The Northampton Arts Council works to support and nurture the arts in the city of Northampton. The Council awards grants twice each year to artists and arts groups from both state and locally-raised funds, and seeks to improve public awareness of the arts. Its' goals include maintaining and preserving the rich and diverse cultural heritage of Northampton, programming such annual events of interest to the community as First Night Northampton and Transperformance.

Poet Laureate

Poet Laureate of Northampton 2019-2021

The Northampton Arts Council is thrilled to announce the appointment of Karen Skolfield as Northampton’s poet laureate for the 2019– 2021 term. As Northampton’s 9th laureate, Skolfield joins the illustrious ranks of poets Martin Espada, Janet Aalfs, Jack Gilbert, Lesléa Newman, Lenelle Moïse, Richard Michelson, Patrick Donnelly, and Amy Dryansky.

The Northampton Poet Laureate position is a two-year term during which the poet will celebrate Northampton’s vibrant and diverse poetry community through activities of interest to the chosen poet, and will educate the public about the importance of poets and poetry to Northampton’s civic and artistic life. The selection committee read poetry by various nominees, discussed a wide range of quality in all their work, and considered their success in the larger poetry world.

Karen Skolfield’s book Battle Dress (W. W. Norton) won the Barnard Women Poets Prize and will be published August 2019. Her book Frost in the Low Areas (Zone 3 Press) won the 2014 PEN New England Award in poetry, and she is the winner of the 2016 Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize in poetry from The Missouri Review, the 2015 Robert H. Winner award from the Poetry Society of America, and the 2015 Arts & Humanities Award from New England Public Radio. Skolfield has received fellowships and awards from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, Split This Rock, Ucross Foundation, Hedgebrook, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and the Vermont Studio Center.

Skolfield is a U.S. Army veteran and teaches writing to engineers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she earned her Master of Fine Arts. She lives in Amherst with her husband and two children and splits her free time (not quite equally) at poetry events, hockey rinks, and soccer fields.

For more information about Karen, visit here website
Poet Laureate of Northampton 2017-2019

Photo by Trish Crapo

The Northampton Arts Council is thrilled to announce the appointment of Amy Dryansky as Northampton’s poet laureate for the 2017 – 2019 term. As Northampton’s 8th laureate, Dryansky joins the illustrious ranks of poets Martin Espada, Janet Aalfs, Jack Gilbert, Lesléa Newman, Lenelle Moïse, Richard Michelson, and Patrick Donnelly.

Dryansky’s first book, How I Got Lost So Close to Home, won the New England/New York Award from Alice James Books. Her second book, Grass Whistle (Salmon Poetry, Ireland) received the 2014 Massachusetts Book Award for poetry. Dryansky’s poems have appeared in a variety of anthologies and journals, including Barrow Street, Harvard Review, New England Review, Memorious, Orion and The Women’s Review of Books. She’s received honors and awards from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, MacDowell Colony, Vermont Studio Center and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Dryansky is also a former Associate of the Five College Women’s Studies Center, where she looked at the impact of motherhood on women poets.

Dryansky has a long history of working at and for arts and community organizations in the Valley, and is currently the assistant director of the Culture, Brain & Development Program at Hampshire College. During her tenure as poet laureate, she hopes to partner with local organizations like the Center for New Americans, the Literacy Project, Historic Northampton, David Ruggles Center and the Northampton Arts Council to highlight the diverse voices--past and present--that make up our vibrant Northampton community.

Dryansky lives in Conway, has two kids ages 15 and 18, and tries very hard to maintain a blog called
Pokey Mama, about her attempts to navigate the territory of mother-writer. Her kids, despite their mother’s many accolades, remain unimpressed with the fact of her being a poet.

For more about Dryansky and her work, please visit:
Poet Laureate of Northampton 2015-2017

Patrick Donnelly is the seventh Poet Laureate (2015 – 2017) of Northampton, Massachusetts. Poets Martin Espada, Janet Aalfs, Jack Gilbert, Lesléa Newman, Lenelle Moïse, and Richard Michelson have previously held the position. Northampton is the county seat of Hampshire County, Massachusetts, with a population of about 29,000. The city has vibrant and diverse art, music, and literary communities, and is home to Smith College, where Donnelly is a lecturer.

A Josten Live! Fridays @ Five Event
At the Grave of Maria Callas: How Does an Aria Turn into a Poem?

