Shining the Spotlight on Poetry in 2021

During the presidential inauguration on January 20, art was integral to the ceremony. But although the musical contributions of Lady Gaga, JLo, and Garth Brooks were notable, it was youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman’s recitation of “The Hill We Climb” that took center stage. 

Poets are an essential part of the national and local artistic environment. We encourage you to take your curiosity or inspiration following this singular event to the next level by learning more about the poetry scene right here in Greater Boston.

A Lyrical Start to 2021

Poetry is everywhere — the expressive form of writing can be an exhalation, a call to action, a protest, and a celebration all at once, as Gorman’s words demonstrated. Her poem and “Inaugural” by 2020 Pulitzer Prize winner Jericho Brown were widely shared on social media during the days that followed the ceremony at the nation’s capital.

Their work shows that hearing an illuminating poem that weaves truth with artistry can make things click. A poem can feel like hearing one’s own thoughts clearly for the first time, or truly feeling the depth of one’s own life experiences, or like reaching through a full spectrum of thoughts and emotions in search of a clear vision, as shown in this excerpt from Brown’s piece:

We imagine, in time

Of disease, our grandmothers
Whole. We imagine an impossible
America and call one another
A fool for doing so. Grown up from the ground,

Thrown out of the sea, fallen from the sky,
No matter how we’ve come, we’ve come a mighty
Long way. If I touch any of you, if I
Shake one hand, I am nearer another

Beginning. Can’t you feel it?

2020 was a year of immense challenges, and as virtual and socially-distant life continues, there is a lot of value in taking a moment to absorb and process through this art form.

Engage with Local Poets

Boston is lucky to be home to a community of skilled and prescient writers, and there are many ways to get to know them and stay connected with their work. This year, the City of Boston has been hosting HOME: a poetry reading, open mic, and workshop series led by Boston Poet Laureate Porsha Olayiwola. On the first Friday of every month, join Olayiwola and more local writers to hear poems that seek to address the theme of home: what is home, literally and figuratively, who is lacking home, and what is a home to us during a pandemic? The series includes a Saturday workshop for writers looking to develop their craft.

Also on a local scale, Mass Poetry does a ton to support poets and poetry in Massachusetts, including a virtual reading series, and sponsoring the annual Mass Poetry Festival. Stone Soup Poetry has been hosting virtual readings during the pandemic, featuring local poet after local poet and beyond For more open-mic experiences, Untitled Open-Mic has also been hosting virtual sessions, and keep an eye out for when Boston Poetry Slam resumes as COVID-19 subsides!

Porsha Olayiwola

Support your Public Library

Before her path took her to Harvard and then to the inauguration, Gorman honed her skills and artistry through the Los Angeles Public Library’s Central Library, becoming the city’s youth poet laureate at the age of 16. Supporting and making use of public libraries everywhere is a direct way to bolster the vibrance of the art form and get exposed to new perspectives and forms of expression. Just this past April, the Boston Public Library curated a list of poetry audiobooks and e-books for National Poetry Month, and they continue to be an outstanding resource for finding the right collection or volume of words you want to visit. Visit your local branch’s website to find out what they’re offering, or for an even greater adventure, head over to the Library of Congress to explore countless poetic voices.

Take a Class

Writing poetry can seem like a daunting experience — it’s just you and a blank page. If you’re curious about finding out what kinds of poems may be inside you, or about strengthening a developing voice, taking a class is a great place to begin. Local writing organization Grub Street offers a seemingly endless list of writing classes and seminars, and their roster of poetry offerings are sought-after to the point of quickly filling up! If you’re not ready or interested in taking a class, supporting them is the perfect way to cultivate the literary landscape of Greater Boston.

Grub Street | Photo: Allana Taranto/Ars Magna Studio

Poetry Online

To connect with poets from all across the state and read selections of their work, we point you again towards Mass Poetry. They do an incredible job introducing readers and poetry lovers to local poet laureates from cities all across Massachusetts. On a more national and global scale, The Poetry Foundation is a go-to resource for reading all kinds of poetry and prose online, from a large scale of writers, classic and contemporary. To stay involved in America’s ever-changing poetry landscape, connect with the Poetry Society of America, which seeks to build a larger audience for poetry across the nation.

And finally, podcasts are another great way to digest poetry. This list of the top podcasts for poetry in 2020 is one great place to start if you’re looking to absorb the words and the messages behind them on-the-go, or while doing tasks at home.

Header photo: Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Elena Pearl, Patron Services ManagerElena Morris (she/her/hers) is ArtsBoston’s Community Outreach and Marketing Manager. She is a dramaturg and arts administrator passionate about forward-thinking in the arts. Elena holds a BFA in Theatre Arts from Boston University, focusing her studies on dramatic literature and movement.
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