Common Threads: Seven Poets and a Wealth of Readers

10,000 people will read 7 poems in April. Will you be one of them?

National Poetry Month is coming up in April, and Massachusetts Poetry has an ambitious program for the state that perhaps has produced more poets than any other in the nation. During April, in libraries, schools, colleges, book clubs, senior groups, bookstores, and specially organized potlucks, the organization hopes to have 10,000 Massachusetts citizens reading seven poems by seven poets who work currently or have worked in Massachusetts. The program, called Common Threads: Seven Poets and a Wealth of Readers, will be a run-up to the third Massachusetts Poetry Festival in Salem on May 13th and 14th.

In celebration of Massachusetts’ rich literary heritage, Common Threads is an easily digestible way to introduce people of all ages to an important part of our culture and to the beauty of poetry. As S. D. Mullaney says, “Poetry is a living art form that reflects our times, past and present.” Mullaney, author of Follow the Wolf Moon, is pursuing his MFA in Poetry at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. He is one of two people working on the logistics of the project, which includes putting together a kit for any group interested in participating. According to Mullaney the kit includes a copy of each poem, an audio clip of the poet reading the poem (or another poet reading on behalf of the deceased poet), a brief biography, and discussion questions designed to enhance the reading and listening pleasure of the audience. Mullaney will be working with Kevin R. Morrissette to record the poems and create the discussion questions.

The poems include:

  • “In the Waiting Room” by Elizabeth Bishop
  • “The Lost Pilot” by James Tate
  • “Occupation” by Suji Kwock Kim
  • “Vita Nova” by Louise Glück
  • “New England Ode” by Kevin Young
  • “Samurai Song” by Robert Pinsky
  • “Love Song: I and Thou” by Alan Dugan

“We hope to connect current readers of poetry with people who don’t necessarily place poetry on their reading lists,” says Mullaney.

How the selection committee worked

With such a wealth of poets to choose from, it was no easy job to select seven poems. The criteria for selection – accessibility, diversity of voice, and excellence – still left perhaps thousands of poems to be sorted through. Alice Kociemba, a member of the selection committee and a poet who facilitates a monthly poetry book discussion group at the Falmouth Public Library, says, “We brainstormed a list of more than 50 poets, looking at a range from classic to cutting edge. The poems will appeal to a diverse audience by connecting our unique experiences with the universal issues of love, loss, home, war and transcendence. “

Mullaney explains, “Each poem in its way tells a story of how something huge and momentous — death of a loved one, inheritance from a war-torn country, divorce or separation, marriage and love — comes to be lodged in our hearts and to shape our lives. These huge things express themselves in the smallest, most mundane details – everyday sights, sounds, touches, and smells many of us have experienced and can relate to.”

Kociemba describes the selection committee as having a “lively exchange,” with consensus among poets “like trying to herd cats.” She added, “The multitude of snow storms became an opportunity for me to read, read, and re-read so many wonderful poems.” But Michael Ansara, the founder of Mass Poetry and the Massachusetts Poetry Festival, worked individually with several people and came up with a final list that Kociemba describes as the current seven poems. “His final list achieved what we all had hoped for – inspiring and spectacular poems to read and discuss.”

In addition to Ansara, Mullaney, and Kocieimba, the selection committee included:

  • Lloyd Schwartz, winner of the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism, a regular commentator for NPR’s Fresh Air, Classical Music Editor of The Boston Phoenix, and Frederick S. Troy Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.
  • Gail Mazur, whose books include: Nightfire (1978), The Pose of Happiness (1986); They Can’t Take That Away from Me (2001); and Zeppo’s First Wife: New & Selected Poems (2006).
  • Sharon Shaloo, Executive Director of Massachusetts Center-for-the-Book.
  • Kevin  R. Morrissette, an instructor of composition at U Mass, Boston, and recipient of the 2003 David A. Kennedy Prize for Outstanding Poetry by a U Mass Boston student and an Academy of American Poetry Prize.
  • Raffael De Gruttola, past president and treasurer of the Haiku Society of America and its first Northeast Regional Coordinator, a founding member of the Boston Haiku Society in 1987. He is the author of three books of poetry.

If you’d like to be involved in promoting Common Threads, sign up for the program here.

Read how one person started a poetry reading club.

We’d also like to hear your comments about the program and the selection of poems.


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  2. […] past April, Pollard Memorial Library celebrated in sonnet with the MassPoerty Common Threads Event. Common Threads is a unique gathering of Massachusetts poetry enthusiasts and writers who meet and read seven poems […]