Summer Talk: A (Mostly Written) Oral History of the Boston Poetry Marathon

Edited by Andrew K. Peterson, Bridget Eileen, and Suzanne Mercury, published in 2019

“You live very much alone, here in Boston. Are you disillusioned?”

“Oh, no. It’s impossible to be disillusioned. Not when one lives in the Holy Spirit.”

– Raymond Foye Interviews John Wieners in the Introduction of Wieners’ Cultural Affairs in Boston

Summer marks the anniversary of a much-anticipated annual “cultural affair” for literary Boston. The Boston Poetry Marathon celebrated 21 years since the event started; this year’s Marathon took place on August 10th through 12th. Over three days, more than one hundred and twenty-five local and out-of-town poets shared their poetry in front of a spirited audience of poets and poetry lovers at Outpost 186 in Cambridge. Each poet was given an equal eight-minute time slot to read or talk about their work. Since its underdog beginnings, the Boston Poetry Marathon has gained its share of loyal followers with its independent spirit, equanimity, and increasing diversity.

When the first marathon was held in 1998, it was then named “The Boston Alternative Poetry Conference”. It featured primarily “experimental” poets, reflecting the aesthetic tastes of the event’s founder Aaron Kiely, with help from fellow poet Sean Cole. Shaped by the guidance of many different organizers over the years, the Marathon has evolved to present a wide range of poetry styles, including experimental poets, academics, slam and performance poets from various generations, from well-known seasoned poets to students in local creative writing programs.

In commemoration of the 20th anniversary in 2017, we reached out several of the Marathon’s former organizers to learn about its origins, relive some of its memorable moments, and find out what it takes to coordinate a three-day poetry festival. What follows is a fondly reflective and humorous discussion, illustrating the cubist evolution of this spirited zone.

One consistency since the event’s early years: much like the summer-in-the-city spirit its poetries reflects, the Marathon is consistently hot and crowded. Dan Bouchard wrote in a 1998 review of the first conference: “What was learned? Only poets would spend a three-day weekend in a hot and cramped room for up to, or over, 12 hours a day on a beautiful, sunny weekend and be very excited about it.”

Bridget Eileen, a poet and one of this year’s co-organizers, reflects that enthusiasm Bouchard noticed two decades ago. “Every year I look forward to the Marathon so much, and I’m so excited to bring it to the community now as one of the organizers,” she says. “I know they say the holidays are the most wonderful time of the year, but I tend to think it’s the Boston Poetry Marathon.”

Suzanne Mercury, a poet and another one of the current organizers writes about the deeply nourishing quality of the Boston Poetry Marathon. “Especially now, with so much political and social uncertainty, we feel it’s especially urgent to create a welcoming space for poets to share their poems and talk with one another. Poetry is a life-giving force, a deep and ecstatic source of empathy. It feeds the heart and soul. The world needs much more of it, now more than ever. The Boston Poetry Marathon offers more than poetry – a lot more! Every year I come away exhausted, inspired, and ready to write.”

Interviews were conducted via email and Facebook Messenger in August 2017, and edited for conversational flow.

What were the factors that lead to the founding of the Boston Poetry Marathon?

AARON KIELY: I founded the conference in the spring of 1998 and ran the conference for three summers from 1998-2000. I started it because I was a young writer in Boston discovering “experimental” poetry in anthologies, but I wasn’t seeing any of the poets I was reading in the anthologies coming to Boston. So I decided to invite them. My best friend of 30 years, Sean Cole, was part of the early idea for the festival, but I took over all the organizing and vision right away.

