Connected \\ March 9, 2021
Inspired by Amanda Gorman: Find your voice with Mass Poetry Festival
Amanda Gorman made history on January 20 after she became the youngest person to participate in the U.S. presidential inauguration. The stirring delivery of her original poem, The Hill We Climb, captivated people around the world. The 22-year-old returned to perform on an international stage on Super Bowl Sunday with a poem paying tribute to the pandemic’s frontline workers. Gorman, who graduated cum laude from Harvard University in 2020 and was a featured performer with the Boston Pops in 2019, also has direct ties to our region.
Gorman's fame and the spotlight she has helped focus on poetry are fortuitous for the organizers of the annual Massachusetts Poetry Festival. Living in perpetual uncertainty, words strung together by a poet feel comforting, especially now.
Every other year in May, Salem draws in a selection of the nation’s top poets (and thousands of visitors) for the festival — the largest celebration of contemporary poetry in New England and one of the top five in the nation.
It was with this in mind that Dan Lipcan, PEM’s Director of the Phillips Library, began talking with a local writing professor to consider how the museum could get more involved with the city’s poetry scene. The conversations led to the launch of a series of free creating writing workshops co-hosted by PEM and Mass Poetry leading up to this year’s virtual poetry festival from May 13–16.
“We have an interest in what’s going on in the literary community in our region,” Lipcan says. “It all came together nicely.”
Poet Jennifer Martelli streaming live from the gallery.
Poet Jennifer Martelli of Marblehead kicked off the series in February with a spell-writing workshop designed for Salem high students. Speaking on Zoom from PEM’s Salem Witch Trials 1692 exhibition, she narrowed in on two paintings by Tompkins Harrison Matteson. “Writing spells is fun and you get to use great language, but I also didn’t want them to forget the seriousness of the situation,” says Martelli. She was also drawn to objects on view: two canes used by George Jacobs, one of the accused, and wall planks from the Salem Jail. “It drove home, for me, the ordinariness of this horror.”