“We deserve a night of spring weather,” Professor and English department chair Suzanne Matson said on Tuesday night before a crowd of Boston-area student-poets, mentors, friends, and families assembled in Boston College’s Yawkey Center. “And we deserve a night of poetry,” she added.
With this began the 2015 Greater Boston Intercollegiate Undergraduate Poetry Festival, an event hosted by BC and sponsored by Poetry Days and Boston College Magazine. This year’s festival brought to campus students and faculty mentors from 20 different Boston-area colleges and universities for a chance to read, hear, and share original undergraduate poetry.
“We have a list of almost 30 colleges and universities in the area and we invite them all to participate,” said Dan Soyer, senior associate director of marketing for BC and one of the minds behind the planning and execution of the event since 2007. Between 20 and 25 schools have sent student poets in the past.
Though hosted annually by BC since 2006, the festival’s origins extend well into the past of the Greater Boston undergraduate poetry scene, previously rotating annually between schools before eventually dropping off, Soyer said. Soyer credits Matson with this most recent 2006 revival of the event, which gave it a permanent home at BC.
Citing the constant necessity to “reinvent the wheel” each year by changing venues as a contributing factor to the event’s temporary disappearance, Matson feels that giving it a permanent home at BC provided it with the momentum and continuity necessary to thrive once again.
“Before we picked it up again, it had been in hiatus,” Matson said. “When I got in touch with other area faculty they were really glad for us to bring it back and it went well.”
Tuesday evening’s event also included a highly regarded local poet Jill McDunough as a keynote speaker. McDonough is the author of Habeas Corpus, Oh, James!, and Where You Live, as well as a recipient of numerous grants and awards, including three Pushcart Prizes and the 2014 Lannan Fellowship for Writers.
“Don’t ask time-wasting questions like, ‘Who writes poetry?’ or, ‘Is poetry dead?’” said McDonough, an assistant professor of English at the University of Massachusetts Boston, in her preface to the event.
“You guys have already figured out how to have a rich life,” she said “You guys have already won. Everyone gets loss, but we get loss in Elizabeth Bishop’s The Art of Losing. Everyone hits middle age, but we hit it with Dante. Everyone worries about money, but we get Mary Jones’ ‘Soliloquy on an Empty Purse.’”
Following the keynote was the reading portion of the evening, which showcased the work of 20 poets in attendance. It also served as an opportunity for creative networking across the Boston literary scene.
For the mentors in attendance, seeing familiar faces as well as new ones at the end of another school year was exciting, said Matson, who described the event as an opportunity for her and others to “remember why we do this.”
“Everything else in America gets a dollar value,” McDonough said. “But poetry, like friendship, like light, is just value added. It doesn’t pay much, because it doesn’t cost you much. It gives, and it gives, and it gives.”
Featured Image by Drew Hoo / Heights Editor