SEAN COLE: Here’s what happened. Aaron and I were both living in Northampton, MA. And in the summer of 1996 I took a bus out to Boulder, Colorado to spend a week at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at the Naropa Institute. It was the summer workshop. A four-week long workshop but I could only afford a week. It was really kind of a pilgrimage to go out and show Allen Ginsberg my poems. I had met Allen after a reading he gave at UMass and he told me about Naropa. (I was a relatively attractive 24-year-old male who sat like an acolyte as his feet during the Q & A so he took some notice of me.) Anyway, that week was a total shock of recognition for me. Up until then, Aaron and I had been reading Plath and Sexton and Ted Hughes and Mark Strand. Some other poets. But really pretty conventional, canonical poets. And at Naropa I learned about Will Alexander and Pierre Joris and all of these folks that blew the top of my skull off. Particularly Will. Will gave one of the greatest readings I had ever seen. There was a storm outside and at end of his reading the power went out. It was like he was a sorcerer. I had heard of Anne Waldman and Dianne DiPrima and those folks at that point but I hadn’t engaged with their work yet. And here I was taking workshops that they led and seeing them read and also hanging out with them a little bit. It was a real thrill. Oh, and I did show Allen my poems. Best tutorial I’ve ever received in any setting, academic or non-.

I come home and Aaron is working his shift at Raven Books on South Street in Northampton. And, as I often did, I’m just hanging out there keeping him company at work, browsing the stacks. And I come across an anthology called Primary Trouble. And when I look at the table of contents… there’s Will Alexander and Anselm Hollo and Anne Waldman and all of these folks that I’d just been blown away by at Naropa. And I said “Aaron! These are the people that I’ve been telling you about!” The Will Alexander poem in that book was particularly astonishing. “from Ball Lightning” We would reference that one poem for years after we first read it. I still remember lines like “Like a black spillage of roosters.” “Like an owl’s clairvoyant mannequin eternity.” Will’s a surrealist. Aaron and I start reading and discovering more and more of these poets. Especially Aaron. Once Aaron locks into something new he researches and reads and cross-references to the ends of the Earth.

Fast-forward many months. Aaron and I are both living in Somerville. And we’re talking on and off about a festival. I think Aaron had said he just wanted to call up all of his favorite poets and say “come to Boston!” Anyway, this one day…I finally said “Let’s just do it! Enough with talking about it! Let’s do a festival!” And Aaron really liked that. He was like “Yeah! That’s the spirit!” I’m sure it was Aaron who secured the venue. I certainly had nothing to do with that. And I think it might have been him who picked the dates as well. And then we both started inviting the poets we wanted to attend. But I only got as far as inviting one poet – Caroline Knox – before Aaron was like “You know what? I think I should just handle the invitations if that’s okay. I’ve just got this rap down. I know exactly what to say. Just leave it to me.” And so I did. I 100% did not mind him taking over the reins fully. For one thing, I was really busy at work and for another I knew he had a vision and he’s also just a force of nature when he gets going. And, like me, he’s a control freak. I don’t think he’d mind my saying that. I’m a control freak with other things but I wasn’t as clear about what I thought this thing should look like so I’m glad he took it over.

How would you characterize the Boston poetry community in the late 1990s?  

SEAN: There were a few different reading series in Boston back then. Michael Franco’s “Word of Mouth” is the one that sticks out in my memory. (I particularly remember Michael standing at the front of the room at this now defunct bookstore in Boston without prepared remarks – saying that he preferred to stumble around and actually say something.) There were the Stone Soup poets who were more performance poets, I think. But Aaron and I weren’t aware of any of those series until after the idea for the festival came about and we started meeting people. We met pretty much all of the poets we know now through Aaron organizing the festival. To my knowledge, there wasn’t a big days long poetry festival in Boston back then until Aaron created it. Or if there had been in the past it wasn’t happening anymore. So the different series and communities seemed like they were more pixilated and scattered around here and there.

Where was the Marathon held in those years? What was the format like?

AARON: The first two years had panel talks about poetry in addition to readings. Each poet was given 15-20 minutes for their reading. Poetry publishers sold their books at the event. Poets of all ages and levels of notoriety read at the event. People came from all over the country to attend the festival, but predominantly from New York and New England. The first year was called The Boston Alternative Poetry Conference and was held at The Cambridge Center for Adult Education in Harvard Square.