Northampton poet laureate Patrick Donnelly will explore the roots of his poetry in his training as an opera singer, and especially in his 50-year admiration of the art of Maria Callas.

Donnelly will debut a new sequence of poems about Callas, and introduce historic recordings and videos of the singer that some have called the most important artist of the 20th century. As well, Donnelly will explore the attraction of gay men to opera and to Callas in particular, and seek to answer what it is about opera that is consoling and inspiring for queer people. This multi-media event will interest lovers of music, theater, poetry, design, and fashion, and especially opera, a synthesis of all the arts.

Friday February 17, 2017, 5:00 PM
Werner Josten Performing Arts Library
Mendenhall Center
Smith College
Northampton, MA 01063
413-585-2930 / 2935

campus map:

Josten Live! is a patron-driven performance series that celebrates the creative lives of Josten Library users and the acoustic brilliance of its Mezzanine.

Patrick Donnelly

The Genius of Poetry must work out its own salvation in a man: It cannot be matured by law and precept, but by sensation and watchfulness in itself. —John Keats


On Saturday, April 9th at 3:00 PM, Patrick Donnelly, 20152017 poet laureate of Northampton, MA, will host POETS FOR LIFE: POETS RESPOND TO AIDS, a benefit reading in support of A Positive Place (formerly AIDS Care/Hampshire County), a non-profit organization providing a wide array of services for people with HIV in Hampshire and surrounding counties.

The event will be held at the Paradise Room, Conference Center, Smith College, 51 College Lane, Northampton, MA 01063. The Northampton Council for the Arts and the Poetry Center at Smith College are co-sponsors of the benefit.

Poet Laureate Patrick Donnelly says "In the 35 years since AIDS began, there has been not only a medical and social-service response to preventing and treating the disease, but there has also been a response from artists of all kinds, mourning the losses, and celebrating the victories. Specifically, American poets have created an entire literature of AIDS, leaving for the future an important record of this time."

POETS FOR LIFE will feature readings by award-winning poets EDUARDO C. CORRAL, PATRICK DONNELLY, MICHAEL KLEIN, and JOAN LARKIN, who will not only read from their own poetry about the epidemic, but from the work of other notable poets, living and dead.

Since 1991, A Positive Place, formerly AIDS CARE/Hampshire County, has been the sole provider of comprehensive, confidential case management and health-related support services, filling life-saving needs for people living with HIV/AIDS in the county. Anyone living with HIV or AIDS is eligible for services regardless of level of need, health status, or ability to pay. Services are free of charge to people living with HIV.

Northampton Poet Laureate’s “Choral Poem Project"
Patrick Donnelly, 2015 – 2017 Poet Laureate of Northampton, Massachusetts, is a long-time advocate for poetry, not only as an “on-the-page” experience, but as a spoken-out-loud, communal, theatrical art. With that in mind, in the fall of 2015 Donnelly called together a group of Northampton-area residents to perform an excerpt of Albert Goldbarth’s epic poem “Library.” The poem was performed live at Donnelly’s inaugural reading on November 1, 2015 at Smith College’s Neilson Browsing Room, and earlier that same day the group also made this film of the performance at Josten Performing Arts Library.

Patrick Donnelly’s books of poetry are The Charge (Ausable Press, 2003, since 2009 part of Copper Canyon Press) and Nocturnes of the Brothel of Ruin (Four Way Books, 2012), the latter book a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. He is director of the Poetry Seminar at The Frost Place (Robert Frost’s old homestead in Franconia, NH, now a center for poetry and the arts), and an associate editor of Poetry International. His poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Slate, Ploughshares, The Yale Review, The Virginia Quarterly Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Massachusetts Review, and many other journals. Donnelly has taught at Smith College, Colby College, the Lesley University MFA Program, and the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference.

Patrick Donnelly, sharing some poems and thoughts about poetry with the students of Smith Vocational and Agricultural School, on the last day of National Poetry Month, 2015.

With his spouse Stephen D. Miller, Donnelly translates classical Japanese poetry and drama, including the Japanese poems in The Wind from Vulture Peak: The Buddhification of Japanese Waka in the Heian Period (Cornell East Asia Series, 2013). Donnelly and Miller’s translations have appeared in many literary and translation journals, including Circumference, Inquiring Mind, Kyoto Journal, Metamorphoses, and Poetry International. In 2013, Donnelly received a U.S./Japan Creative Artists Program award to fund a 3-month residency in Japan during 2014.

