Jun 5, 2014
12:25 PMArts & Entertainment
Headliners Bring Clout to Hill-Stead’s Sunken Garden Poetry Festival
"If you read no other book of poetry this year, this should be the one."
—Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Kevin Young’s latest work, Book of Hours, 2014
He's the marquee name on the festival’s 22nd first day, on June 11, which opens with a reading by Willimantic-based poet V. Penelope Pelizzon and music by The Shinolas. A discussion about Young’s poetry will be led by poet and publisher Rennie McQuilkin.
Young’s books of poetry–including Ardency: A Chronicle of the Amistad Rebels (2011); Dear Darkness (2008); For the Confederate Dead (2007) and most recently Book of Hours (2014)–were largely inspired by blues music and the history of Black America.
“My most recent book is very much about my father dying and my son being born,” Young says of Book of Hours. “It’s not so much a eulogy as a poem about the living…how they manage in the wake of such experiences.”
The title refers to those moments right after a tragic event, but also to the book of prayers people carry around with them.
"I wanted to think about that in a different way," says the poet.
There's also power in the homonym, "book of ours," which Young says he didn't think about till it was already published.
"There's a lot, even in the title," he says.
(Photos of Sunken Poetry Festival provided by Hill-Stead Museum, above and below.)
Young is widely regarded as one of the leading poets of his generation, and with good reason.
“[His] gift of storytelling and understanding of the music inherent in the oral tradition of language re-creates for us an inner history which is compelling and authentic and American,” poet Lucille Clifton said of Young.
Young’s poetry and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, New York Times Book Review, Paris Review, Kenyon Review and Callaloo. He has been awarded a Stegner Fellowship in Poetry at Stanford University, a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship and a MacDowell Colony Fellowship.
Currently, Young is the Atticus Haygood Professor of Creative Writing and English and curator of Literary Collections and the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library at Emory University in Atlanta, GA.
The Sunken Poetry Festival has grown from a small gathering of poets to a nationally-recognized festival that draws some of the best poetic talent of today and the crowds to match.
“The festival is very much in line with the mission at the museum and a connection to the [Pope] family’s interest in poetry,” says Hill-Stead Museum Executive Director and CEO Susan Ballek.
The Hill-Stead Museum (prior to being a museum) was designed by Theodate Pope Riddle, one of the country's first female architects, for her family. The featured sunken gardens were designed by renowned gardener Beatrix Farrand.
Festival gates will open at 4:30 p.m. The pre-performance talk will take place from 5 to 5:30 p.m., V. Penelope Pelizzon will begin at 6 p.m. and The Shinolas will take the stage at 6:30 p.m. Young will begin his portion of the program at 7:25 p.m.
Tickets cost $15, and anyone under age 18 enters for free. Bring a lawn chair or blanket for seating in the sunken garden. Guests are welcome to bring their own picnic suppers to enjoy during the show or purchase food and beverages on site.
Young says he's looking forward to reading at the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival because, for him, poetry isn't complete until it has a voice.
The poets were chosen by an advisory committee of professors from Connecticut universities including Wesleyan University, Central Connecticut State University, University of Hartford and Trinity College. This is the first time the talent was selected this way.
“[The advisory committee] helped us form such a diverse group of poets this year,” says Ballek.
Also new this year, the first four dates will be opened by Connecticut-based poets V. Penelope Pelizzon, Benjamin Grossberg, John Stanizzi and Ted Larder in an effort to reconnect the festival with the state. The final poetry reading, featuring poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil, will be opened by a series of young poets from the CT Poetry Circuit and who won Hill-Stead’s Fresh Voices Poetry Competition for high school students.
The poetry festival is presented with support from Connecticut Humanities, The Beekley Center for Breast Health & Wellness at Bristol Hospital, Duncaster Retirement Community and SKY Investment Group.