SEAN: That first year… I don’t like using this word usually but it was magical. It really was. There was a buzz about the festival. All of these people came from New York. Some weren’t even scheduled to read – they just showed up to watch the readings and the events. I feel like a lot of these festivals you’re reading to an audience of other readers but in this case, I think a lot of people wanted to see what the fuck this thing was all about. I mean Charles Bernstein was reading. Damon Krukowski who was in Galaxy 500 was reading. Just lots and lots of extraordinary poets and talents. I remember hearing that David Kirschenbaum was sitting with Daniel Bouchard in New York reading a flier or an ad or something for the festival and they said to each other, “Who the fuck is Aaron Kiely?” We were unknowns.

What was the atmosphere like?

SEAN: We were packed into this room and everyone was very excited. It was a small boxed-in windowless room. Small especially for the throng of people that showed up that first year. There was no air conditioning. We had a big industrial fan and I remember there was a debate as to whether it would be less oppressive to have the doors open or closed.

JIM BEHRLE: I remember [the first year] being very hot and very crowded. I met Aaron Kiely and Sean Cole, both of whom would become very influential. Also, Brendan Lorber, Douglas Rothschild, untold others. I think I was blown away by the largeness of the endeavor. The idea that you could absorb so much poetry in a concentrated amount of time.

SEAN: Some of the readers were reading with their favorite writers. I remember this one guy – can’t remember who it was – but this one poet said he was going to keep his reading short because John Taggart (who was reading after him) was his favorite poet anywhere any time. Meaning his favorite of all time and space. (I remember nearly hitting John Taggart in the face as I was trying to adjust his microphone for him.) That’s another thing. We didn’t know about hierarchies or pecking orders. I remember Joe Torra coming up and being so wonderful about giving us advice. He started off with “You’re doing a really great job.” And then he suggested that we shift the order around in an upcoming reading because of the different energy and intensity of these two readers. He thought they were in the wrong order. One was going to out-show the other before the other even read. And he was right. I don’t remember who the poets were but I remember that Joe was right.

After the whole thing was over people continued marveling about it. Jack Kimball said it was a “critical mass.” I remember that distinctly because, even at my advanced age of 26, it was the first time I remember hearing that phrase. It sounded very important. “A critical mass.”

JIM: There was a big party at Michael Franco’s house, I believe, which was a rager…

Read Jack Kimball and Dan Bouchard’s Reviews of the 1998 Boston Alternative Poetry Conference – and after-party:

What happened the following years?

AARON: The next two years it was called The Boston Poetry Conference (dropped the “alternative”) and it was held at The Art Institute of Boston in Kenmore Square.

SEAN: That [Alternative] title confused a couple of people. They were like “alternative to what?” Aaron and I were thinking that the conference would feature work that was less conventional – more experimental. It’s overstating it to say “out there” and that could be taken pejoratively but you know what I’m saying, work that takes risks. Think P. Inman and Tina Darragh.

This crew from Albany that were beautifully insane. Michael [Peters] was the … head of this, like, gang. Anyway, they would read objects. Like, here is an object – read the object. Out loud. It was a kind of speaking in tongues almost. There was a poet, I can’t remember his name, who carved letters of the alphabet into a bowling ball, rolled out a long piece of brown butcher’s paper, inked up the bowling ball and then rolled the bowling ball along the butcher’s paper so that there were letters printed all up and down it. And then… he read what the bowling ball had printed. Which of course was guttural gibberish. But that was the wonderful thing was these folks were stretching the bounds of… not just what a poem is but what reading is. What written, textual, lingual art is. My heart is starting to beat faster just thinking about it.

AARON: I moved to New York in 2000 after the third festival and passed the festival to Joseph Lease, Donna De La Perriere and Jim Behrle. They ran it for a few years, and then it moved to other organizers and other venues.

