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Bringing Poetry to the People with 2021 Massachusetts Poetry Festival

Massachusetts Poetry Festival Returns this Weekend with Three Days of Virtual Programming, Self-Directed Poetry Walks, Ekphrastic Art Gallery

by Joey Phoenix
Images provided by Mass Poetry

The Massachusetts Poetry Festival returns this weekend for the first time since its 10 year anniversary celebration in 2018 with four days of readings, performances and workshops occurring virtually and at limited exhibitions occurring in person in Salem. The festival, now a biennial event, will take place May 13-16, 2021 at https://festival.masspoetry.org. 

Although the Festival was first hosted in Lowell in 2008, it has since found its permanent home in Salem, and festival organizers are looking forward to its return to an in-person festival in the coming years. 

“We’ve worked very closely the City of Salem, Salem State University, Destination Salem, Salem Main Streets, Peabody Essex Museum and Montserrat College of Art in Beverly, and we’re excited to be partnering with these great organizations for the 2021 festival,” said Talia Franks (they/them/theirs), Events and Communications Coordinator and AmeriCorps VISTA member with Mass Poetry. 

Some of the in-person highlights of this year’s event include the Improbable Places Poetry Audio tour, the Small Press Fair, and the Salem Poem Walk: a self-directed tour allowing guests to follow a trail of poems throughout the city of Salem.

Pulitzer Prize winner Tyehimba Jess

In total, the Massachusetts Poetry Festival will showcase more than 60 events and will feature over 100 poets from the commonwealth, around the country, and across the globe including Guggenheim Foundation Award recipient Naomi Shihab Nye; Pulitzer Prize winner Tyehimba Jess; international bestselling author Lang Leav; and American Book Award winner Martín Espada. 

Editorial Note: Poetry and Pets also seems like very important content. 

The event organizers expect to be able to offer the chance to view virtual recordings for those not able to make every event, as many overlap. Click here to view the full schedule. 

The events that Franks is looking forward to in particular are: “Teaching Anti-Racist Poetry” –  part of the special series of Teacher Track events which will serve as the first part of Mass Poetry’s annual teacher training programming, and “Beyond the First Book, a Conversation with Jay Deshpande and Kundiman.”

Kundiman is a New York city-based AAPI advocacy organization dedicated to nurturing generations of writers and readers of Asian-American literature. 

“I’m also looking forward to ‘Bridging the Atlantic’, which is talking about the current state and future of African poetry,” Franks described, explaining that it was hard to choose any particular event with the roster being as fully packed as it is. “There’s a bit of something for everyone,” they added. 

A common misconceptions surrounding literary events such as this is that they are for writers, poets, and those entrenched into the world of poetry. But this just isn’t true. The festival organizers want everyone, whether they are a poet who has been writing for decades or someone who has never experienced poetry in their lives, to come and feel welcome attending events. 

“One of the beautiful things about poetry is that poetry is a way to catalyze connection and understanding; it’s a way to bring people together,” they said. “But importantly, because we’re having different events with poets from various minoritized* groups, [this festival] is a great opportunity to hear from people who are unlike ourselves, and be able to feel what other people are feeling. I’ve always felt that poetry helps to garner an understanding better than prose does.” 

To learn more about the festival or to purchase tickets (pay what you can options available), visit https://festival.masspoetry.org


* Editorial Note: Franks uses the term “minoritized” here to impress the fact that historically Black and Brown and Indigenous people i.e. have been treated like they are a minority, when they are actually the majority. 

They also use it to “specifically acknowledge the fact that many people in these groups are literally minoritized via genocide. The Indigenous peoples of this continent should not compose such a small portion of the populations of its countries and they only do because of the genocide enacted on them by colonizers.” 

Read this article to learn more about this issue or, to avoid the paywall, read this quote: “First, non-whites are already a majority of the world’s population. Second, in my lifetime, people of color will compose a majority in America. Finally, as any Black or Brown person will tell you (and as echoed in the words of Prince), there is nothing minor about us.”


Joey Phoenix (they/them) is the Director of Brand Strategy and Innovation at Creative Collective. As the resident storyteller and town crier, they encourage you to send story ideas, inspiration, or pictures of adorable critters to joeyphoenix@creativecollectivema.com.


May is all about May-kers! Follow us on social @creativecollectivema and @creativenorthshore to see member features. If you’re interested in being featured yourself, send Joey Phoenix a note at @joeyphoenix@creativecollectivema.com 

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