Donnelly is a 2008 recipient of an Artist Fellowship from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. His spiritual curiosity has led him, at different times, to study for the Roman Catholic priesthood and to live as a Buddhist and a Muslim, and his poems have interrogated narratives of same-sex love and desire and the AIDS epidemic with lyric strategies. Gregory Orr wrote about Donnelly’s first book: “…everything he writes is suffused with tenderness and intelligence, lucidity and courage.”

Donnelly’s projects as Poet Laureate will include:

Free workshops focusing on poetry as an oral art, fostering public speaking skills for creative writers and young people 

The “Choral Poem Project,” for poets, community members, and young people, featuring performances of poetry by “choirs” of speakers 

Events celebrating the vibrant community of literary translators in Northampton
“Poetry and HIV,” a benefit reading in support of A Positive Place (formerly AIDS Care Hampshire County), a Northampton AIDS-service organization

Patrick Donnelly is a long-time advocate for poetry, not only as an “on-the-page” experience, but as a spoken-out-loud, communal, theatrical art. With that in mind, in the fall of 2015 Donnelly called together a group of Northampton-area residents to perform an excerpt of Albert Goldbarth’s epic poem “Library.” The poem was performed live at Donnelly’s inaugural reading on November 1, 2015 at Smith College, and earlier that same day filmmaker Melissa McClung also made this film of the performance:

You can read more about Donnelly at his website:

If you would like to invite Patrick Donnelly to participate in any poetry- or literature-related event, please contact him at:

Press links:

“Patrick Donnelly named 7th Poet Laureate of Northampton”: MassLive article

“Patrick Donnelly appointed seventh poet laureate in Northampton”: The Recorder article

Lesléa Newman, Richard Michelson, Patrick Donnelly, and Martin Espada, 3/22/2015

Poet Laureate of Northampton 2012-2015


His children’s books have been listed among the Ten Best Books of the Year by The New York Times, Publishers Weekly, and The New Yorker; and among the 12 Best Books of the Decade by He has been a Massachusetts Book Award Finalist (2x), a Harlem Book Fest Wheatley Award Finalist and a National Jewish Book Award Finalist (3X), as well as receiving a National Parenting Publication Gold Medal and an International Reading Association Teacher’s Choice Award.

In 2009 Michelson received both a Sydney Taylor Gold and Silver Medal from the Association of Jewish Librarians, the only author so honored in AJL’s 45 year history. (see a full list of awards here)

Michelson’s poetry for adults has been published in many anthologies, including The Norton Introduction to Poetry. Clemson University named Michelson their Calhoun Distinguished Reader in American Literature in 2008. The Jerusalem Post called his latest collection Battles & Lullabies, “a touching masterpiece.” Michelson is the current Poet Laureate of Northampton Massachusetts.

In addition to being an author, Michelson is a popular guest speaker. He has traveled throughout the world talking to children and teachers about his love of poetry, and social justice. Michelson represented the US at the Bratislava Biennial in Slovakia, and he is the founder and owner of R. Michelson Galleries.

Activities that Richard has done as the Northampton Poet Laureate:

EAT LOCAL/READ LOCAL -Nourish the Body, Nourish the Soul—a Northampton “April is Poetry Month” Celebration

50 Northampton restaurants featured a poem by a local Northampton area poet in their window or on their menu. You could not go out to eat in the city without encountering poetry.

Each restaurant provided a dinner for two to their “house poet.”

You can read local coverage here:

NPR on WHMP- Northampton Poetry Radio (bi-monthly radio interview program
I have interviewed National Poet Laureates like WS Merwin

Robert Pinsky and Kay Ryan, prominent award winning poets such as Mark Doty and Eleanor Wilner—but also many interviews with our Northampton area presses Open Field, Levellers, Perugia, Shape and Nature. and more than a dozen local Poets

Hosted Transperformance 22: Food Groups as Emily Dickinson and John Keats

Selected local Readings

a. Brought my fellow Laureates to Boston for AWP and Mass Poetry Conference

b. Forbes Library Jewish Writers

c. Straw dog Writers Group Northampton

Highlighted local events

Tell It Slant- Emily Dickinson House

Introduced Open Field Reading

Introduced Shape and Nature Reading

Introduced 30 poems/30 days

Reviewed poetry by local poets in local publications.

