The Czarina of Poetic Fun Brings the Improbable to the Festival

The Massachusetts Poetry Festival is delighted to have the Improbable Places Poetry Tour—a creative notion that celebrates place and poetry through unusual venues such as bicycle shops, tattoo parlors, and swimming pools. The tour was created by Colleen Michaels, or as Michael Ansara, founder of the Mass Poetry Festival, calls her “the festival’s Czarina of Poetic Fun.”  The idea for the tour first came to Colleen in the fall of 2010, when she decided to unite three of her great loves—her town Beverly, Montserrat College, and poetry (of course).  The first event was held in Beverly’s bike shop Centraal Cycling. With a crowd of around 60 people to its first event, the Improbable Places Poetry Tour began as an instant success!

The tour has been going strong, reaching poetry enthusiasts and unsuspecting folk alike. By performing in such unlikely places, Colleen has broadened audiences, making poetry accessible and fun to those who wouldn’t otherwise seek it. “People walk into these places just looking to get a bicycle or tattoo and get to hear poetry. They’re all the better for it,” says Colleen.  One performance in a laundromat took many people by surprise. “One family went out, got a pizza and came back. They made a night of it. Many stuck around well after their last cycle.”

It’s not just the audience members who have their horizons broadened. The tour gives students a chance to share their work, whether by reading their poetry or creating art behind the promotion of the tour. Letterpress artist and Montserrat student Liz Seltzer is the creator of the posters for the tour. Jack Moffitt, a fellow Montserrat student, is the maker of the videos of the tour. You can check out the tour videos via the Montserrat YouTube channel.

The Tour at the festival

You may be thinking that a poetry festival is a highly probable location for a poetry tour, but don’t worry.  Colleen wouldn’t be the festival’s Czarina if she wasn’t ten fun steps ahead of you! The tour is taking a different route for the festival. Instead of attending another poetry reading, festival goers  can find poetry art installations at several downtown Salem businesses—from poems in menus, to poems on shower curtains, you can track them all down!

Green Land Café – 87 Washington Street
Poets: January Gill O’Neil, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Susan Rich

Gulu Gulu Café – 247 Essex Street
Poets: Danielle Jones-Pruett, Jill McDonough, Jeffrey Taylor

Roost – 40 Front Street
Poets: Melanie P. Carver, Susan Rich, J.D Scrimgeour

Scrub -320 Essex Street
Poet: Colleen Michaels

Seed Stitch Fine Yarn – 21 Front Street
Poet: Joseph Legaspi

Sophia’s – 105 Essex Street
Poet: Dawn Paul

Each of the selected poems speaks to the place and form in which you find them, as well as share ties with the other poems in the same location. The businesses themselves have invested in the creation of the installations. Seed Stitch Fine Yarn did the knitting for Joseph Legaspi’s poem. Word has it the customers have taken up poetry in addition to their knitting needles. The poetry bus has started to spread!

Whether you decide to intently seek out each poem or happen upon them as you explore Salem is up to you. Just don’t miss out on the fun. If you see a poster with the words “poems served here” enter and find yourself in the improbable.


Need more doses of fun? Not to worry —  our Czarina is also part of the team behind the Swag Station. Get a free book bag from Montserrat College while you watch them make it! See the process of screen printing up close in person. Don’t delay though, there are only 200!