JIM: Aaron left town, I believe, and we still had the space to use in Kenmore Square. Ruth Lepson had given us use of a classroom. I don’t remember how I got involved exactly, I think I was asked or did ask to continue the thing and I asked Joseph and Donna to help out, because the idea of doing it all myself did not appeal to me.

How did you see yourself and your poetry in relation to the poetry scene at the time?

JIM: I was working at various bookstores like Brookline Booksmith and WordsWorth Books in Harvard Square and running poetry events weekly. I think we also were still having readings at the Bookcellar in Davis Square as well at that point. But there were all kinds of series going on: Grolier, Blacksmith House, Harvard Poetry Room, among others.

In terms of cliques and divisions, it was always aesthetic-driven. Some kinds of poets read at one of the others of these kinds of places and our kinds of poets read at the other place. But those distinctions have become more fuzzy now. Academic poetry was more mainstream, and now it’s kind of all over the place. I felt like a lucky kid who could go to various different things and feel like I belonged. More people probably knew me as an events coordinator, but everyone was pretty nice. I didn’t have much of a life so going to poetry events was my whole social calendar.

JOHN MULROONEY: I was born in Boston but had been out of town when the BPM first got going. I first got involved when I returned from living in Spain and was rooming with Jim. I just sort of helped out on the ground during the three days of mayhem. After Jim moved to New York, it sort of fizzled out again. But I had been running a reading series at the Plough and Stars with Mick Carr and Aaron Teiger. This was in the mid-oughts. The first revitalized marathon was put on by Jim, Mick, Aaron, myself and David Kirshenbaum.

JOANNA FURHMAN: I was coming from New York, so I don’t know. I only knew a handful of people in the Boston area at the time. My editors at Hanging Loose Press, Dick Laurie and Mark Pawlack lived in Boston, but I, for some reason, never thought of them as “Boston Writers” since I knew them through Brooklyn-based Hanging Loose. Joe and Donna secured the space and reserved the room. I just invited people. I remember inviting Maggie Nelson, Johannes Goransson, Aaron Kunin, Tanya Larkin, Peter Richards, Paisley Rekdal, Dick Laurie and a handful of others. It was very warm, supportive. I feel like I was able to meet a lot of people I didn’t know before then. I met Ruth Lepson, who would go on to be important in my life.

Read Doug Holder’s Review of the 2001 Boston Poetry Marathon:×476

What influenced your programming?

JOHN: The ethos has always been casualness, grassroots, DIY and I think it originally reflected the poetics of the organizers more directly than it does now. This was not a mission so much as a kind of laziness. We called the people we knew. And some we didn’t, but the ones we knew tended to call us back sooner and more frequently. But the reading atmosphere was always open and generous.

DONNA DE LA PERRIERE[i]: I like to juxtapose different kinds of voices and create contrasts that work in interesting ways.  The event isn’t about me or my analysis of what any poet or poem is doing; it’s about the work – the poetry. There’s something that happens after you’ve listened to a couple hours of nothing but poetry. You start to experience language in a different, and quite wonderful, way.

AUDREY MARDAVICH[ii]: You’ll have people who are very accomplished and very well-known and people doing it for the first year alongside them, and they all will read for eight minutes. It creates a wonderful atmosphere, because the focus is on the poems, not on prizes.

JOHN: It has gradually morphed into something that is less centered on a poetics and actually gets much of its energy from the breadth and scope of what’s there. It’s also gotten more Boston. If you don’t pay – and we don’t – you can’t always get 15 New Yorkers and 10 Philly poets to drive up and find places to stay. Plus, once it seemed to be going on its own steam, that is people wanted to go, to read at it, inquired months in advance what weekend it would be, including people who hadn’t been/read at it before, we didn’t want to always invite the same people. Again, with limited resources, we looked locally.

JIM: We were always lucky to have poets who weren’t just interested in reading, but also hanging out most of the weekend. That helps. It’s wonderful to look out into an audience and think, wow, there’s some awesome poets in this room.