Poet Laureate of Northampton 2010-2012

LENELLE MOÏSE creates jazz-infused, hip-hop bred, politicized and performable texts about Haitian-American identity, creative resistance and the intersection of race, class, gender, sexuality and spirituality. She recites poetry with fervor and with movement. In addition to featured appearances at theatres, bookstores, cafes and national conferences, Moïse has performed at the Louisiana Superdome, the United Nations, Off-Broadway at the Culture Project and as part of the Split This Rock Poetry Festival, the National Queer Arts Festival and Estrojam. Her autobiographical one-woman show Womb-Words, Thirsting has induced standing ovations at dozens of colleges across the United States, including Northwestern University, Williams College, the Ohio State University, Evergreen State College and Louisiana State University. Her writing has been published in several anthologies including Word Warriors: 35 Women Leaders in the Spoken Word Revolution and We Don't Need Another Wave: Dispatches from the Next Generation of Feminists. Her essays have been featured in Utne Reader and Make/Shift Magazine. Also a professional theatre artist, Moïse graduated with a BA from Ithaca College ('02) and an MFA in Playwriting from Smith College ('04). She is the 2009-2010 recipient of the Astraea Lesbian Writers Fund Award in Poetry. Curve Magazine calls her debut poetry CD Madivinez "Piercing, covering territory both intimate and political...vivid and powerful." Moïse was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts and has lived in Northampton since 2002.

Lenelle Moïse is the first performance poet to take on the laureateship. Jim Neill, Arts Council board president and chair of the Poet Laureate committee, said,  “Lenelle’s poems begin on the page but radiate from her core being in a live setting; the difference between a blueprint and the fully realized building.” Moreover, Neill went on to say, “the selection team was tangibly excited about her nomination and acceptance of the post.” 

Poet Laureate of Northampton 2008-2010

LESLÉA NEWMAN is the author of more than 50 books including the poetry collection STILL LIFE WITH BUDDY, the short story collection A LETTER TO HARVEY MILK, the middle-grade novel HACHIKO WAITS and the children's books THE BOY WHO CRIED FABULOUS and HEATHER HAS TWO MOMMIES. Her poems have appeared in many publications including SEVENTEEN MAGAZINE, THE SUN, LILITH, CIMARRON REVIEW and THE BARK. She has received many literary awards including Poetry Fellowships from the Massachusetts Artists Fellowship Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, the Highlights for Children Fiction Writing Award, the James Baldwin Award for Cultural Achievement, and three Pushcart Prize Nominations. Nine of her books have been Lambda Literary Award finalists. Recently, Lesléa has been a semi-finalist for the 2007 Pablo Neruda Poetry Competition and a finalist in the 2007 Sow Ear's Poetry Review Contest. Currently, she is on the faculty of the Stonecoast MFA Program at the University of Southern Maine.  

 Lesléa Newman’s outstanding publishing record, and most especially her broad audience of readers, from small children to adults, impressed the poet laureate committee. Moreover, they were moved by her daring and humorous approach to themes often neglected, such as discrimination against Jews and gays and lesbians. As one member of the committee put it, we consider this a “wonderful outcome” and have no doubt that Lesléa will bring her enthusiasm for poetry to all corners of Northampton. 

