September 14-17: Amherst Poetry Festival and Emily Dickinson Poetry Marathon

Amherst Poetry Festival's James Tate Memorial Stage reading

Day-long Dickinson marathon, Poetry in the Planetarium with Dara Wier, Kaveh Akbar reading, art exhibits, workshops, Emily Dickinson documentary screening, and jubilat/Jones season kickoff lead fifth-annual Amherst Poetry Festival schedule

Scroll down for 2017 Amherst Poetry Festival Schedule

Amherst, Mass. – The Amherst Poetry Festival returns for its fifth anniversary September 14 to 17, bringing a celebration of western Massachusetts’ historic and contemporary poetic legacy to the Emily Dickinson Museum and throughout downtown Amherst. Sponsored by the Emily Dickinson Museum, Amherst Business Improvement District, Mass Poetry, the Hampshire College Art Gallery, the Amherst Inn, and Amherst Farmers Supply, nearly all of the events at the four-day festival are free and open to the public.

“There’s something special about reading poetry in Emily Dickinson’s garden and throughout this town that meant so much to her life and writing,” says Michael Medeiros, co-organizer of the Amherst Poetry Festival. “The support of the thousands who have participated as either readers or listeners over the last few years has helped us create so many memorable events, and we can’t wait to share all that we’ve developed for our fifth anniversary.”

This year’s events include the long-running one-day reading of all 1,789 of Emily Dickinson’s poems, poetry in the Bassett Planetarium with Dara Wier and Bianca Stone as the starscapes of the evening of Emily Dickinson’s birth and death are projected, a reading by Kaveh Akbar from his new collection Calling a Wolf a Wolf, the art exhibit Of Soil and Tongues at the Hampshire College Art Gallery, and a screening of Emily Dickinson: My Letter to the World, a documentary by the producers of A Quiet Passion.

A variety of workshops will be offered to students in the Amherst public schools, and for the general public on Saturday, September 16, on the grounds and in the homes at the Emily Dickinson Museum. Many of Saturday’s events will take place on the James Tate Memorial Stage, the festival’s main stage named in honor of another of Amherst’s greatest poets. Tate, who passed away in 2015, was a featured reader at the first two Amherst Poetry Festivals.

Kaveh Akbar, founder and editor of the poetry interview site Divedapper, hosted a tribute to Tate last year. He’ll be the headliner on Saturday, September 17, reading from his first full poetry collection Calling a Wolf a Wolf, due out in September from Alice James Books. In an interview in Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Akbar mentioned the impact of being in Emily Dickinson’s space and getting the opportunity to write in her room while he was here in 2016.

“I would have, like, ridden a mule to Amherst if someone had told me that, on the other end of it, I would get to spend the morning writing in Dickinson's bedroom,” said Akbar. “But, I wrote there on her little table, sitting in her little chair, staring out at the same trees that she would have been staring at. A lot of the house has been restored but that's still the same window and those are still the same trees. And it was really really nuts, you know — you close the door behind you and you could really feel her there. It really felt — I know it sounds kind of corny to say, but it really felt holy.”

That sort of feeling was the impetus for the first Amherst Poetry Festival in 2013, put on by the Emily Dickinson Museum and the Amherst Business Improvement District in a partnership that continues to welcome new collaborators each year. The readings, workshops, and other events are developed in collaboration with a variety of local organizations which in 2017 include Amherst College, Hampshire College, UMass Amherst, The Common literary magazine, and Slate Roof Press.  The fifth anniversary marks the first year of co-sponsorship with Mass Poetry, a non-profit dedicated to supporting poets and poetry and broadening the audience of poetry readers throughout the state of Massachusetts. 

"What the Emily Dickinson Museum has created is a magical weekend of community vibes and poetry love, in celebration of the power of words and the people who devote themselves to stringing them together, whether they receive the most public and precious of accolades for doing so or whether no single friend knows they pen poetry in private--which is deeply in sync with Mass Poetry's mission," says Laurin Macios, executive director of Mass Poetry. "It's going to be an amazing fifth anniversary festival, and we are proud to be involved!"





Of Soil and Tongues
Hampshire College Art Gallery

Of Soil and Tongues unfolded from an invitation to participants to install poetry in three-dimensional space, considering the transmission of their work as a heard, performed, read, graphic, and embodied medium. Three artist-poets/collaboratives – Miatta Kawinzi, lê thi diem thúy, and Sahar Muradi + Laimah Osmanchart paths through language and place in the new multimedia installations developed specially for the exhibition.