BRIDGET EILEEN: The 2017 poetry marathon was particularly interesting, energy-wise, because it was the same time as the counter-protest to what had gone on in Charlottesville the weekend before. There was a rally in Boston organized by Didi Delgado, who is also a poet, along with Monica Cannon-Grant and Angie Camacho. Many of the readers and other attendees of the poetry marathon went to both the rally and the festival, so they brought that energy with them. People updated the rest of the festival attendees on what was happening downtown at the Common, then read their work. It was really something remarkable. We debated at the time whether or not to have the festival at all with the rally occurring at the same time, the rally being planned very last minute in response to a demonstration from local Neo-Nazis in support of the previous weekend’s events at Charlottesville. In the end we decided to keep the festival on, make a unified statement as organizers in support of the rally, and encourage all who wished to attend it to do so, while keeping their time available if they wanted to come to the festival, too. I think that was the best decision, because it was really good to have a space for poetry in all that was occurring, to help amplify what was going on downtown. 

For 2018, we decided to do something special during certain parts of the weekend, to honor some poets who passed away in 2018. For certain hours of the weekend, we gave the poets in that time slot extra time to honor the memory and work of the poet we dedicated the hour to. We started off the entire Poetry Marathon with an hour for Lucie Brock-Broido. On Saturday afternoon, we had an hour for Marthe Reed. On Sunday afternoon, we had a hour for Gerrit Lansing–which is when he usually read as a participant. And, as he’d just passed away on the first day of the festival, we used an open time slot on Saturday night to create and impromptu dedication to Bill Corbett. But there were other poets who passed away this year or late last year, whose work and memory was shared by others throughout the weekend, like Charley Shively, Patricia Pruett, and Nicanor Parra. We have a lost a lot of people this past year, and the poetry marathon was a good place to commemorate them with other poets. There was a lot of crying, but in a good, cathartic way. It was very moving and meaningful.

SUZANNE MERCURY: The tributes were so moving this year, and there was a lot of crying. What I felt more than ever is how close this community has become, how much love and respect we feel for one another. 

What’s the hardest and most rewarding things about trying to organize a bunch of poets?

JIM: Trying to stay on time. Some poets just have no concept of time or do not appreciate that lots of people are reading and things need to be kept moving. How can you tell people nicely that it’s time to wrap it up? We came up with various systems, most of which failed.

SUZANNE: I openly pull out my timer and make sure they know I am  keeping track. Usually people wrap up when you tell them it is time to wrap, but sometimes they just don’t and it is frustrating. If you are a moderator, you really do have to step up at that point. Last year we had a large banana that we would wave when the reader hit eight minutes.

SEAN: You know, poets can be a very dramatic, persnickety bunch. I remember a poet… I won’t say who it is… but when Aaron called him up to the stage he stood up and just said, “I don’t think I’m gonna read, Aaron.” In front of the whole room. And Aaron was stuck up there onstage stumbling. The poet said something like, “It’s been a long day. And I think let’s just move on.” Or whatever he said. And luckily someone in the audience said, “Oh! Please read, First Name.” And Aaron said, “Yeah, please read, First Name.” And the poet finally conceded. Shit like that could happen.

JIM: Organizing individual poetry events without the benefit of 2010s social media was difficult. Thankfully so many poets were willing to travel on their own dime to Boston to read for 10 minutes for free. It was mostly a pleasure, many people said yes. Over the years we cut down on the time poets could read during the Marathon so we could invite more poets. Poets still came! I think it went from 15 minutes to about 8 minutes. We’d pack in as many poets into an hour as we could and build in as many breaks as possible.

JOANNA: I think at that time of my life I was so hungry for poetry, there was no challenge. But I also remember there were a good number of breaks.

BRIDGET: I like the expression “herding cats” in this instance. But I say so with all the love I can muster, because I do really love doing it. I was a high school drama director for a few years, just out of college. Organizing artsy folks is more of a challenge than, say, a sports team, or a business, where the idea of a kind of authoritarian, top down approach is widely accepted. In our case, it is more like the organizers are the leaders who form a small committee, and the committee of leaders get their power from the poetry community, so they aim to serve the literary community they’re an equal part of. There’s a balance between task-mastering and adapting to people’s needs and desires, so that we can have a happy event occur. 