Activities carried out by Northampton Poet Laureate Lesléa Newman 

•Read poems at the Really Big Show, Northampton, MA
•Wrote and read original poem at the Hungry Ghost Bakery Bread Festival, Northampton, Ma
•Read poems at the Florence Poets Society Festival
•Put up poems on broadsheets  in downtown Northampton during the month of April to celebrate National Poetry Month (first year: poems in the public domain; second year, poems by local poets)
•Taught a poetry workshop at JFK Middle School, Northampton, MA
•Walked to school with Jackson Street children and recited poetry at outdoor assembly
•Became active participant in Forbes Library Monday night poetry appreciation group and facilitated several discussions
•Held inauguration reading at Forbes Library
•Helped plan spoken word event for Four Sundays in February and acted as emcee for the event with Richard Wilbur and Taylor Mali and others
•Initiated and judged Paradise Poetry Prize. Theme of the contest was “joy”.Winning poems written by adults were published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette and  winners received gift certificates to Broadside Books; honorable mentions were printed up on broadsheets and displayed in storefront windows in downtown Northampton during National Poetry Month. Winning poems written by children were displayed in the window of Broadside Books. Children were awarded an autographed copy of HACHIKO WAITS at a special community meeting at Leeds School. Hosted a reading and celebration with 3 adult winners at River Valley Market.
•Initiated and edited “Hear a Poet, There a Poet” bi-weekly column for
Daily Hampshire Gazette. Applied for and received Northampton Arts
Lottery grant to collect these poems into an anthology. Reading and
celebration will be held at Forbes Library in April 2010..
•Read poems about flowers and gardens at Forbes Library before the annual
Northampton garden tour.
•Brought poets Patricia Smith and Cheryl Boyce-Taylor to the Pioneer Valley
to read at The Care Center in Holyoke, the Forbes Library in Northampton
and Smith College in Northampton
•Read as featured reader at “Bart’s Bards” in Greenfield
•Read as featured reader at Collected poets in Shelburne Falls
•Gave poetry reading at Green Street Café (with Andrea Ayvazian)
•Gave a reading at Broadside Books for new book of poetry, Nobody’s Mother
•Organized Inaugural Open Reading to celebrate President Obama at Yellow Sofa Café (with Florence Poets Society) and emceed event. Thirty-three poets
•Attended Leeds School 4th grade Poetry Reading
•Participated in poetry reading tribute to Stanley Kunitz at Forbes Library
•Started “Lunch with the Laureate” series and read at:
Women Outdoors
Northampton Senior Center
Congregation B’nai Israel Senior luncheon
Congregation B’nail Israel Sisterhood
“Fridays at Four” writing group at Haydenville community church
Lathrop Home
5 College Learning in Retirement
Jackson Street School (for teachers)
Smith Voc (for students)
Marty Wohl’s men’s book group
•Held poetry drive: collected books of poetry during April 2009. Collected 100 books which were distributed to waiting rooms around Northampton, as part of program, “Poetry to Wait By.”
•Initiated a “30 Poems in 30 Days” challenge to the Poets of the Pioneer Valley. Poets got people to sponsor a monetary amount per poem and wrote a poem a day during the month of November. Money was donated to the Family Literacy project of the Center for New Americans. More than $10,000 (ten-thousand dollars) was raised.
Celebratory reading and presentation took place at Forbes Public Library.
Forty-five poets read to an audience of 100 people.
•Was featured reader at Florence Poets Society Reading
•Received Florence Poets Society Quill and Ink award in recognition of contribution on behalf of poetry and literacy made to the community during two-year poet laureate term.
•Judged intercollegiate poetry slam held at American International College in Springfield.
•Keynote speaker at Write Angles conference and led poetry workshop there.
•Appeared twice on the radio program Poetry a la Carte, hosted by Daisy Matthias on WMUA.
supported in part by a grant from the Northampton Arts Council.
Reading and celebration to be held at Forbes Library on April 21, 2010.
Poet Laureate of Northampton 2006-2008

Jack Gilbert arrived in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1950s and attended Jack Spicer’s Magic Poetry Workshop, a seminal experience in his writing life. The poetry of the Beat Generation was in full flower all around him, but Gilbert and his work were no fit. He rebelled, not only against the Beats, but against the avant-garde language experiments and other endeavors in verse that were in vogue at the time. Chiefly, he stood against any poetry that he considered to be ephemeral or inconsequential.

“He wrote in very concrete terms, using what he called ‘real nouns,’ and avoided the abstract,” Lyman said, adding that he almost always wrote about people, places or experiences he had known. “The language he used was tangible and had a great intensity. It brought one down to the here and now and made one live through the experience being described.”

Gilbert’s first collection of poetry, “Views of Jeopardy,” was published as a result of his winning a contest, the 1961 Yale Younger Poets Prize, a prestigious honor that warranted notice in The New York Times. “Jeopardy” was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

“He achieved overnight that fame, he was reading to huge audiences and he was in Vogue and Variety magazines, but then he walked away from it,” Lyman said. “He wanted to be living life.”

He moved overseas, living mainly in the Greek islands, and was largely absent from the literary world until the publication of “Monolithos” in 1982 — his first collection since his debut 20 years before and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

A limited-edition chapbook, “Kochan,” appeared in 1984 and was dedicated to another lover, Michiko Nogami. The poems of grief were inspired by Nogami, who had died of cancer at age 36 two years earlier.

