U35: Young Poets Inspire in Boston

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By Olivia J. Kiers

Massachusetts is a state rich in poets, and these poets’ work often pops up in unexpected spaces. You can read poetry during your daily commute—“Poetry on the T” buys advertising space on Boston’s MBTA transit system, sneaking enjoyable stanzas up among the ads clamoring for your under-caffeinated attention. You might also catch lines of poetry as they magically appear on sidewalks under the rain, thanks to a project called “Raining Poetry” (in Boston this April, and in Salem in early May).

Poetry on the T and Raining Poetry are just two of the many programs managed by MassPoetry—a non-profit founded in 2009 to narrow the gap between public awareness and poetic talent in Massachusetts. While less cutting-edge in terms of venue or format, one of MassPoetry’s exciting initiatives is U35, a reading series that specifically showcases the work of poets under the age of 35. MassPoetry program director Sara Siegel explained its need: “Many poets who successfully reach the public tend of be older. There are opportunities for young poets, but are geared for students, specifically. A poet who’s between that student age and 35 is at the start of a writing career. It’s an interesting moment in time and we want to promote those voices.”

After a run at the Marliave in Downtown Boston, this bi-monthly series made its debut at Trident Booksellers in the Back Bay on March 28. Tucked behind the cookbooks and history tomes shielding Trident’s cozy, second-floor bar space, three poets shared a selection of their work to an attentive crowd sipping beers. “We didn’t want this to be a typical bookstore event,” said Siegel. “We want to hold these events where people are eating and drinking and—Oh, look! There’s poetry, too!” Yes, the atmosphere at Trident was easy-going, but it was also respectful. The poets were given space to be heard—no straining against the background noise and bad acoustics that plague far too many café-based open mics.

Stephen Pusateri, recently relocated from Pittsburgh, PA, opened the evening with poetry that imbued everyday language with a wry charm that at times became frantic, as in Café, which started “at normal volume” and ended with a rapid-fire shout:

I speak at normal volume
in the café
because a) it’s not a library and
b) I want my dialogue to make
the pages of your next novel
and c)
I fear the dark, black, devouring
nothingness of death
the instant loss of everything
friends, music, sensation
the quick dissipation of the present tense
God, I just want to be remembered
I’m so afraid of dying
I don’t even like coffee
he said

Pusateri’s confident performance was perhaps a result of his work in public radio, or involvement for many years with the poetry community in groups like the Pittsburgh Poetry Exchange. The second poet, Angela Siew, had a much quieter stage presence, yet the strong imagery and nearly fragrant and tactile sensory experience of her poetry soon dominated the room. Siew, an MFA candidate in Poetry at Emerson College and recipient of an American Academy of Poets Prize, plunged straight into family dynamics, childhood, death, memory, and her Asian heritage. One of her most vivid stanzas came at the end of What To Do When A Weeping Cherry Tree Is Not Thriving:

Yesterday we went to the circus,
acrobats turning and twisting above our heads,
the man who paused, holding to a pole,
body laid along an imaginary horizon,
arms stretched like dandelion stems in the wind.
They flew, unfolded with toes pointed,
the seesaw creaking with every landing –
each time their momentum sending the other
higher into the air.

The final reader for the evening, Will Tilleczech, is still a student at Harvard, who writes poetry whenever he can. Tilleczech’s verse tumbles out in waves, creating a sonic experience that was almost more about music than text. However, these were hardly simple rhymes or tedious exercises in meter; rather, Tilleczech closed the evening on a series of mesmeric chants that rushed the room from one sound and image to another, delivering a whole that was greater than the sum of its parts.

These three very different poets—all under 35, all exuding energy and fresh ideas—each offered an intriguing vision of what poetry could be. If the future of poetry interests you, consider attending one of the upcoming U35 readings, and raise a glass to MassPoetry and Trident for creating a space where these voices can be heard.


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