Massachusetts Celebrates National Poetry Month in April

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April is National Poetry Month, and Massachusetts is starting the celebration in good form with a special poetry event taking place at Boston University Theatre on Monday, March 31, 2014 from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m.

Governor Deval Patrick is a guest reader, along with Robert Pinsky, former U.S. Poet Laureate and teacher at Boston University, Robin Young, host of “Here & Now” on WBUR and others. The event is being organized by Mass Poetry and Courage & Renewal Northeast.

Massachusetts has a storied history when it comes to poetry, dating back to the very beginning of the Bay State Colony. Anne Dudley Bradstreet was America’s first published poet; her book, The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America was issued in 1650. Then Phillis Wheatley, a slave from Senegal who was brought to Boston in 1761, published her first poem in 1763, and her first book, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, in 1773. She was the first African-American, and the third American woman, to publish a book of poetry.

In the 19th century, Massachusetts was home to many great poets, like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Greenleaf Whittier, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Emily Dickinson.

Massachusetts produced renowned poets in the 20th century too, including Robert Frost and Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, and Robert Creeley and Stanley Kunitz.

In addition, poets from around the world have come to Massachusetts to live here and teach, bringing an international, immigrant flair to the state’s literary community. Some of these include Khalil Gibran from Lebanon, Dereck Walcott from St. Lucia, and the late Seamus Heaney from Northern Ireland.

The creative community is an important part of Massachusetts – historically and culturally – according to Helena Fruscio, director of the state’s Creative Industries efforts. But there’s an economic impact too. The creative economy employs over 100,000 people and contributes $1 billion to the state’s economy.

The state’s literary community is also a tourist attraction, says the Mass Office of Travel & Tourism, as people all over the world come here to visit the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst; to Walden Pond, where Henry David Thoreau found inspiration; or to Lowell, where Jack Keruouc was born and raised before heading on the road.

Poetry is alive and well in Massachusetts.  Earlier this month, Huntington Theatre’s Education Department and Mass Cultural Council organized the finals of the Poetry Out Loud competition at the Old South Meeting House.  The winners are going to Washington DC at the end of April to compete against other states. Good luck to them!