He published three more works, “The Great Fires” in 1994, “Refusing Heaven” in 2006 and “The Dance Most of All” in 2009.

In March 2012, Knopf published his “Collected Poems,” gathering his five original collections, along with a selection of uncollected poems, most of them never published before. The last collection spent 30 weeks on the Poetry Foundation’s list of bestselling new poetry books, reaching No. 1 and bringing Gilbert more widespread recognition.

Lyman said Gilbert considered life to be “a gift from the universe, to be cherished and lived as intensely as possible.”
Poet Laureate of Northampton 2003-2005


Janet E. Aalfs, poet laureate emeritus of Northampton, MA (2003-2005) and 7th degree black belt, is the founder & director of Lotus Peace Arts.

Integrative arts community educator and performer, founding member of Valley Women’s Martial Arts, a non-profit school in Easthampton, and the National Women's Martial Arts Federation, she has shared her work at conferences and events around the world for more than 35 years.

Aalfs has been a Dodge Festival poet, a presenter at Split This Rock, a feature performer at Power of Words/ Goddard College and Po'Jazz/ Hudson Valley Writers Center, an AWP poet, a Mass Poetry Festival performer/workshop facilitator, and a cultural exchange artist in Cape Town, South Africa.

In 2013, she received the UMass Center for Women & Community Leadership and Advocacy in the Arts Award, and was inducted into the Modern Arnis Hall of Fame in Philadelphia. She was named one of 125 Alumni to Watch by UMass in 1988, and received the Woman of Distinction Award from the Girl Scouts of Western MA in 1996. Aalfs has an MFA in poetry from Sarah Lawrence.

Her most recent collection of poems is Bird of a Thousand Eyes (Levellers). Other books include Reach (Perugia); Full Open (Orogeny); Of Angels and Survivors (Two Herons); Lubec Tides, a finalist in the 2007 Bright Hill Literary Center Chapbook Contest; Red and several self-published chapbooks. Her writing has appeared in numerous anthologies, journals, and online sites including A Fierce Brightness: 25 Years of Women's Poetry; Crossing Paths; Martial Arts Teachers on Teaching; Women in the Martial Arts; Contempory American Voices; VerseWrights; California State Poetry Quarterly; Monthly Review; Onion River Review; Comstock Review; The Mindfulness Bell; Passager; Sinister Wisdom; Common Lives/ Lesbian Lives; Feminists Who Changed America, 1963-1975. She won first prize in poetry contests of the Boston Herald and Peregrine Journal, and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. The anthology, No, Achilles (Waterwood 2015), will include her poem, “Sonnet for the Stolen Girls.”


