The Hippo


May 28, 2020








Poet Joshua Mehigan reads at the Frost Farm as part of the Hyla Brook Reading Series. Courtesy photo.

New Hampshire Poetry organizations

Poetry Society of New Hampshire,, third Thursday of month at 7 p.m. at Gibson’s Bookstore, Concord
Hyla Brook Poets, Derry,, hyla.html,, May through September, workshops are second Thursday of the month at Robert Frost Farm
Slam Free or Die,, meets Thursdays at 7 p.m. at Milly’s Manchester (events start at 8)
Autumn Oracles, meets some Sundays in the fall at 3 p.m., at Del Rossi’s Trattoria, Dublin,; in the spring they call themselves Writes of Spring
New Hampshire Writers Project,
Poets in the Attic, meets fourth Thursday of the month at 7 p.m., The Country Bookseller, Wolfeboro
Down Cellar Poets’ Workshop, meets first Monday of the month at Chichester Library
The Poetry Hoot, meets at Cafe Espresso, Portsmouth,, first Wednesday of the month
• Serenity Poets, meets the third Monday of the month at 6:30 p.m. at Serenity Market and Cafe, Rye
Eagle Pond Authors’ Series occasional Thursdays at 7 p.m., Silver Center for the Arts, Plymouth
First Friday Coffeehouse, first Friday of the month at 7 p.m., First Unitarian Universalist Society of Exeter,
Moultonborough Evening of Poetry, first Tuesday of the month, 7:30 p.m., Moultonborough Public Library
Poetry at Water Street, second Wednesday of the month at 6:30 p.m., Water Street Bookstore
Rochester Writers’ Night, first Thursday at 6 p.m., at Crazy Crepes in Rochester,
Q&A with Dessaline Etienne
This year’s Poetry Out Loud state champion is Dessaline Etienne, a senior at Goffstown High School. At the state final championship March 13, he recited “Weighing In,” by Rhina P. Espaillat; “The Man with the Hoe,” by Edwin Markham; and “The Blues Don’t Change,” by Al Young. At the time of our phone call, he was readying himself for the national championship in D.C. April 28 and April 29. He took a few minutes of his time to talk with the Hippo about POL and poetry amongst young people.
Have you participated with Poetry Out Loud before?
My first year was my sophomore year. My teacher really pushed me to do it, even though I didn’t want to. … Then it was kind of like a roller coaster. I won my school competition, won regionals, but didn’t place in the top four at states. I came back last year, won the school competition again, won regionals and came in second.
What did you do differently this year?
I put in the most amount of work I could. I tried to relate to the poems. I found there’s a clear distinction between reciting the poem and becoming the poem. You can recite a poem over and over again, but if you aren’t within the poem — not to sound cheesy — but if you don’t completely understand the poem, you won’t have that edge.
Why did you want to participate in POL again?
Poetry Out Loud has opened many doors for me. And I was always into poetry. I used to write poems when I was little. I’d give them to my friends and my teachers. … I loved [poetry] before, but being in a world where everybody loves poetry … it really engulfs you in a major way. … I like the way someone can write a poem and know exactly what [he’s] trying to say in that poem, but then you can have other people read it and they get a different meaning. … You can put your life on a piece of paper and have a million different people looking at it differently.
Are you excited about the POL national competition?
I’m so excited. … Even if I don’t place — I mean, obviously everyone wants to win. Just going will be absolutely ridiculous, meeting a whole bunch of kids who are into what you’re into. I can’t wait.
Do you think there are a lot of young people around New Hampshire into poetry?
I think it’s not as big with kids, especially in high school. … Though this competition definitely opens doors for kids to be able to say, ‘Hey, I might be interested in doing this. Let me try to pursue it.’
Who are your favorite poets?
When I was growing up, I loved reading Shel Silverstein. … I also really like the poem “Oreo” by Tucker Bryant. I saw him on Button Poetry on YouTube. It’s so powerful. … One of my best friends is really into [Slam Free or Die]. I’ve been a couple times to watch. … If somebody has never seen slam poetry, they have to see it one time in their life. I’ve never met a group of people so accepting … You can get up there and stutter over every word and deliver a haiku, and they will stand up and give you a standing ovation.
Two new poetry festivals
Poetry at the Frost Farm: Writing in Meter and Form
Where: Robert Frost Farm, 122 Rockingham Road, Derry
When: Friday, June 12, through Sunday, June 14
What: Presented by the Trustees of Robert Frost Farm and the Hyla Brook Poets, the brand-new event is dedicated to writing in form and meter, with intense instruction by award-winning poets A.M. Juster, Deborah Warren, Joshua Mehigan and Alfred Nicol. 
Contact: Slots are extremely limited, include food and cost $260; visit, email
• New Hampshire Poetry Festival
Where: New Hampshire Institute of Art, Manchester
When: Saturday, Sept. 19, from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m.
What: There will be workshops, panels and readings; PSNH is currently looking for panel/reading proposals, with more information at Proposals should be emailed to by May 15.
Admission: $125 for Poetry Society of New Hampshire nonmembers, $100 for members, or $110 for admission plus PSNH membership
National Poetry Month events
Gibson’s Bookstore: 45 S. Main St., Concord; Charles Simic talks about his two new books Wednesday, April 15, at 7 p.m.; Poetry Society of New Hampshire features Melissa Balmain and Alfred Nicol on Thursday, April 23, at 7 p.m. (open mike follows readings); 
Water Street Bookstore: 125 Water St., Exeter; Charles Simic talks about new books Thursday, April 23, at 7 p.m.
RiverRun Bookstore: Alice Fogel talks about new book, Interval: Poems Based on Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” Wednesday, April 15, at 6:30 p.m.
Toadstool Bookshop, Peterborough: 12 Depot Square, Peterborough,, 924-3543; Alice Fogel talks about new book Saturday, April 18, at 1 p.m.
Slam Free or Die, Milly’s Tavern: 500 N. Commercial St., Manchester, meets every Thursday, doors open at 7 p.m., events begin at 8 p.m.; Upcoming featured poets include Mike McGee Thursday, April 16; Danez Smith Thursday, April 23; John Mortara Thursday, April 30
Library events: Various libraries across the state are holding poetry events to celebrate National Poetry month; call or visit yours to see how it’s participating.