Also toilet paper. Making sure there’s plenty of toilet paper at the venue. That is extremely crucial to organizing. 

SUZANNE: “Poet wrangling” as I call it is a fine and delicate art, and sometimes during the organizing and, especially during that final week before the weekend, the flurry of messages and emails is dizzying. I feel like I am on a trapeze without a net sometimes, but it is thrilling.  I cannot fathom how the early organizers pulled this together before email, Google drive, and smart phones! Every year I am always in awe though of how committed and passionate all of the participants are, and how for so many of us, nothing, nothing, NOTHING will keep us away. People care about this hot and packed weekend and the adrenaline and happiness rush is very real. 

How do you keep yourself awake, energized, and engaged with poetry for long periods of time throughout the weekend?

JIM: Awake and energized and engaged is not generally how I feel during the Marathons. It’s a rollercoaster and a blur and you just have to motor through it. There’s a 7/11 next door [to Outpost 186], so you can always caffeinate.

JOHN: There’s so much logistical stuff to do that it just flies by.

SEAN: Man, it was tough. I was lucky because I was recording everything. I would sit there, either in the audience or on the stage, with headphones, listening closely to a much more intimate signal of the given poet’s voice. So that helped keep me more focused. Also, I had something to do. I was focusing on the levels. Labelling the cassette J-cards. That kind of thing. But those were relatively sleepless weekends. Aaron has a special kind of natural cocaine that he just generates in some small gland somewhere in him. He has an adrenaline about him. Which is one of the things I love about him. I don’t remember him ever flagging. Nor freaking out on anybody. He was always just up and positive and laughy and charming.

BRIDGET: When I was just a participant, I always brought a notebook to write my thoughts, reactions, juicy words, etc as people read. As an organizer, I am up front in the poet’s line of sight, ready to signal there was one minute left, so that fact keeps me engaged.

SUZANNE: Hydration! And bring a fan! Bring a notebook, engage, and take breaks when you need to take breaks! Many of us are devoted to not missing a word, but sometimes you just have to step outside and hang out, sip something cool, and watch the fireflies. And then you come back in, refreshed. Being there as an organizer is always very different of course because you have to keep things moving, make sure the people in the next set are all there, and be ready to introduce people, and time the readings. The most important thing I think is make room for the fun and joy of being there. Take pictures! The whole thing is very naturally energizing.

Any particularly memorable readers, performances, or gossipy incidents?

SEAN: We’ve had some extraordinary readers and poets over the years. Eileen Myles. Anne Waldman. John Wieners when he was alive. THAT was a real event. People stood around taking pictures of him like he was the Maharishi. Because he WAS. Gerrit Lansing has given some unbelievable readings over the years at that festival. The Waldrops (Rosemary and Keith). Robert Creeley.

JIM: The last Marathon Aaron Kiely and Sean Cole worked on had an hour with John Wieners, Gerrit Lansing and Robert Creeley. So that was memorable. Gina Myers won the next year’s marathon with a poem about “The Pit Kids” and “The Lot Kids” from Saginaw, Michigan that blew everyone away.

SUZANNE: It is hard to know where to start! There are so many! I remember Kythe Heller at the first marathon I attended. She talked about how when she couldn’t sleep she would wander the city and start small fires and then write poems until the fires died out. I remember Dotty Lasky and Eileen Myles reading to crowds that poured out of the doorway. Gerrit Lansing was always larger than life and a transformative presence, and it is hard to imagine our Sundays without him now. And Carol Weston! I always love her readings. Her voice is amazing. 