Readings/ Performances, Keynotes, and Workshops

Janet E. Aalfs

*Poet Laureate Inaugural Reading – 6/24/03

Flag Day Poetry for Peace Reading – 6/14/03

Northampton Community Music Center – 7/1/03

workshop on tai chi, music and poetry performance

National Women's Martial Arts Federation, Ohio – 7/18/03

“Special Training” martial arts and poetry performance

Hampshire County Jail Poetry Workshops – Aug-Dec 2003

Benefit Reading for Nicaraguan artists, Ashfield – 8/16/03

*Community Arts Meeting reading – 9/16/03

Hampshire Regional High School – Sept 2003-Mar 2004

after school program for girls, weekly workshops

Smith Vocational High School Keynote – 9/25/03

Care Center Conference Keynote, Holyoke – 9/26/03

Everywoman's Center Staff Conference Keynote, UMass – 10/8/03

Valley Women's Martial Arts “Hats Off” Benefit Auction – 11/1/03

Jackson Street elementary school workshops Nov. 3 & 17, 2003

Pride & Joy reading – 11/5/03

Northwest District Attorney Domestic Violence Task Force Meeting – 11/20/03

Janet E. Aalfs

Everywoman's Center Survivors Support Group, Amherst – 12/8/03

First Night Northampton readings – 12/31/03

*Mayoral Inauguration reading – 1/5/04

Pride & Joy reading – 1/27/04

Ludlow Writing Workshop Graduation reading – 3/16/04

Sabes Literacy Conference Keynote, Holyoke Community College – 3/19/04

Northampton High School Poetry Slam – Mar 19, 22, 23, 2004

performances, coaching, judging

Northampton Community Music Center Multi-Arts performance – 3/28/04

Meekins Library reading, Williamsburg – 3/31/04

Hampshire County Jail reading – 4/7/04

Hunger Benefit “Taste of the Nation” reading – 4/28/04

Springfield Library Poetry Contest reading – 4/25/04

Kendal Retirement Community Lyceum, Ithaca, NY – 5/6/04

International Language Institute workshop – 5/10/04

Ryan Road elementary school workshops 5/11/04

Boston Herald 1st place Poetry Contest Reading – 5/27/04

*Northampton's 350th Anniversary Celebration reading – 6/5/04

Common School workshop & performance – 7/23/04, 2/7/05

ARISE Tent City workshop – 7/27/04

*Arts Council Transperformance reading – 8/24/04

Springfield College Orientation performance – 9/5/04

*Smith College Convocation reading (350th anniversary poem) – 9/6/04

Amherst Books Reading, Old Crow Journal – 4/10/05

UMass dance & poetry workshop at VWMA – 4/29/05

*arts council/ city events


On the Occasion of the City’s 350th Anniversary, 2004

“What living and buried speech is always vibrating here,

what howls restrain’d by decorum.” Walt Whitman

Crickets through my window, prisms

and a whining saw, sparrows

in a tangle of brambles.

What moves, lives.

What lives, sings.

Children on bikes circle

the block, voices spinning

Spanish and English like spokes

of the same wheel.

The street forks and the full moon

seen and unseen, pearl and coal,

perches in the cleft of an elm

where an old man used to stash

peanuts for the squirrels.

I trim the bittersweet remembering

he offered me his long-handled clippers.

On a breeze the tinge

of barbeque smoke, a saxophone

unwinds tendrils of the blues.

Around the corner the sun

warms a copper beech

then slips away. Someone

kneels in the garden.

Sparks still whisper in the grass.

Sally Maminash was not the last

shimmer of Algonquian here.

and the drum awakens

and the light arcs

and the bells chime

A crow flies west

over goldenrod and crimson-

tinted maples, sumac thick,

barbed wire coils of the jail glinting

near Hospital Hill. Over the Mill River,

over the flat roofs of brick factories

the loud bird soars.


In a clearing the statue

of Sojourner Truth, shadows

and light, branches, wings

swirl in a chorus

around her, heart true

as the print of a leaf,

and the lost voices rise

through sidewalk cracks and broken glass.

They are not finished

calling, echoes

like fish swimming under ice.

Though his fingers burn

cold, a boy picks up his flute

and plays a lullaby.

A prisoner writes a poem

and her life opens

and the gate slams.

Sun shouts in the darkest cell

What sings, moves,

What moves, lives.

At the courthouse citizens

bang on pots and pans, flash signs.

Candles flicker in the freezing wind.

Flags wave, opinions clash.

Listen to the ground.

A root splits stone. Love frees

the calm, the storm. I’m whole

again in her embrace.

Wake up, move, though the body aches.

Wake up, sing, though salt stings

the throat, the eyes. Hearts broken

beat tender, wild.

and the shofar sounds

and the choir swells

and the Koran’s chanted

and the gong calls forth

and the grove shimmers

and the Oxbow ripples

and the lone coyote

lifts its trill to the sky


As crocuses open

and the swans return, the long

tidal river floods its banks.

Connecticut. Named in a language

fragile, tenacious, memory fractured

as the land. We are fed

as its currents and fields

are fed, held as the hills

and mountains hold

the sky. Here I offer

my one voice

as I am blessed by the many,

dissonant, harmonious as a riot

of crows, distinct

and blurred, breath

by breath, bold, reticent,

aching to unfold.

Through streets and byways,

archways, courtyards, doors

flung wide to the wind,

thistle howls

redwings blaze

corn shivers

thunder quakes

calling me out

into the bluster and raw

scent of rain, starlings

and gulls wheeling toward the river,

lightning in their wings.

Janet E. Aalfs
Poet Laureate, 2003-2005
Northampton, MA

Note: “Ode to the Many Voices of Northampton” has been published under the title “What Lives, Sings” in Bird of a Thousand Eyes, Janet E. Aalfs (Levellers Press, 2010) and Paradise Found: A Walking and Biking Tour of Northampton, MA through Poetry and Art (Levellers Press).
Poet Laureate of Northampton 2001-2003

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