Poetry can be...
Loud, hilarious, edgy and even a fun night out... No really.

By Kelly Sennott

Poetry. Blech. 

If this is your immediate reaction, you are not alone. And while New Hampshire’s poetry people don’t agree with you, they do understand.
Manchester’s Slam Free or Die works hard to overcome this stigma by holding erotica poetry slams, regular writing workshops and a variety of tournaments, one of which is called NUTS (Northeast Underground Tournament Slam). It also challenges adversity with the slogan “Punching boring poetry in the mouth since 2007.”
Current New Hampshire Poet Laureate Alice Fogel calls this “blech” phenomenon Poem Traumatic Stress Disorder. These frustrated readers, she says, see the medium as a series of encoded messages only a certain kind of person can crack, causing highly functional people, even those who love to read, to “squirm with a sense of inadequacy, burst into sheer belligerence, or quietly avoid it like the plague, especially in public,” as she writes in Strange Terrain: A Poetry Handbook for the Reluctant Reader.
This perception is a problem because it prevents people from giving poetry a try.
And there are numerous ways to experience it. Traditional poetry runs deep in New Hampshire, but it’s also scattered in many directions and genres, from Poetry Out Loud amongst high schoolers to SFOD among 20- and 30-somethings. One New Hampshire poet has created a workshop for people whose lives have been impacted by cancer. Another has built a scene at the Robert Frost Farm, and another has performed poetry at rock concerts.
In honor of National Poetry Month, we’ve talked with some of these major New Hampshire players about their efforts to get people to hear, read, write and experience more poetry, whatever form it may take. 
Creating a center
One of the struggles with poetry in New Hampshire is the disconnect between organizations — in the opinion of Poetry Society of New Hampshire vice president (and poet) Jennifer Militello, anyway. It’s one of the reasons she’s spearheading the first-ever New Hampshire Poetry Festival at the New Hampshire Institute of Art this September. 
“I’ve been thinking the state needed something like this for years. The minute I got on the [PSNH] board two years ago, I started talking about this as something that needs to happen,” Militello said via phone. “New Hampshire is a poetry-strong state. We have a lot of great poets, and we have a great history of poets, but we don’t have a centralized way to celebrate poetry yet. … I hope the poetry festival will allow for the scene to become more consolidated and congealed.”
PSNH is working to strengthen the scene in other ways. Led by current president Don Kimball, the 250-member nonprofit has been around since the ’60s and brings together poets of all ages and styles. It promotes through book publications, a quarterly magazine, open mikes, workshops and contests, and it assists the governor in selecting the New Hampshire Poet Laureate. 
“We’re trying to kind of step up our image,” said Kimball during an interview at the Gibson’s Bookstore cafe, where the PSNH hosts monthly readings.
One way the group is doing this is by inducting new blood. In addition to Militello, the organization has added SFOD Slammaster Mark Palos to the board, and it has partnered with numerous other groups; members have been on judging panels for Poetry Out Loud, and PSNH co-produced SFOD’s event, NUTS, last fall.
SFOD, too, has been making efforts to build partnerships, from hosting monthly shows at the New England College Concord campus to presenting workshops through the New Hampshire Writers’ Project. SFOD core member Mckendy Fils-Aime was also a resident poet with the Arts Alliance of Northern New Hampshire last year.
“There are a lot of ways in which Slam Free or Die is this self-contained community. A lot of people at Slam Free or Die are not aware of what the Poetry Society of New Hampshire does, and [PSNH] also doesn’t get exposed to a lot of what we do, but that doesn’t mean we can’t contribute,” Palos said. “When I was approached about joining the board, I jumped at the chance. There was this whole community of poets we weren’t really connecting with.”
Another issue with people’s perception of poetry is how it used to be taught — or, in some places, how it’s still taught.
“I think my teachers meant well, but when they presented us with a poem, they had us trying to find a meaning in it instead of letting us experience it, the music of it,” Kimball said. “It was one of those things that was laid on you and that’s it.”
It’s part of why PSNH was gung-ho in nominating Alice Fogel as poet laureate in 2013. Fogel (who was unavailable for an interview) had been teaching workshops about how to experience the art form in a way that appeals to your senses.
