Amherst Poetry Festival and Emily Dickinson Poetry Marathon 2016

September 15-17, 2016

AMHERST, Mass. - A one-day reading of all 1,789 of Emily Dickinson's poems, and a celebration of another of Amherst's great poets, James Tate. The inaugural Emily Dickinson Poetry Slam. An open mic, dozens of poets, two days of workshops, Doughnuts and Death, and, just for good measure, a Poemkémon scavenger hunt.

The Emily Dickinson Poetry Marathon and the fourth annual Amherst Poetry Festival return September 15-17. Produced by the Emily Dickinson Museum, Amherst Business Improvement District, Jones Library, and The Common, the festival is a celebration of the poetic legacy of Emily Dickinson, the exceptional poetry community of western Massachusetts, and poets from around the world who will gather to share their work in the very place where Dickinson penned her immortal words. Click here to see the full festival schedule. Click here to volunteer at the festival.

Boston Globe
Mass Poetry
Valley Advocate

The theme of this year's festival is "place," and it's one participants have interpreted in as many ways as a poet's imagination can run.

"Few towns can claim a poetic legacy as strong as Amherst's, and this Festival honors both that inheritance and the contemporaries who uphold it," said Emily Dickinson Museum Programs Director Brooke Steinhauser, one of the festival organizers. "It is marvelous to watch our community enjoy the combination of new poets sharing their work alongside the marathon reading of every single poem by Emily Dickinson here in the place where she wrote them. This year's Festival lineup focuses on that very theme of place and promises to inspire."

2016 Amherst Poetry Festival Theme: Place

We trust—in places perfecter—
Inheriting Delight
Beyond our faint Conjecture—
Our dizzy Estimate—

-Emily Dickinson, Fr369

Whether familiar or foreign, inhabited or desolate, fleeting or constant - the sense of place overtakes us. The feeling of belonging is as divisive as it is unifying, and the setting of home defines one individual as quickly as it displaces another.  Meanwhile, the work of creating and safeguarding sacred spaces is the work of the poet as much as the preservationist or the environmentalist. In this work we find commonality; there, place becomes a shared human experience.

2016 Festival Schedule 

Learn more about 2016 festival readers here!

Thursday, September 15

The Amherst Poetry Festival kicks off at the Amherst Block Party from 5-9PM

  • 5-9PM Poemkémon: Gotta Read 'Em All Scavenger Hunt.  Poems will be hidden throughout downtown Amherst. Maps can be picked up at the Amherst Poetry Festival/Emily Dickinson Museum tent that night with clues for the hunt. Those who return with all of the Poemkémon will earn a prize.  Poets: James Tate, Emily Dickinson, Tulip ChowdhuryLesléa Newman, Jacob Chapman, Lori Desrosiers. 
  • 6:30PM Donuts and Death: A Baker's Dozen of Emily Dickinson's Most Depressing Poems. Meet in West Cemetery, where Emily Dickinson is buried. This 30 minute poetry walk explores Amherst and Dickinson history using some of her darkest poems. Free doughnut included!
  • 9PM  Dickinson After Dark: Poetry Open Mic and Featured Readers.  Join us under the tent at the James Tate Stage  on the grounds of the Emily Dickinson Museum for a poetry open mic, music, and featured readers:  Karen Skofield and Eric Wasileski of Warrior Writers and Adam Grabowski.
Friday, September 16

All Friday workshops and panel discussions are open to the public with the exception of the Amherst Regional High School venue.

    • Poetry of the Postcard at Amherst Regional High School (not open to the public)

With its unassuming, familiar form, the postcard is a canvas perfectly primed for a message, a thought, a poem— sent from one location to another. Traditionally, postcards are sent while someone is traveling, or far from home, and they often depict the beauty of the place we write from. Thus, postcards are a way to cross distances while portraying place, expressing a sense of "missing" someone or something or somewhere, or sharing a state of mind while reminding us that words can travel in many ways. We feel that postcards are essentially poetic, and Emily Dickinson's love of correspondence would be enacted through this project while encompassing an exploration of poetry through place. This workshop is presented by Liza Birnbaum, Gabriel Bump, Chelsea Hogue, Halie Theoharides — representing jubilat poetry journal and the UMASS MFA for Poets and Writers.

  • 2PM Place/Displace: Poetry of Home and Exile at The Emily Dickinson Museum.

    This panel is presented by Slate Roof Press, a member-run, not-for-profit poetry collective based in Franklin County.  

     Every day huge numbers of refugees cross national borders to escape war, famine, poverty, and injustice in search of the basic rights that allow humans to feel at home — to feel safe, fed, clothed, and cared for. Meanwhile people from all corners of the globe are more closely connected than ever before — and yet still people feel alienated in their own communities or even in their own skins. We intend to explore this dialectic between home and exile, place and displacement. Is home a tent, a McMansion, an apartment, a room? And conversely what external and internal forces drive people into exile from their own land, their people, their families, even from themselves? This panel investigates poetry that expresses the belonging and rootedness of home against the angst and displacement of exile — whether political, domestic, or internal. The panel is led by Slate Roof poets Janet MacFadyen, Cindy Snow, Anna Warrock, Kate Stearns, and Dennis Pollock. Panelists will also draw on work by writers such as Yehudah Amichai, Mahmoud Darwish, Zeina Hashem Beck, Natasha Trethewey, Louise Gluck, Li-Young Lee, Coral Bracho, Tomasz Różycki, and Robert Frost. 

