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Blackbird Poetry Festival at Howard Community College showcases the written and spoken word

Blackbird Poetry Festival at Howard Community College showcases the written and spoken word
Beth Ann Fennelly, poet laureate of Mississippi, will read her poetry at the Blackbird Poetry Festival on Thursday at Howard Community College. (Courtesy photo)

The Howard County Poetry and Literature Society will present its Blackbird Poetry Festival on Thursday, April 25, at Howard Community College. Now in its 11th year, the daylong festival will feature poetry readings, workshops, book sales and headliner Beth Ann Fennelly, Mississippi’s poet laureate.

“She is quite entertaining,” said Pamela Simonson, managing director of HoCoPoLitSo. “Her poetry is not very traditional. We’re very excited for this new version of poetry.”

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Fennelly will host a workshop during the day and will do a reading during the Nightbird Poetry Reading starting at 7:30 p.m. Poets Steven Leyva and Teri Ellen Cross Davis will also host a workshop in the morning.

“April is National Poetry Month,” Simonson said. “This is a wonderful way to collaborate with Howard Community College and celebrate.”

The Blackbird festival — its name is derived from the poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” by Wallace Stevens — typically is scheduled around April 18, which is “Poem in Your Pocket Day.”

“Wallace’s poem inspires us to see things differently,” Simonson said. “People interpret poetry in their own ways.”

The festival kicks off HoCoPoLitSo’s 45th season. Founded in 1974, the nonprofit’s mission is to enlarge the audience for contemporary poetry and literature. The group hosts four annual events a year, staring with an Irish Evening in February, the Blackbird Poetry Festival in April, the Columbia Festival of the Arts in June and the Lucille Clifton Reading Series in October.

The group also hosts “Wilde readings” the second Tuesday of the month.

“Two published authors do a reading and then it is open mic,” Simonson said. “It is a way to invite young people to meet published poets and it is an opportunity to share their work.”

HoCoPoLitSo also produces the writer-to-writer interview show, “The Writing Life.” Fennelly will be interviewed for the program at the Blackbird Festival.

“We’re like many arts organizations,” Simonson said. “We’re struggling and trying to figure out which communication works best.”

The Blackbird Festival is open to “anyone who wants to come,” Simonson said.

“The morning and afternoon events are free,” Simonson said. “The evening event is ticketed.”

Since joining the staff of HoCoPoLitSo 20 years ago, Simonson has learned a lot.

“It was going to be a short gig for me,” Simonson said. “It’s an educational way for me to learn how to be concise with words. It is a great way for me to understand how people are feeling.”

She has learned a lot from the many poets HoCoPoLitSo has brought to the area, though she also remembers how she helped a guest poet.

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“Frank McCourt [an Irish poet who wrote ‘Angela’s Ashes’] asked for a massage and I happened to have a friend who did massages,” Simonson said. “He got a massage.”

The Blackbird Festival is open to HCC students and community members beginning at 9:30 a.m. in room 400 of The Rouse Company Foundation Student Services Hall, Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Pkwy, Columbia.

Poets Steven Leyva and Teri Ellen Cross Davis will offer a workshop at 9:30 a.m. and Beth Ann Fennelly will offer a workshop at 11a.m.

The Sunbird Reading will begin at 2:30 p.m. in room 400.

The 7:30 p.m. Nightbird Reading is a ticketed event in the Monteabaro Recital Hall in Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center on the HCC Campus. Tickets are $10-$15. For more information, go to hocopolitso.org or call 443-518-4568.

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