Poetry for the people: Pamphlet project to share poetry chapbooks across Easthampton

By MADDIE FABIAN

Staff Writer

Published: 09-17-2023 9:23 AM

EASTHAMPTON — Throughout the month, Easthampton residents and visitors might stumble upon bright-green-covered chapbooks spreading poetry throughout the city. On the cover of the booklets, a circle represents a doorway through which curious minds may enter and read the words of local poets.

The poetry pamphlet project, called City Poets, is the work of current Easthampton Poet Laureate Carolyn Cushing, who is in her fifth month of the two-year term.

“Poetry can help us move through the grief, the anxiety, the uncertainty,” Cushing said. “Poetry is not the answer, but poetry has a role to play in moving us through these times … I’d love it to go to different people, to reach out in the community.”

The book contains 10 poems written by the five people who have served as the city’s poet laureates: Gary Metras, María José Giménez, Jason R. Montgomery, Alexandra M. Woolner and Cushing. 

Easthampton City Arts first established the Poet Laureate Program in 2018 as an effort to highlight the voices in poetry and elevate the city’s poetry culture.

“Easthampton, because there’s the support for the arts and for poets, it moves us to be more creative and do more things,” Cushing said.

In that spirit, Cushing said that as poet laureate, she wants to engage in projects “that are collaborative and that hold up different poets. … That was the atmosphere that helped me grow as a poet.”

Each poet brings a different voice to the chapbook.

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While Cushing is a lyric poet whose work is often inspired by nature, life and death, Montgomery writes in the cross-section of Chicano and Indigenous identity. Woolner is the creator of the poetry vending machine; Metras is a contemporary poet who has authored books; and Giménez works in English, Spanish and French.

“A piece of what I was trying to show was that we are different, and we can all be voices that speak in Easthampton,” said Cushing. 

Cushing received a $5,000 grant for the work through the Massachusetts Cultural Council, which awarded grants to thousands of artists after the pandemic.

“They gave this money with no strings attached,” Cushing said. “That’s amazing support for the arts in our state.”

For now, people are guaranteed to find the poetry pamphlets at the bakery and deli sections of Big E’s Supermarket through Sept. 22, but soon “they’ll be popping up anywhere around the city.”

“I want this to be accessible,” said Cushing. “They are, I hope, entryways to people to go and seek out some other poetry.”

The chapbook form in and of itself is a democratic, accessible form.

Dating back to the 16th century, when books were only affordable for the wealthy, chapbooks made literacy more accessible to broader audiences. Because of their shorter structure, they cost less, were easier to disseminate, and contained digestible written works that reached people where they were, much like the City Poets project.

That availability was on full display one day recently, when Cushing was checking on the booklets at Big E’s Supermarket and she noticed an older Easthampton resident looking at the booklets. Cushing offered the woman a chapbook, to which the woman responded, “Oh, the weather’s been so bad, it would be nice to have some poetry!”

“I’m glad it’s getting out to different people who maybe don’t go to poetry readings or get poetry in that way, but it’s coming to places where we go every day,” Cushing said.

As for future efforts as Poet Laureate, Cushing is currently working on gathering information and starting a conversation with poets around two questions: “What is the power of poetry? And how can we poets use it?” Poets can join that conversation by filling out a survey at soulpathsanctuary.com/poetry/.

Those who wish to know where to look for City Poets later this month can also sign up for a poetry alert list at the same link.

Maddie Fabian can be reached at mfabian@gazettenet.com.]]>