spread the word about PoemCity events across central Vermont, as well as proofread the poems featured on Montpelier storefront windows this month. 

The April 1 “Opening Reception” officially kicked off PoemCity at Kellogg-Hubbard Library with an open mic, book swap, dessert, and art installation by poet-artist JC Wayne. 

“It’s been my honor to participate in PoemCity as a submitting poet and a programming provider at Kellogg-Hubbard Library over the last several years,” said Poartry Project founder Wayne. “I consider KHL the beating heart of our state and a living center of inclusive community that champions the arts for all ages, and I am always so inspired by the space, staff, and patrons I get to interact with there through creating and sharing in poetry and art.” 

On Friday, April 7, poet Scudder Parker will read in the “Natural Selections” event at North Branch Nature Center at 713 Elm Street. The Middlesex resident said, “This is just what poetry should be — voices of the community coming together …” 

Poetry inspires new insights that help create new spaces, relationships, and opportunities, Parker noted. He is also leading “A Reading and Workshop Exploring Wonder Through Poetry” at the Unitarian Church of Montpelier on April 16. 

“In both of these events, the partnership with a community organization has been a vital part of what I am looking for. I’m excited that the ‘open source’ approach to generating events for Poetry Month taken by Kellogg-Hubbard has led to such a goldmine of events, including workshops and readings open to all,” said Parker. 

On Saturday, April 8, Vermont Poet Laureate emeritus Sydney Lea will participate in a poetry reading in the Hayes Room of Kellogg-Hubbard Library. The Newbury resident said, “I have applauded the PoemCity project from the very start. Poetry should be a resource for non-specialists and needs to get out of its cloister, too often an academic one. My sense is that even people who ‘don’t like poetry’ or who find it too arcane may well be dissuaded from their hostility or bewilderment if they see how poems can enliven their community.” 

On Tuesday, April 18, members of the Poetry Society of Vermont will read original works followed by a brief open mic via Zoom. The organization’s president Bianca Amira Zanell said, “PoemCity’s offerings enrich our community with a much needed pause; they are an invitation to slow down and be in awe of language, of the everyday moment captured in verse, of the beauty hung in the window. For Poetry Society of Vermont members, it is an opportunity to gather, share, and celebrate each other’s new work on display.” Zanell also expressed enthusiasm for the anthology publication, “which gives real validity to any aspiring writer who seeks publication credits.”

On Tuesday, April 25, Peter Money will perform at Bent Nails Bistro on Langdon Street with Los Lorcas. The White River Junction poet said, “I know I’ve also always wanted to play in this particular venue, at the edge of a bridge: sounds like a metaphor, doesn’t it?” Inspired by poet Federico García Lorca, Money described the poetry-infused music group Los Lorcas as “a band that makes poetry central to their songs.” Los Lorcas will close for the Rabbit & Wolf Poetry Open Mic. 

“You know, we hear and read poems every day — we just don’t acknowledge the poetry in our daily lives,” Money said. “We treat the poems in our life like transportation, a malted shake, an extra cup of coffee, that phrase a character says in the series we’re streaming, the ground and the air. We pass through poetry as if we’re unaffected by it, and yet the opposite is true: poetry passes through us daily, and we are changed every minute, especially if we allow ourselves the attention … PoemCity in the capital city gives everyone an opportunity to say, ‘wait a minute, poetry’s right here in front of us.’”

“Black Metamorphoses” author Shanta Lee Gander believes poetry is interwoven into our lives. From song melodies to the everyday rhythms of living, the Brattleboro-based poet affirms her life-long relationship to the poetics of “what it is to be human” through her writing, which garnered her the 2021 Vermont Book Award as well as an invitation from Michelle Singer to present on poet Lucy Terry Prince in “Witness, Voice, and Poetics within the American Tradition.” 

On April 27, Gander will lead a talk on Lucy Terry Prince, the first known African American poet, via Zoom. Her lecture will also explore poetry’s survival story from its roots in orality to the written word. 

In an email to The Bridge, Gander said, “Poetry is crucial to our living. Poetry is the medicine, the balm, the salve spoken through a spell casting or spell spinning that some of us utter to ourselves when we believe no one is listening. Poetry is wrapped within some of the first lullabies we learn that we nurse into our adulthoods. Poetry evades a time stamp given that it is as old as we are and it most likely existed before anyone could come along to box it with a name … it is also very much an elixir that, if we allow ourselves to ingest, it indeed does amazing things. This is why we should continue to celebrate it. Let it in. Let it do its doing and magic.” 

On Saturday, April 29, Toussaint St. Negritude will host “Jazz and Poetry from the Balcony” on the front lawn of Kellogg-Hubbard Library, where the poet-musician will close the month-long poetry festival. 

Toussaint said, “Particularly during such fractious times, here and across all of our lives, PoemCity provides such a community-wide salve of much-needed truth telling, a healing that sings from window to window … Like the blues, poetry has no allegiances to anything but the heart of the truth, however sweet or however ugly. And the beautiful power of PoemCity is in this great spectacle of all these broadsides, all in every window in town. And then, in this suspended moment of passing glances, each poem, written by and representing a local voice, a local view of life, is then seen, read, and felt by members of this very same community. What a community forum! As I’m walking down the street, on my way to somewhere, I love being stopped by a poem, and then savoring those words on forward. It’s our most magical time of year. I love PoemCity.” 

For more information about PoemCity go to kellogghubbard.org/poemcity or stop by the Kellogg-Hubbard Library to pick up a PoemCity Passport.