His Twin Obsession: The Art of E.E. Cummings 
Hope and Feathers Art Gallery

It is not well-known that the poet E.E. Cummings was also a visual artist, who experimented with art as he did with words. He devoted as much time to drawing and painting as he did to poetry, and considered himself equally an artist and a poet. Cummings said art was his "twin obsession"; painting and writing were daily routine, both necessary means of expression. He published sketches and drawings and exhibited paintings early in his career, but ultimately withdrew from the New York art scene in the early 1930s. Art became a private pursuit as his writing increased in popularity and his reputation as a poet was firmly established. His art reflects some of the more modern and boundary-pushing art trends of the time, especially post-impressionism and fauvism, and the influence of artists like Cézanne and Matisse can be clearly seen in much of his work.This exhibit is a small selection of Cummings' artworks curated to show a range of his artistic experiments. Most have not been shown publicly; most were probably not intended to be seen by the public.


7 PM: A screening of Emily Dickinson: My Letter to the World
Amherst Cinema

From the producers of the 2016 film, A Quiet Passion, this documentary focuses on the life and work of Emily Dickinson and is narrated by Cynthia Nixon, who spent three days of filming in Amherst while portraying Dickinson in A Quiet Passion.


Hampshire College Art Gallery

The poet-artists in Of Soil and Tongues discuss and perform elements of their work and the experience of expanding their practice into the Gallery, as part of the 5th Annual Amherst Poetry Festival.


Amherst College Bassett Planetarium

Amherst College’s Bassett Planetarium will host the first reading from Wier’s newest book In the Still of the Night from Wave Books. She will be joined by poet and artist Bianca Stone. As Wier and Stone read, the planetarium’s analogue Spitz A3p optical projector, one of the last of its kind still in use, will display the starscapes on the nights of Emily Dickinson’s birth and death. 

Dara Wier's In The Still Of The Night is just out from Wave Books.  Boston Globe says "Wier is concerned with capturing the fluidity of thought and experience.......Wier's lines have always had a wild whitewater crash to them, overwhelming any vessel she pours them into." Wave Books says In The Still Of The Night is "a raw and fluid exploration of grief [in which] Wier records her thoughts with intelligence, clarity, honesty and immediacy, showing us the unraveling of her world and her new consciousness after a great loss."  She teaches for the University of Massachusetts MFA for poets and writers and edits for factory hollow press and jubilat

Bianca Stone is a poet and visual artist. She is the author of the poetry collections Someone Else’s Wedding Vows (Tin House/Octopus Books, 2014), Poetry Comics from the Book of Hours (Pleiades Books, 2016), and multiple chapbooks. She is also a contributing artist for a special edition of Anne Carson's Antigonick. With her husband, the poet Ben Pease, Stone co-edits the small poetry press Monk Books, and with Pease is executive director of The Ruth Stone Foundation, an organization dedicated to the furthering of poetry and the arts and the preserving Ruth Stone's legacy and house in Vermont. 



Emily Dickinson Museum

Over the course of approximately 14 hours, all of Emily Dickinson's 1,789 poems are read out loud in the home and landscape where she wrote them. All are welcomed into a circle where each member may choose to read from or simply listen to Dickinson's work as part of an annual tradition that's now in its thirteenth year. Individual sign-ups not required. Groups who wish to attend should email


9:00AM-1PM Nature Poetry Writing with New England National Scenic Trail poet-in-residence David Leff

Emily Dickinson Museum

*Space is limited to 12 participants for this workshop, please register in advance by emailing

Join poet and essayist David K. Leff for a nature poetry writing workshop.  There will be lively readings, discussion, a walk outdoors with acute observing, and a writing assignment with feedback.  Participants can expect an emphasis on sharpening all the senses to better perceive the world around them and more readily translate that experience into words.  Come dressed to go outdoors for a period of time regardless of the weather. Feel free to bring a snack or bag lunch. Workshop is geared toward adult writers. Beginners and well published authors are equally welcome for a supportive learning experience. Suggested donation is $15 per participant. No one turned away for lack of funds.

Presenter: David Leff is the New England National Scenic Trail poet-in-residence, a former deputy commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection and the author of three volumes of poetry, five non-fiction books, and a novel in verse.  He has taught nature poetry for the famed Sunken Garden Poetry Festival in Farmington, Connecticut, the Mark Twain House in Hartford, and elsewhere.  For more about David go to

10:30 AM Calling All Poets! A family writing workshop with Burleigh Muten

Emily Dickinson Museum Garden

Write poetry in Emily Dickinson's garden with your child or your aunt, your sister or brother, your dearest friend. All prompts are related to Dickinson's poetry or life. Led by children's author and Emily Dickinson Museum tour guide, Burleigh Muten, this workshop is designed for you to have fun. Children must be accompanied by an adult.

