Amherst Poetry Festival

September 20-23, 2018

The Amherst Poetry Festival returns for a sixth year, celebrating the literary legacy and contemporary creativity of the Pioneer Valley and beyond.

Organized by the Emily Dickinson Museum, and funded in part by the Mass Cultural Council and Amherst Business Improvement District. This year's festival partners include Mass Poetry, the Jones Library,  Umass Amherst, Amherst College, Hope & Feathers and other local businesses and organizations.

Please note: Admission to all festival events is open to the public by suggested donation, unless otherwise noted here. Donations to the Festival are encouraged, and 2018 Festival buttons are available at all events for an optional one-time donation of $15/person.

Interested in Volunteering? SIGN-UP HERE!



Festival Schedule:


THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 20:Festival kicks off at the Amherst Block Party
6:45PM Doughnuts and Death: A Baker's Dozen of Emily Dickinson's Most Depressing Poems at West Cemetery

This 45-minute journey to Emily Dickinson's grave combines Dickinson's poetry, the history behind her work, and stories about others buried in West Cemetery. Doughnuts and Death will begin at the gate to the cemetery accessed by walking down the alley to the left of the Toy Box toy store at 201 North Pleasant Street. As the program begins, each participant receives a gingerbread doughnut.

8:30-10PM  Festival Screening with director Madeline Olnek: 'Wild Nights  with Emily' in Emily Dickinson's garden

Fresh from its SXSW premiere, the Amherst Poetry Festival is pleased to present the dramatic comedy Wild Nights With Emily about the life of Emily Dickinson. IndieWire called Molly Shannon's portrayal of Emily Dickinson "Brilliant," saying the film, "Could forever change the narrative of the world's most famous woman poet." Bring your picnic blankets, camp chairs, and snacks for this lawn screening that runs 84 minutes. Please note: Alcohol is prohibited. Join Jane Wald, executive director of the Dickinson Museum, in a Q&A after with Filmmaker Madeleine Olnek, at this exciting OUTDOOR screening on the lawn at Dickinson’s home!  Find out more about the film by clicking here. Reservations for the film are not required. To reserve a space in advance click here.

Workshops at Amherst High School (open only to students at Amherst High School)

"I'm Talking to You: Writing into the Void" with Adam Grabowski

Some people are untouchable in this world—celebrities, certain…um…noted politicians—and yet we still feel a direct connection to them.  They may even play a significant role in our daily lives and never know it.  That doesn't mean we don't get to write them poems, even if we’re merely shouting into the void. But what do those poems sound like?  What do they reveal about ourselves?  Taking Nicole Sealey’s “an apology for trashing magazines in which you appear” as our inspiration, let’s spend this workshop a writing poem to someone (or something) you know will never hear it.  Special thanks to Straw Dog Writers Guild  for this Festival event.

About the facilitator: Adam Grabowski’s poetry has appeared in Off the CoastBeech St. Review, jubilat, Drunk in a Midnight ChoirThe Naugatuck River Review, Black NapkinDMQ Review,, The Wilderness House Literary Review, Radius, Meat for Tea, and elsewhere.  He received his MSW from Westfield State University in 2012 and is currently an MFA in Writing candidate at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Adam teaches poetry at the Pioneer Valley Writers’ Workshop and is a regional rep. for

12-2PM Emily Dickinson Poetry Discussion Group with Professor Chris Benfey, at the Center for Humanistic Inquiry 

This month, our discussion will take its inspiration from Dickinson's 1879 exchange with her Amherst childhood friend Helen Hunt Jackson. Jackson was much taken with Dickinson's bird poems, and suggested Dickinson try her hand at the oriole. Dickinson obliged with "One of the ones that Midas touched," and added, for good measure, her famous riddle poem "A route of evanescence." We will explore the themes and strategies of some of Dickinson's bird poems ("To hear an oriole sing," for example), with the discussion opening out on such topics as Dickinson and the tropics and Dickinson's riddle poems. To learn more about our monthly discussion click here.  Please note: There is a  participation fee for this program of $15, but no advance reservations are required.

About the facilitator: Christopher Benfey is Andrew W. Mellon Professor of English at Mount Holyoke. He is a frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books and the The New York Times Book Review. He has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities. He is the author of four books about the American Gilded Age, including A Summer of Hummingbirds: Love, Art, and Scandal in the Intersecting Worlds of Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Martin Johnson Heade, which won the 2009 Christian Gauss Award of Phi Beta Kappa. Benfey was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2012.


5-6:30PM We grow Accustomed to the Dark exhibit, reading and live performance at the Herter Gallery at UMass Amherst.

We grow Accustomed to the Dark investigates the role of identity in the current political climate by probing the connection between poetry and visual art. 11 visual artists and 4 poets draw on deeply rooted personal experiences to address the complexities of identity politics, class, gender, education and (de)industrialization. Each piece is paired with poetry, a powerful combination that transforms both mediums, bringing a new range and rhythm to the gallery. At its heart, the exhibit asks the important question: how can a dialogue between visual art and poetry enrich creativity and stimulate a conversation about contemporary political affairs? Featured poets: Leslie Edwards Davis, Mia Kang, Nathalie Vicencio and Sarah Sousa read alongside contemporary artworks curated by Omid Shekari. Exhibited artists: Amanda Boggs, Kathryn Fanelli, Kelsi Giguere, Francis Greenleaf, Althea Keaton, Nikki Maloof, Bibiana Medkova, Kenneth Murphy, Xuan Pham, Kelly Popoff, and Margaret Wilson

8PM Poetry in the Planetarium with The Astro Poets at Bassett PlanetariumSpace is very limited and advance reservations are strongly recommended.

***This program is fully reserved. to join a waitlist please email***

About The Astro Poets: Dorothea Lasky and Alex Dimitrov began publishing under their Twitter account @PoetAstrologers shortly after Donald Trump was elected in 2016. Since then, the New York-based poets have attracted more than 370,000 followers, write a monthly column in W magazine, and have a book coming out in the fall. Together, the pair mix  humor and pop culture references with moments of sincerity about the sun and the stars. They are known for their horoscopes, posted every Sunday, awell as their recurring “series” features. Don't forget to reserve your space!


6AM-9PM The Emily Dickinson Museum and Mass Poetry present the Emily Dickinson Poetry Marathon, a one-day reading of all 1,789 of Dickinson’s poems at the Emily Dickinson Museum. To find out more about the Marathon click here.
9AM-5PM Amherst Poetry Festival Downtown Story Walk! Daniel Finds a Poem by Micha Archer

What is poetry? If you look and listen, it’s all around you! Join Daniel and his animal friends on their way to discovering a poem of his own. The walk begins at the Jones Library and ends at the Emily Dickinson Museum and is available all day as a self-guided story walk.

10:30AM Poetry Reading at the Jones Library 

Join us at the Jones Library for a reading by area poets, featuring: Eliza GouverneurMark Hart, and Jennifer Wallace.  To find out more  click here.

1:30PM-3PM  Writing with Miss Emily: A poetry writing workshop for adults and kids, facilitated by author Burleigh Muten, in Emily Dickinson's garden

In this workshop for all ages, led by children's author and Emily Dickinson Museum tour guide Burleigh Muten, participants will experience Emily Dickinson's world from a writer's point of view. Participants are encouraged to bring a notebook and writing implements. No advance registration required!



2:30PM Ghosts and Demons: A POETRY MASTERCLASS with Shayla Lawson and Dorothea Lasky  at the PowerHouse

The Astro Poets' Dorothea Lasky and Amherst College Writer-In-Residence Shayla Lawson will share their approaches to poetry, facilitate writing prompts, and provide tips for participants to build their own skills. No reservations required. Please note: Parking is available in the Amherst College O'Connell Lot on Dickinson Street, about a two minute walk from the Power House. For a map showing the parking and the PowerHouse please click here.


5:30PM The NoNo Project, a collaboration of Union Street Records and Attack Bear Press at Hope and Feathers 

 Head to Hope and Feathers Framing just across the street from the Emily Dickinson Museum for a performance of music and poetry by the NoNo Project, a Typewriter Popup, and a Poems-on-Demand station. Featured poets include Alexandra Woolner, Adam Grabowski, Stephen Kamienski, Max Goldstein, and more! Don't forget to stop in and see works in the gallery by artists Sue and Natalie Kassirer. Grab your dinner from La Mesa Food Truck  on site!

8PM Shayla Lawson  and Ocean Vuong  and  the Latenight Garden Party in Emily Dickinson’s garden. 

After the headliners, stick around to celebrate the Poetry Festival with food, drink, music, and a tasting by Amherst Brewing Company!



About Shayla Lawson: Shayla Lawson is the author of the recently-released I Think I’m Ready to See Frank Ocean, A Speed Education in Human Being, the chapbook PANTONE and the forthcoming essay collection Live Tonight, Ms. Diana Ross (Harper Perennial, 2020). Her work has appeared in This is Africa, ESPN, Tin House and Guernica. She is a MacDowell Colony and Yaddo Artist Colony Fellow, as well as a member of The Affrilachian Poets and co-founder of The Tenderness Project with poet Ross Gay. She currently serves as Writer-in-Residence and Director of Creative Writing at Amherst College. Find out more here:



