Lesléa Newman ~ writer ~

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Hear a Poet, There a Poet: A Pioneer Valley Anthology

Hear a Poet, There a Poet, Everywhere a Poet, Poet! The Pioneer Valley is chock full of magnificent poets and when I was appointed poet laureate of Northampton in 2008, I decided my mission would be two-fold: to showcase the superb work of the poets in the area, and to bring poetry to people who do not ordinarily seek it out. How to accomplish this? My friend, the author Suzanne Strempek Shea, who started her writing career as a reporter for the Springfield Republican said, “What about publishing poetry in the newspaper?” A brilliant idea, and I had brilliant predecessors to emulate. Robert Hass, poet laureate of the United States from 1995-1997 created a newspaper column for the Washington Post called "The Poet’s Choice" and Ted Kooser, poet laureate of the United States from 2004-2006 edited a column called “American Life in Poetry” which ran in more than seventy newspapers across the country. Armed with these facts and an excerpt from "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower” by William Carlos Williams, which reads, "It is difficult/to get the news from poems/ yet men die miserably every day/for lack/of what is there" I approached publisher Jim Foudy and arts editor Phoebe Mitchell to propose running a poetry column in the Daily Hampshire Gazette. They thought it was a wonderful idea, and so in April 2008, to kick off National Poetry Month, "Hear a Poet, There a Poet" made its debut.

The column was met with great enthusiasm. Almost immediately, people began stopping me in the supermarket to tell me how much they enjoyed the column, and looked forward to reading it every other week. (My favorite poet laureate moment also occurred in the supermarket, when a little boy whose school I had visited saw me in the vegetable aisle and cried out, "Look Mom! There’s the poet laureate. She’s in charge of all the poetry in the whole city!") The poets received much-deserved praise, and several told me that being published in their hometown newspaper was one of the highlights of their careers.

When my two-year term as poet laureate ended, "Hear a Poet, There a Poet" ended with it. But, with the help of a generous grant from the Northampton Arts Council, and generous donations from Wohl Family Dentistry and the Poetry Center at Smith College, I was able to compile the poems that appeared in the column into this humble little volume. In addition to being grateful to them, I thank publisher Jim Foudy, and arts editors Phoebe Mitchell and Kathy Mellen who were all a pleasure to work with; Sondra Peron of the Northampton Arts Council whose support was crucial to carrying out my poet laureate duties; Ellen LaFleche who has an incredibly sharp and unwavering proofreader’s eye; and of course, all the poets who so graciously agreed to having their poems appear both in the newspaper and in this collection. Lastly, I especially thank Mary Newman Vazquez for granting permission for her charming photo, taken on the 2008 Forbes Library Northampton Garden Tour, to grace the cover of this book.

To honor the words of poet Audre Lorde who so famously stated in her book of essays and speeches Sister Outsider, "Poetry is not a luxury" and poet Mary Oliver who echoed that sentiment in her writing guide, A Poetry Handbook, by saying, "Poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry," a portion of the proceeds of Hear a Poet, There a Poet will be donated to the Northampton Survival Center.

May the poems you hold in your hand feed your heart, nourish your soul, renew your spirit, and inspire you to write poems of your own. Enjoy!

© 2010 Lesléa Newman


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