Presenter: Author and educator Burleigh Muten

Time TBA  Making Visual Poetry with Basic Printmaking Techniques, a drop-in workshop with Laimah Osman 

Emily Dickinson Museum


3:30PM The Poet, The Artist, The Printer: Book Arts and the Small Press with Slate Roof Press

Emily Dickinson Museum 

What are the choices that go into producing the physical book—the first thing a reader sees? How do the choices of physical object and artwork guide and enhance the text within to make a book more than the sum of its parts? This Slate Roof Press panel — for poets, writers, book lovers, art lovers, and bookmakers — will discuss the opportunities and restraints that come when poets, artists, and printers work together on a project. What do authors contribute, and learn in the process? What technical restraints does a bookmaker face? Slate Roof poets are fully involved in their own book design, including cover choices, papers, typeface, artwork, die cuts, etc. The result is that each chapbook uniquely reflects its author, while showcasing the work of both local artists and bookmakers. The discussion will be followed by a question and answer period.

Presenters: Artist Christin Couture, Slate Roof Managing Editor Janet MacFadyen, and Slate Roof poets Cindy Snow and Anna M. Warrock. 



Jennifer Firestone
 was raised in San Francisco and now lives in Brooklyn. She is an Assistant Professor of Literary Studies at Eugene Lang College (The New School). Her books include Ten (BlazeVOX, forthcoming), Gates & Fields (Belladonna* Collaborative), Swimming Pool (DoubleCross Press), Flashes (Shearsman Books), Holiday(Shearsman Books), Waves (Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs), from Flashes (Sona Books), snapshot (Sona Books), and Fanimaly (Dusie Kollektiv). Firestone co-edited (with Dana Teen Lomax) Letters To Poets: Conversations about Poetics, Politics and Community(Saturnalia Books) and co-authored LITtle by LITtle with photographer and urban geographer, Laura Y. Liu. Firestone has work anthologized in Kindergarde: Avant-Garde Poems, Plays, Songs, & Stories for Children and Building is a Process / Light is an Element: essays and excursions for Myung Mi Kim. Firestone won the 2014 Marsh Hawk Press Robert Creeley Memorial Prize.

Marisa Crawford is the author of the poetry collections Reversible(2017) and The Haunted House (2010) from Switchback Books, and the chapbooks 8th Grade Hippie Chic (Immaculate Disciples, 2013) and Big Brown Bag (Gazing Grain, 2015). Her writing has appeared in BUST, HyperallergicBitchThe Hairpin, and other publications, and is forthcoming in Electric Gurlesque (Saturnalia, 2016). Marisa is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of the feminist literary/pop culture website WEIRD SISTER. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.



Kaveh Akbar’s poems appear recently or soon in The New Yorker, Poetry, Tin House, Ploughshares, FIELD, Georgia Review, PBS NewsHour, Harvard Review, American Poetry Review, Narrative, The Poetry Review, AGNI, New England Review, A Public Space, Prairie Schooner, Virginia Quarterly Review, Poetry International, Best New Poets 2016, Guernica, Boston Review, and elsewhere. His debut full-length collection, Calling a Wolf a Wolf, is forthcoming with Alice James Books in Fall 2017, and his chapbook, Portrait of the Alcoholic, is out with Sibling Rivalry Press. The recipient of a 2016 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation, a Pushcart Prize, and the Lucille Medwick Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, Kaveh was born in Tehran, Iran, and begins teaching at Perdue University in the fall.

Kaveh founded and edits Divedapper, a home for dialogues with the most vital voices in contemporary poetry. Previously, he ran The Quirk, a for-charity print literary journal. He has also served as Poetry Editor for BOOTH and Book Reviews Editor for the Southeast Review. Along with Gabrielle Calvocoressi, francine j. harris, and Jonathan Farmer, he starred on All Up in Your Ears, a monthly poetry podcast.

Sahar Muradi is a writer, performer, and educator born in Afghanistan and raised in the U.S. / is author of the forthcoming chapbook  [ G A T E S ] / is co-editor, with Zohra Saed, of One Story, Thirty Stories: An Anthology of Contemporary Afghan American Literature / is co-founder of the Afghan American Artists and Writers Association / has published most recently in Brooklyn Rail and Dusie / is the recipient of the 2016 Stacy Doris Memorial Prize and twice recipient of the Himan Brown Creative Writing Award in Poetry / is a Kundiman Poetry Fellow and an AAWW Open City Fellow / has an MFA in poetry from Brooklyn College, an MPA in international development from NYU, and a BA in creative writing from Hampshire College / directs the poetry programs at City Lore / and dearly believes in the bottom of the rice pot.

9PM: Poetry Festival Party

The Emily Dickinson Museum

Come and celebrate the literary legacy of Amherst with other festival participants and featured readers. Music, food, and fun!

Sunday, September 17

3PM: jubilat/Jones: Caryl Pagel, Kevin González, and Emily Pettit

The Jones Library

Each year the jubilat/Jonesreading 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. Sponsored by the Friends of the Jones Library, jubilat, & the Juniper Initiative of the UMass MFA Program for Poets & Writers. This program is also supported in part by a grant from the Amherst Cultural Council, a local agency which is supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.