BRIDGET: For me, it was going to my first one, in 2009. I was so surprised to have been invited because at that point, I had only been attending poetry events, I hadn’t had anything published. I’m still pretty bad at publishing. I’m a very extroverted person but very gun-shy about sharing my work in written form. Though I really enjoy reading my poems, so I was so thrilled to be a part of it and take it all in the first time as both an attendee and a participant. And now I get to be one of those people who bring new people to participate, and I love that part, maybe the most of all, that ability to “pay it forward” so to speak. 

JOHN: Too many. Jim Behrle reading in a glass coffin. Douglass Rothchild reading his rendering of Keats’ “To Autumn,” reflecting on 9/11 in 2002.

Uh, a glass coffin?

JIM: [At the 3rd or 4th Marathon] I read 100 short sonnets lying down inside a display case. Me and Douglas Rothschild found an art display case between reading sessions and I said something about how I should read my sonnets from inside it. I read 100 short sonnets. They were not all 14 lines long they were just on a 14-line field. Doug was very helpful. Sean Cole helped with the Mic and was able to put the poems on the glass in front of my face so I can read them. There wasn’t a lot of air in there and the plexiglass fogged up with almost every breath. The case wasn’t really designed for people to lie in it, but it didn’t fall apart. It was really a group effort.

JOANNA: I remember [Jim] went after Mark Bibbins who said he “wished there were more poet groupies”, and Jim started his reading by saying “I wish there were more poets who didn’t need groupies.”

Do you approach your readings at the Marathon any differently than at other readings?

SEAN: Well now that there’s a strict 8-minute rule I pretty much just decide to read four poems and don’t feel like I’m gonna dig into a groove with people. I just try to do my best really. That’s a terrible answer. I apologize.

JOANNA: I usually try to read new poems.

SUZANNE: I always try to read something brand new, something very fresh. I feel very free at the marathon. I like to engage with the raw energy, the zeitgeist that space always has, respond to the audience, and make it fresh. 

JIM: There’s something magical about doing something concentrated, that leaves people hopefully wanting more. The Marathon was always a good excuse to read something I’d just written, so often they were poems written on the Fung Wah or at the Hotel Commander just before the reading. It also gave me a chance to say things directly to the poets of Boston, like I was reporting back from the front of a war.

BRIDGET: Doing a poetry reading is my favorite way to share poems. I have a performing arts background, since I started out as a music major in college, for vocal performance. So, I just always want to make sure I’m putting on the best little “show” I can when I read, whether it’s for the Marathon, or elsewhere. I’m a big fan of the time constraint of the Marathon. For me it means I just have to go with what I have that I know is “ready” for the most part. It helps with future editing and revising, in that way. 

What do you attribute the Marathon’s lasting success to? What do you think has kept it around, and relevant?

AARON: I am thrilled that the festival has lasted so long. I think it is because Massachusetts has such a strong literary history.

SEAN: Different people taking it on and being excited about it. That’s all. Also, an effort to make it more ecumenical. More diverse. I’m impressed and encouraged by the diversity of the festival these past few years. That’s great. Also, younger people have taken on organizing it. It’s kind of the same reason Saturday Night Live is still around. It’s a great idea and there are enough young people around to refresh the vision every so often.

AUDREY: The wonderful thing for me is that poetry exists outside the world of money. It’s about the art, about the poems, about the community. It’s expensive here in Boston, yet poetry continues thrive and the Boston Poetry Marathon grows every year.

SUZANNE: The Boston Poetry Marathon is ultimately fueled by love. I like what Audrey says about poetry existing outside of the world of money. It’s so true. It it always resists monetization, it is part of the gift economy, and people really hunger for that. This is part of what makes it essential. C.D. Wright describes poetry as “the very lining of the inner life.”  It really is something exciting, redemptive, and liberating. 

End Notes

[i] Quoted from “Bay Area Poetry Marathon: Long lyrical lineup” by Evan Karp. The SF Gate. July 29,2010. Available:

[ii] Quoted from “The Boston Poetry Marathon: 3 Days, 17 Hours, 100 Readers” by Eli Davidow. WBUR ARTery. August 13, 2015. Available: