On the weekend of Sept. 10-11, a brave and poetic contingent of the Irish American Writers & Artists ventured across the wild and mighty New York Harbor on a five-minute ferry ride to a magical place called Governors Island. We were on course to set our table of welcomes down among the thousands of poets and poetry lovers who came to take part in the 11th annual New York City Poetry Festival. We were hopeful, we were excited, and we were not disappointed.
The festival website description begins like this:
“Every summer The New York City Poetry Festival invites poetry organizations and collectives of all shapes and sizes to bring their unique formats, aesthetics and personalities to the festival grounds which are ringed with a collection of beautiful Victorian houses and tucked beneath the wide, green canopies of dozens of century old trees…”
It reminded me of a night seven years or so years ago, when I wandered, somehow, into an IAW&A salon as a lost and forlorn new writer in New York City, and heard the following words by someone whom I have grown to call a friend, Larry Kirwan (the recipient of our Eugene O’Neill Lifetime Achievement Award next month):
“We'll always have celebrities who read here but it's even more important that we have the carpenter from The Bronx, the homemaker from Staten Island, the nurse from Queens, and the laborer from Brooklyn, because you never know where the next Sean O'Casey or Edna O'Brien is coming from. We come together to support, encourage and inspire each other, we are artists together here."
And we were artists together at the festival last weekend.
Who knew New York City had so many poets?
It was the kind of day where you wish you could just be in about 50 places at one time, each table of poets and poetry organizations I visited and each bit of poetry I heard, inspired me more and more.
As a grand finale, we had five of our most stellar poets light up the rain-streaked skies with their breathless works of poetry to an enchanted crowd of listeners. I have never felt so proud.
Jenifer Kelly setting down the IAW&A table of welcomes.
First up was Marcia Loughran who read “Roadside Stand” a fitting poem about rebelling against the end of summer, and a mini essay called “Taxis for Peace” which can be found in her latest chapbook, “Songs from the Back-in-the-Back.” An award-winning poet, her books are available at https://marciabloughran.com/
Maureen Hossbacher read a timely and moving poem “Picture a Young Latina” from her chapbook “Lesser Known Saints” (Finishing Line Press 2018) about a former student lost in the tragedy of 9/11. She followed it with two new poems, “The Deer Path” and “Men in Black,” ending on a note of wry humor.
Next was poet and photographer Margaret McCarthy reading her poems “The Tangible Illumination of Summer” — a stirring love poem to the natural world told from a New York City apt window, and “Photography” poetically capturing a physicality of the art itself. Both poems are from her chapbook “Notebooks from Mystery School” (Finishing Line Press) available at www.notebooksfrommysteryschool.com
Bernadette Cullen followed with three transformative poems, “The Night the Trees Bled Out,” a foreboding environmental poem, “When Skies Were Blue Before Light Leaked Through,” and ending with an uplifting sensory poem entitled Coda.
Festival attendees listening to poetry.
Mike Veve, a poet and New York City high school teacher, ended with his riveting spoken-word poem “Bird Song or Siren” addressing the life of a teacher in 2020 whose students lay beyond the computer screen’s edge and whose fears he felt powerless to quell. Mike dedicated the poem to his student’s parents who were front line workers, to friends he lost during covid, to everyone at the festival and to the poet and artist in all of us.
On the ferry ride home, we were all in awe of a weekend where we, with the help of our fearless volunteers, got to share with so many artists, writers and poets exactly what we do at the IAW&A. What do we do? We inspire, support and encourage each other to create and bring our own unique light to the world. How do we do it? Through salons, networking, galas, small group events, book launches and more. Personally, I was able to get the first draft of a play into the finals of the Eugene O’Neill Playwriting Conference in 2017, inspired solely by a table read produced by our now president, Maria Deasy. Irish American Writers & Artists has a place for everyone, and we look forward to welcoming you home. For more information visit our website: https://iamwa.org/
Jenifer Kelly is a playwright, poet and member of the IAW&A.