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Literary Conference Draws International Scholars

Award-winning poet, Patricia Smith, performs her electric poetry at PCCC’s Hamilton Club, home of the Poetry Center. Sabrina Vellucci, Elisabetta Marino, and Maria Anita Stefanelli, all of the Universita di Roma, participated in a panel about teaching American literature in an Italian University. Poet Li-Young Lee reads to a standing-room-only crowd at the Festival. Poets Li-Young Lee and Patricia Smith with Maria Mazziotti Gillan, founder and executive director of the Poetry Center at PCCC. Workshop led by Patricia Smith at the Literary Conference. Joe Weil of Binghamton University, SUNY served as a panelist for the presentation, Building Literary Citizenship and Expanding Poetry’s Audience in Unlikely Places. Li-Young Lee leads a poetry workshop in PCCC’s Hamilton Club Reading Room on June 3rd as part of the Poetry Center’s Literary Conference. Female Power: Presenters of Feminism and Social Change: Reading Whitman in the 21st Century (l to r): Catherine Pond, PhD fellow in poetry, USC; Carlie Hoffman, Columbia University professor and recipient of the Discovery/Boston Review Poetry Prize; Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello, winner of the 2016 Donald Hall Prize in Poetry; Erin Lynn, PhD fellow in poetry, University of Connecticut. Maria Mazziotti Gillan, director of the PCCC Poetry Center with presenters of: Feminism and Social Change: Reading Whitman in the 21st Century, (front left) Catherine Pond, Fellow, USC; (back l to r) Erin Lynn, Fellow, University of Connecticut; Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello, recipient of the 2016 Donald Hall Prize in Poetry; Carlie Hoffman, professor, Columbia University, recipient of the Discovery/Boston Review Poetry Prize.

Literary Conference and Festival Celebrated Three American Poets
and New Jersey’s Poetic Tradition

Posted 6-12-17

They came from as far as Italy and Wales and as near as Paterson itself. Over 150 people, including poets, scholars, and poetry fans turned out June 3 for the PCCC Poetry Center’s 2017 Literary Festival and Conference:  Celebrating the Poetic Legacy of Whitman, Williams, and Ginsberg.

The daylong event featured poetry readings by and workshops with two stars of the current poetry scene, Patricia Smith and Li-Young Lee, as well as workshops and panel discussions focused on Walt Whitman, William Carlos Williams, and Allen Ginsberg, all major figures in 20th century American poetry who had strong connections to New Jersey. 

“It was very exciting with a wide range of topics,” said Maria Mazziotti Gillan, the director of the widely renowned Poetry Center and a respected poet in her own right.

“Paterson and New Jersey are very strongly associated with poetry,” said Ms. Mazziotti Gillan, whose poetry is also evocative of the Paterson area. Explaining her inspiration for the festival/conference, Ms. Mazziotti Gillan said,  “Since June 3 is Allen Ginsberg's birthday, I thought it would be a good time to celebrate Paterson's connections to poetry and to get scholars and poets together to discuss the influence of these poets on American literature.”

Presenters included independent scholars and faculty from colleges across the New Jersey/New York area as well as from the University of Massachusetts, University of Northern Iowa, Swansea University (Wales), and two universities in Italy, among others.

Topics of the sixteen presentations ranged from techniques for teaching poetry to the social, psychological, political, and communal implications of the literature.

Elisabetta Marino, a professor from the University of Rome and translator of Ms. Mazziotti Gillan’s poetry, moderated a panel discussion titled An American Studies Curriculum in an Italian University.  Panelists included faculty from the University of Rome and University of Siena.

Allen Ginsberg’s Poetic Parallel Structure was the topic explored by Stephen Paul Miller of St. John’s University while Deborah Gerrish of Fairleigh Dickinson University moderated a discussion on the writing of Mary Oliver, an illustrious, living poet whose work reflects the American tradition illuminated in the Festival. 

Panelists for two discussions included Christine Redpath-Waldeyer (Poetic Legacy of Mary Oliver) and Mark Hillringhouse (Perspectives on Williams), both published poets and English professors at PCCC.  Also a photographer, Professor Hillringhouse has published numerous photo essays inspired by Paterson. He also collaborates with Ms. Mazziotti Gillan.

Carlie Hoffmann, a writing and poetry professor at Columbia University, poetry editor of Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art, and 2016 recipient of the Discovery/ Boston Review Poetry Prize, headed up a panel on Feminism and Social Change: Reading Whitman in the 21st Century. Her panelists included PhD. university fellows and prizewinning poets from around the country.

“My friends and I had an amazing time,” said Ms. Hoffman. “When we left the festival, especially after talking with Maria, who has such a vibrant spirit and genuine love for poetry, we couldn't stop talking about how much we love poetry and how this festival reminded us of why we do poetry in the first place.”

In a poetic coincidence, Ms. Hoffman who is the 2016 recipient of the Discovery/ Boston Review Poetry Prize is also the 2017 finalist for the Gwendolyn Brooks Centennial Poetry Prize and was selected for the Brooks Prize by Patricia Smith. “So it was extra exciting to hear her read,” said Ms. Hoffman who, as a first-time participant in a PCCC Poetry Center event, was impressed by the workshops and affordability of the Center’s events, as well as by the vibrant local participation.

“I admire that so many of the people who attended the festival were from the community in Paterson or nearby communities,” she noted.  “I think this highlights one of the main arguments for why we need poetry, to bring together community.”

Read more about the Poetry Center

See the Festival Brochure