Posted by: jeannineatkins | September 20, 2014

Amherst Poetry Festival

I found a bit of poetry in the basement of my in-laws’ old house, which I helped clean a bit this morning: literally, an anthology my sister-in-law set aside for me, and figuratively, in the sawdust of a beloved workbench, with remnants of toys and decorations my father-in-law made for children and grandchildren. But the air outside was warm and clear, and around noon, I dusted myself off and drove past fields of pumpkins and sunflowers to the Amherst Poetry Festival. Rubber ducks with bits of Emily Dickinson poems floated in a fountain by a park where you could look at journals and books published by local small and university presses.


I bought a copy of The Common, but said no thanks to the quite spectacular cupcake I was offered. I passed by a tent where I might have gotten a Tarot reading with Emily Dickinson themed cards, and said hello to Karen Skolfield , author of frost in the low areas, one of the most riveting new collections I’ve read in a while. She was running a tent where children wrote poems based on pictures of paintings or put together their own small books: hamsters and dinosaurs seemed to be a popular theme.


Outside the Emily Dickinson homestead, I heard Martin Espada read. Then I went into the parlor to listen in on a bit of the Poetry Marathon, when volunteers spend part of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday reading all 1789 of Emily Dickinson’s poems. I knew my friend Burleigh Muten, author of Miss Emily, had read the day before, so I was surprised and happy to see her, though I’m sure at some point she must have left this house where she researched, found inspiration, and sometimes teaches children to write poetry.

burleigh1 tweaked

Burleigh smiled, handed me a thick paperback collection, pointed out the number they were on — 829, I think — then took her place back in the circle of folding chairs. It felt rather church-like with the open books on laps, sometimes with fingers gently marking places, and a mission to keep poetry in the parlor’s air. All those different voices speaking Dickinson words, some with their quirky capitalizations. All those dashes. With poems following poems, I couldn’t comprehend much, but the reverence was good to behold.



  1. What a wonderful post – the image of you all sitting in the parlor – staid and proper – paying your respects.

    • I did enjoy that parlor. I skipped the Death and Donuts events at her gravesite, featuring some of her more depressing poems. Though I’m sure the cider donuts from local spot, Glazed, were excellent.

  2. All sounds wonderful! I love the image of the readings in the parlor, too. And those rubber ducks.

    • Yes, I enjoyed turning over some of the tipped ducks and reading. You need to come visit Amherst, Robyn!

  3. Hi Jeannine, it sounds like a perfect day, especially listening to people today reading words from long ago.

    • Any encounter with Emily Dickinson is quite special! Thanks, Linda!

  4. What an absolutely sublime way to spend a day – I almost wept at the sight of E.D.’s homestead. Always a place that tugs at my heart. Oh, to be back in Western Massachusetts!

    • It’s great your older daughter lives closer to you now, but I hope you do get back to western Massachusetts! If ever I can entice you…

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