“I was on the committee that helped select Alice Fogel,” Kimball said. “I took one of her reading workshops. … It was two and a half hours, and it went by faster than you’d think.”
In Fogel’s workshops (which mirror her book Strange Terrain), she asks, how does this poem sound? Does it provide a metaphor? What’s the shape of the poem? Is there meter? Rhyme? Does it make you see things that aren’t there? How do you feel when you read it? What does it make you think of? The aim is to demystify the elements of poetry and make it more approachable.
“It’s OK if you don’t understand everything in a poem because it’s not there for you to ‘get.’ It’s an experience,” Fogel said during an interview with the Hippo last year. 
Poetry Out Loud, a national recitation competition for high schoolers, celebrated its 10th year in New Hampshire this year. It too has helped demystify the art form by getting kids to work with, memorize and recite world-famous works.
When in doubt, Fils-Aime finds kids respond to workshops that incorporate popular music, silly words, cartoon characters and performance. During his residence with the Arts Alliance of Northern New Hampshire last year, he facilitated and/or performed in about 40 events. When he went to perform at the end of one visit, the kids, ages 12 to 17, shouted and cheered like it was a pep rally.
“I walked out there and all these kids who normally would be itching to go home — it was the last period of the day — were hooting and hollering for me,” Fils-Aime said. “I think there were parts of the lesson plan that defied their expectations. It helped change their perspectives of what poetry can be.”
Legendary locals
New Hampshire is the home of five United States poet laureates: Robert Frost (1958-1959), Richard Eberhart (1959-1961), Maxine Kumin (1981-1982), Donald Hall (2006-2007) and Charles Simic (2007-2008). It also has two Frost-made famous historical places (the Robert Frost Farm in Derry and Frost Place in Franconia), both of which host poetry programs, seminars, conferences, workshops and readings.
The Derry group that meets at the farm calls itself the Hyla Brook Poets, named after the body of water that passes through the grounds. Bob Crawford started it about five years ago, and it meets the third Thursday of the month for a workshop and the third Saturday for a reading during summer months. Workshops are in the house, on the grounds under a tree or right at Frost’s kitchen table. Readings are in the barn.
“We have featured poets from all over the state here,” Crawford said, gesturing to the barn during an interview at the farm, snow still covering the ground. “We’ve had Galway Kinnell, Maxine Kumin and Sharon Olds read here.”
It’s no Patriots game, he joked, but the crowds are substantial for poetry readings, each of which ends with an open mike. Crawford finds the location inspiring, both because of its legacy, but also because he’s inspired by the same things Frost was inspired by when he was here.
“There’s a piece of Derry in all the poetry he ever wrote,” Crawford said. “This is where his images, the landscapes of New England came from.”
The organization holds an annual contest, the Frost Farm Prize for metrical poetry, and this year, it hosts its first-ever multi-day conference in June, which will be an intimate event with intense instruction by award-winning poets.
Kyle Potvin, poet and former NHPS president, says one of the best things about the New Hampshire poetry scene is its variety. Potvin, in addition to her roles at the NHPS (she’s now secretary) and Hyla Brook Poets (of which she’s a member), is co-founder of the Prickly Pear Poetry Project, a workshop for people affected by cancer. (Potvin is a cancer survivor, and the name comes from a poem she wrote about the simultaneous regrowth of her own hair and the sprouting of prickly pear cactus seeds on her son’s plant.) She and co-founder Tammi Truax find reading and writing cancer-related poetry cathartic, and they find it helps process the cancer experience.
“When you’re going through an illness like cancer, for me, poetry was a great distraction. I could channel everything into that and focus on creating a good poem, which takes work and focus,” Potvin said. 
New Hampshire poets have written about grief (a group recently released The Widows’ Handbook: Poetic Reflections on Grief and Survival) and aging (PSNH’s new anthology You Must Remember This: Poems About Aging and Memory) and war (another PSNH anthology about conflict, war and peace, The Other Side of Sorrow). 
“I really think there’s something for everyone when it comes to New Hampshire poetry. … It’s such a thriving community,” Potvin said. “Practically on every day of the week, there’s an event related to poetry. And there are so many talented poets who live and work here.” 
As seen in the April 9, 2015 issue of the Hippo.

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