The Significance of the Massachusetts Poetry Festival

While it is common for poetry festivals and events across the country to focus on the artistic or melodic aspect of this written form, it is also important to take the time to not only understand, but to appreciate its power to change. Change someone’s perspective on an issue he/she had not thought about too much previously, or perhaps shedding light on a feeling that many people fail to experience in the routine of their day to day lives.

One festival in particular has shaped a new way people gather and come together to experience of the striking insight of poetry. In late April, the Massachusetts Poetry Festival showcased poets and different works of art which emphasized world issues and problems that have gone widely unheard of.

This festival, which lasted for two days in Salem, was a plethora of poetic communications, learning, and most of all social engagement. Specifically, on Friday educators had the option to participate in a workshop focused on teaching poetry, its history, and various writing forms in high school classrooms.

Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, moderator and poet Danielle Jones-Pruett says that the entire festival — in fact, all poetry — is a form of activism.

maya angelou

Maya Angelou 

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

– “Still I Rise”, Maya Angelou

Festival Executive Director January Gill O’Neil, is a firm believer that poetry readings are an opportunity for listeners to not only realize they’re not alone, but also relate to others to better understand how feelings can be both shared experiences and personal simultaneously.

As the festival is the catalyst for this shared, personal experience, O’Neill hopes that participants, readers, and poets can benefit and engage in a similar interaction in another sphere of their lives. In other words, this moving experience can transcend the festival setting. “Revolutions start small,” she says.

Unlike other festivals, many attendants believe that this event was special due to its robust, healthy intellectual atmosphere. Thus, Jones-Pruett emphasizes that diversity propels change both within and outside the poetry community. “Rather than nodding our heads we have our ideas challenged,” she says.

Tobi Dress-Germain, one of the festival moderators, delves deeper into the notion that the process of creative writing is still unrestricted. In this sense, this liberating mentality allows for a free flow of ideas across a spectrum of minds. She feels that “writing is one of the few times when we, as human beings, are truly free.”

According to Gill O’Neil, when you’re writing poetry, your objective is not necessarily to change the world immediately or at all. For many, as society becomes more open and accepting, so does poetry as an introspective art form. This is the best time to go see poetry,” she says. “It’s edgy, it’s raw, it goes there.”