Salem State Alum M.P. Carver served as the Festival Director for the 2021 Mass Poetry Festival! The festival took place virtually from May 13-16 in Salem.
The festival was founded in 2008 in Lowell by Mark Ansara who was the executive director at the time, and was then moved to Salem in 2011. The festival found a wonderful home in Salem with the enthusiasm of the city to host the event and share space, which allowed for proposals of events from the community to exist alongside the festival events. Carver feels the event has been so loved because the unique collaboration between the city and the festival, allows so many people to participate.
Carver first visited the festival in 2011, by chance, when she happened to see a banner during a visit to Salem. She took the weekend off to attend the event, and described the experience as “magical.” She says she felt so welcomed by the community of writer’s in Salem, and became instantly hooked.
Carver returned the next year and began volunteering for the event, eventually running the small press fair at the festival from 2014-2018. It was there that she also met January O’Neil (Professor of English at SSU) who was festival director at the time, and J.D. Scrimgeour (SSU English Department Chair) and became interested in the Salem State writing community.
From 2014-2017 Carver attended the MA in English at SSU, and then, as she puts it, “never left.” Carver has been teaching creative writing, digital writing and a number of other courses at SSU since 2017. Currently Carver is teaching a digital writing class and a festival course, with four students, that allows students to be involved in the process of preparing for the festival, and learn the behind the scenes of working for a non-profit. The class is one of two special courses at SSU in collaboration with the festival, the second a Poetry Performance class with Professor Crystal Valentine.
The festival took a brief hiatus in 2018 to regroup and work towards a sustainable future, and now they are back in Salem, bigger and better than ever. While the decision to return was made before the complications of the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, the festival still surged ahead, and while a virtual format does create some limitations, Carver was optimistic about the opportunities that came with hosting the event virtually. “This allows us to bring together poets from all across the state, and from everywhere, California, New York. It’s great.”
The festival had more than 50 events including: Poetry and Pets, Ice Cream and Poetry, a Youth Poet Laureate Reading, and “Moving Words” a poetry and dance event featuring SSU Faculty and Alumni organized by Meghan McLyman and Betsy Miller from the music and dance department, and J.D. Scrimgeour, English department chair.
But not every event was virtual. There was also a Salem Poetry Walk organized by SSU Student Meghan Miraglia. A partnership between the festival, the English Honors Society, and the City of Salem, this self-guided tour route downtown featured poems from dozens of local poets and festival headliners displayed in local spaces.
And the festival featured over 100 poets. The headlining poets include: Naomi Shihab Nye, Tyehimba Jess, Khadijah Queen, Martín Espada, Lang Leav, Dara Wier, Victoria Chang, Patricia Spears Jones, and Ariana Reines.
Carver says she is so impressed by the support not only of the city of Salem for the event, and their willingness to host, but also to Salem State for their generous support and involvement in the festival. For more information about schedules, events, or ways to join in, check out: https://festival.masspoetry.org