  • 3PM You Can't Go Home Again: Poems of Displacement at the Center for Humanistic Inquiry at Amherst College

     The power of place is most deeply felt during times of displacement brought about by exile, immigration, demolition and grief.  Four poets will read their work and engage the audience in a discussion of how we use imagination to understand and transform the painful experience of losing one's place in the world.  Poems to be considered include: Gail Thomas's poems about the destruction of Swift River Valley towns to create the Quabbin Reservoir, Leslea Newman's book in verse about the murder of Matthew Shepard and its effect on the people of Laramie and beyond, Sally Bellerose's poems about issues of class and immigration, and Ellen LaFleche's poems about the emotional and material realities of grief that displace one's daily experience of place. 

  • 7-8:30PM Dickinson After Dark: Poetry Reading and Mr. Hip Presents. Join us at the James Tate Stage on the Emily Dickinson Museum grounds for readings from Friday's workshop/panel facilitators with your host, Donald Vincent, also know as Mr. Hip.  Mr. Hip Presents is Boston's only reading series that incorporates poetry, spoken word, and live jazz music hosted at handpicked local galleries, specializing in visual and mixed media art. 
  • 9-11PM  Emily Dickinson Poetry Slam.  Northampton Poetry hosts a four-team poetry slam at Bistro 63 at 63 North Pleasant Street. The slam will feature four of the best teams from the vaunted "NorthBEAST," New England's vibrant community of performance poets. The winners will receive not only a cash prize, but also, in celebration of Emily Dickinson's baking skills, a portion of gingerbread, coconut cake, or black cake based on the poet's recipes.
Saturday, September 17
  • 6AM Emily Dickinson Marathon. 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 twelfth year. Individual sign-ups not required. Groups who wish to attend should e-mail 
A sign-up sheet for Saturday workshops and panels will be available beginning at 7 AM at the Festival Welcome Tent, located at the entrance to the Museum grounds. Space is limited and seats are first come, first served. 
  • 9:30AM-11AM The Place You’d Like to Go: Demystifying Submissions and the Publication Process at the Emily Dickinson Museum. This panel is for newer poets seeking to publish, for experienced poets coming back from a publishing hiatus, and for poets who are dissatisfied with their current publication records. Though many poets are skilled in their art, they may not be great at the less-fun work of submitting poems or understanding the decision-making process of editors. In this session panelists pull back the curtain on what seems a very complex and behind-the-scenes process, and discuss their own submission practices and acceptance rates, and how to support others in the literary community in the process. 

    Panelists are poets who have worked as editors and readers at The Paris Review, The Denver Quarterly, Common Ground Review, Tupelo Quarterly, Sundress Publications, and Tuesday; an Art Project. Janet BowdanMRB Chelko, and Karen Skolfield share insight from both sides of the publishing equation. 

  • 2-2:45PM Children are Poets Too! - A Writing Workshop for Children and Adults at the Emily Dickinson Museum. Children and Poets have a lot in common. They see the world afresh, enjoy word play, and often share a love of the natural world. Write alongside a child you love and enjoy the creativity that flows between the two of you. During this workshop in Emily Dickinson's garden, writing prompts that relate to the poet will spark your creativity. Appropriate for children ages six and up. An adult must accompany children. Burleigh Muten, author of Miss Emily (a novel in verse) and tour guide at The Emily Dickinson Museum, has led writing workshops throughout New England for adults and children for 25 years. Inspiring young authors is one of the joys of being an author and teacher.

  • 4:30-6PM The Sugar Bush: A Sense of Place--Poem to Art to Book to Movie a workshop for all ages at the Emily Dickinson Museum. Bring your favorite place of heart, mind, and imagination--from nature, city, home, or beyond--and in our workshop, transform that place into a poem, then an illustration, and finally a hand-bound book, all of your own making.  We will also explore ways to make that book into a video using smart phone or other video technology. As a model we will use ZACH 'S MAPLE SUGARING BOOK, a narrative poem with colored pencil drawings by workshop leader Pamela Bailey Powers, which was set to film by poet and filmmaker Anton Yakovlev. Materials will be provided; participants are welcome to bring their own materials, laptops, paper, pens, pencils, water colors, etc., if they like. Pamela Bailey Powers (pbp) is a writer, visual and theater artist who lives in Lexington, MA. 

  • 8:30PM "These worlds in us": James Tate and Amherst at the James Tate stage on the Museum grounds. Celebrate the work of beloved Amherst poet James Tate and his impact on the UMass MFA program and the greater writing community of western Massachusetts. Kaveh Akbar, founder and editor of the poetry interview site Divedapper, will moderate a panel of Tate's former students and friends including Brian Henry, Lisa Beskin, and Corwin Ericson. Featuring readings by Brynne Rebele-Henry, Peter Gizzi, and Halie Theoharides.

  • 10PM Amherst Poetry Festival Wrap-Up Party at the Museum.  The festival concludes with a party in the garden from 10 pm to 11:30PM featuring music by Amber Wolfe, food, and festivities. Amber Wolfe is a singer-songwriter from Western Massachusetts. Amber sings with raw, honeyed vocals accompanied by minimal guitar. Wolfe composes in the Americana tradition and performs with jazz inspired improvisation. Amber Wolfe released her debut EP I Left the City in 2016.

 To volunteer for the festival, sign up here!