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Montpelier: ‘A Living Poetry Exhibit for the Month of April’

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Downtown Montpelier is reflected in the poems posted at Bailey Road on Main Street. Montpelier’s 15th annual PoemCity began Monday, April 1. Photo by John Lazenby.
PoemCity, the Kellogg-Hubbard Library’s month-long celebration of National Poetry Month, is back for the 15th year, with 36 events in 17 locations, 450 poems posted in storefront windows and other places downtown, and the second PoemCity Anthology coming out at the end of the month.

Poets from 75 Vermont communities have contributed, and there are events for all ages and ability levels, including poetry readings, poetry writing workshops, an open mic for youth poets, activities that blend art and poetry, and others that blend music and poetry. And, of course, there’s the All Ages Anything Goes Poetry Slam at Lost Nation Theater, hosted by Vermont Poetry Slam Champion Geof Hewitt.

Some activities focus on specific themes: Voices of Women Poets; The Climate Emergency and the Poetic Response; LGBTQ Poetry Reading; Waka: Zen Buddhist Poetry Awakening; Homeschool All Ages Poetry Reading; Poetry of Loss, Grief, and Companionship; and Poetry for Neanderthals. (That last one is a board game for kids.)

“I’ve done poetry readings and events across Vermont and around the country, but there is nothing like PoemCity,” said Brattleboro poet Diana Whitney, who has presented there several times. “It is a true communal celebration of poetry, a lifting up of voices across generations and levels of expertise.” 


Reaching Ken

Sometimes the door between rooms simply locks
but we still have that crack underneath.

Won’t you lie on your belly
with me 
and see if we can make our fingers meet?  

—Betsy Unger, Montpelier
ken 
(n) – one’s range of grasp, knowledge, or sight
(v) – to recognize, to know

One of four poets participating in Seen and Unseen: Poets in Conversation, on April 7, the eve of the eclipse, Whitney has published two books of poetry and edited the award-winning anthology, “You Don’t Have to be Everything: Poems for Girls Becoming Themselves.”

“Poetry is an art form that is available to everyone — it can capture a moment, a landscape, an intense emotion,” she said. “More than anything, it expresses the complexity of the human heart. I love how the city of Montpelier is transformed into a living poetry exhibit for the month of April, how poems by acclaimed poet laureates appear side-by-side with poems by schoolchildren, farmers, teachers, and more. 

“PoemCity makes poetry accessible to everyone through free events and poems on display, and the community can come together on the cusp of spring to enjoy the connections that poetry offers us.”


The Old

Our backs
Are now bent
Our eyes
Could see better
Our legs
Move with effort
Our arms
Can’t carry much.

We once were
The New:
Builders of Bridges
Makers of Roadways
Keepers of Forests.

We now are
The Old:
Sharers of Stories
Town Criers of Truth
Sages of Villages.

We are
The Old.
We are here. 

—Maxine Leary, Montpelier

PoemCity began in 2010, inspired by the Waterbury Public Library, which posted poems by nationally known poets around town during April. For the first two years, it was a joint program run by the Kellogg-Hubbard Library’s adult programs coordinator, Rachel Senechal, and Montpelier Alive’s Phayvanh Luekhamhan, before the library took it on alone, although “alone” is misleading, since the extensive program includes the cooperation of poets, teachers, businesses, organizations, and scores of individuals in the community. In turn, this program led to poetry celebrations in other places, including Randolph, St. Johnsbury, and Brattleboro.

“When I came to KHL I loved the idea of posting poems, but wanted poems by Vermonters, both professionals and amateurs of all ages,” Senechal said. “Our motto became, Everyone Is a Poet … and poetry programming became a large part of the celebration as well as community involvement.”

“In 15 years, PoemCity has displayed over 4,000 poems and hosted over 400 events,” said the library’s current adult programs coordinator, Michelle Singer, who has organized the program for the last five years. “It’s so accessible and community-generated. … I’m so proud to be part of something that encourages people to share and encourages people to listen.”

Singer said one of this year’s highlights is a presentation by nationally renowned Black writer, performer, and futurist Porsha Olayiwola, author of “i shimmer sometimes too.” Olayiwola’s extensive background includes being an Individual World Poetry Slam Champion. Sponsored by Vermont Humanities, her April 17 reading will be at the Unitarian Church of Montpelier, 130 Main Street. To attend in person or by livestream, register at the Vermont Humanities website.


Cathedral

Aquarian sun blazes off the snowpack
blinding me with birdsong,
blue skies and change.

Every year I make a pact
with darkness.

I surrender to the season,
bed down with animals,
eat red meat and chocolate

clad in layers of wool.
But here it is again — sunlight

on my face in the windless
meadow. Actual heat,

not the polar queen’s bitter gaze.
A flock of wild turkeys
scores its three-pronged tracks

like runes for me to trace
into the forest. I didn’t know
I was waiting for a sign.

In the cathedral of pines
a rough arch, a gold shadow,
the red walls of my heart

expanding in snow. 


—Diana Whitney, Brattleboro

One of at least five writing workshops is Sacred Traditions: Poems and Writing on Food and Family. Presenters Jesse LoVasco and Lisa Masé have taught and written about food for years. Masé was born in Italy, and is author of “The Culinary Pharmacy: Intuitive Eating, Ancestral Healing, and Your Personal Nutrition Plan.”

“I also come from a large Italian family of 12 people, and we have many poems in our traditions, sacred rituals and foods that are meaningful to our lives,” LoVasco said. “Together we hope to inspire participants to write about a traditional dish in their family, a ritual that they cherish or a family tradition that includes a food memory or dish they connect it with.”

Events for the younger crowd include weekly take-home poetry activities. Of the 450 poems posted this year, about 200 are by students from Main Street Middle School and Calais Elementary School.

PoemCity Passport, the booklet listing the locations of poems throughout the city and the schedule of events, is available at kellogghubbard.org, with printed copies available at the library. “PoemCity Anthology 2024,” which includes almost 300 of this year’s poems, will be available at the library on a sliding scale in late April; pre-ordering is available at the Rootstock Publishing website, for the full price of $20. Proceeds from the book support PoemCity.

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