About Ocean Vuong: 
Ocean Vuong is the author of the debut novel, On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous (Penguin, 2019). He is also the author of the critically acclaimed poetry collection, Night Sky with Exit Wounds, a New York Times Top 10 Book of 2016, winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize, the Whiting Award, the Thom Gunn Award, and the Forward Prize for Best First Collection. A Ruth Lilly fellow from the Poetry Foundation, his honors include fellowships from the Lannan Foundation, the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, The Elizabeth George Foundation, The Academy of American Poets, and the Pushcart Prize.Vuong's writings have been featured in The Atlantic, Harpers, The Nation, New Republic, The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Village Voice, and American Poetry Review, which awarded him the Stanley Kunitz Prize for Younger Poets. Selected by Foreign Policy magazine as a 2016 100 Leading Global Thinker, alongside Hillary Clinton, Ban Ki-Moon and Justin Trudeau, Ocean was also named by BuzzFeed Books as one of “32 Essential Asian American Writers” and has been profiled on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” PBS NewsHour, Teen Vogue, VICE, The Fantastic Man, and The New Yorker. Born in Saigon, Vietnam, he lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, where he serves as an Assistant Professor in the MFA Program for Poets and Writers at UMass-Amherst. Find out more here:

9PM Latenight Garden Party at the Emily Dickinson Museum featuring Kimaya Diggs

About Kimaya Diggs: With influences spanning many genres, Kimaya Diggs melds the folky acrobatics of Joni Mitchell, the jazz stylings of Ella Fitzgerald, the catchy soul of Lianne LaHavas, and yet has something you can't quite put your finger on that makes her entirely unique. Her mastery of her voice is the focal point of each performance, and a transfixing experience. Her debut album, Breastfed, is a chronicle of bittersweet growing pains, expansive and generous. Whether roaring along with reckless urgency or irreverently recounting painful memories, Breastfed wrangles the growing-up narrative in a boldfaced, darkly humorous way.



3PM-4:30PM  jubilat/Jones reading with  Ellen Doré Watson and Rafael Campo at Jones Library  

Each year the jubilat/Jones Reading series holds six readings at Amherst's Jones Library. Readings are followed by a question and answer session during which visitors can talk with the poets. All readings are free and open to the public. 

About Rafael CampoDr. Campo teaches and practices medicine at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.  Author of eight highly acclaimed books, he is the recipient of many honors and awards, including a Guggenheim fellowship, an honorary Doctor of Literature degree from Amherst College, a National Poetry Series award, and a Lambda Literary Award for his poetry; his third collection of poetry, Diva (Duke University Press, 2000), was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.  His work appears in numerous anthologies, including in the Best American Poetry and Pushcart Prize series, and in periodicals such as American Poetry Review, The Hudson Review, The Nation, The New Republic, The New York Times Magazine, The Paris Review, POEM (UK), Poetry, The Poetry Review (UK),,, The Threepenny Review, and elsewhere.  He lectures widely, at such distinguished venues as the Folger Shakespeare Library, the Library of Congress, and the 92nd Street Y in New York. His fifth book of poetry, The Enemy, was awarded the Sheila Motton Book Prize for the best collection of poetry published in 2007 by the New England Poetry Club, one of America’s oldest poetry organizations.  He has received the Nicholas E. Davies Memorial Scholar Award from the American College of Physicians, for outstanding humanism in medicine; he has also won the 2013 Hippocrates Open International Prize, one of the highest value awards for a single poem in the world, for original verse that addresses a medical theme.  His collection of poems Alternative Medicine was the subject of feature stories on NPR, PBS NewsHour and the CBC’s Sunday Edition radio show. His poetry has been translated into Spanish, French, Italian, German, Chinese, and Turkish.  His new an selected volume of poetry Comfort Measures Only will be published by Duke University Press in 2018.  He currently serves as Director of Literature and Writing Programs of the Arts and Humanities Initiative  at Harvard Medical School. 

About Ellen Doré Watson: Ellen Doré Watson is the author of five full-length collections of poems, most recently, pray me stay eager, from Alice James Books. Earlier works include Dogged Hearts, from Tupelo Press, This Sharpening, also from Tupelo, and two from Alice James Books, We Live in Bodies and Ladder Music, winner of the New England/New York award. Watson’s journal appearances include APR, Tin House, Orion, Field, Ploughshares and The New Yorker. Among her honors are a Rona Jaffe Writers Award, fellowships to the MacDowell Colony and to Yaddo, and a National Endowment for the Arts Translation Fellowship. She has translated nine volumes from Brazilian Portuguese, most notably the poetry of Adélia Prado, including The Alphabet in the Park (Wesleyan University Press), Ex-Voto (Tupelo), and, most recently The Mystical Rose, from the UK poetry publisher Bloodaxe Books. Watson serves as poetry and translation editor of The Massachusetts Review and core faculty at Drew University’s Low-Residency Master of Fine Arts in Poetry and Translation.