Visiting Poet

CareCenter reading

“I would like to invite you to be one of our guest poets here at The Center, where we have a lively visiting author program.”  Here was the email I’d been expecting since a friend had told me she’d recommended me as a visiting poet.  “We have hosted poets such as Naomi Shihab Nye, Martín Espada, Junot Díaz, Marilyn Nelson, Joy Harjo, and many more.”  “Wow,” I thought, and “Yes,” I said.

The Care Center is an educational program in Holyoke, MA for pregnant and parenting teens who have dropped out of school.  After studying the country’s most successful prep schools to learn what creates motivated and successful learners, The Care Center developed a curriculum that encompasses the arts, humanities and athletics and provides ongoing support for students.  GED plus plus.  The program works, with up to 85% of graduates going on to college.

A very popular component of the curriculum is the poetry program.  “Care Center students soon discover that poetry is a kind of self-expression that can take many forms. The most important thing is that it express something authentic about the writer’s life, perspective, or perceptions.” The visiting poet is a popular part of that program and that was me on Tuesday.

The students had studied The Truth About Death before my visit and were ready, after my reading, with insightful and direct questions which led to the liveliest post reading discussion I’ve ever experienced.  “You have a poem called ‘Drugs.’  What kind of drugs were you doing when you wrote this book?”  “In the poem ‘Sex’ you walk miles out into the woods to get it on.  Why would you do that outside?”  “How did you chose the art for the cover?”  “You said you were possessed by a demon while writing the book.  What did the demon feel like?”

I answered as honestly and directly as their questions, and there was laughter and a lot of knowing nods.  The straight forward story of grief, confusion, struggle and a yearning to stay connected to a meaningful life that The Truth About Death tells was a story these young women could understand.  It was a powerful morning of connection, and a reminder to me of how effective poetry can be in keeping us grounded in what is most essential in life — truth, honesty, and a willingness to risk expressing whatever is inside. And it was great fun.

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About Grace Mattern

Grace Mattern is a poet, writer, mother, grandmother, partner, friend, family member, gardener, triathlete, hiker and for 30 years was the Executive Director of the NH Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. She resigned her position at the Coalition on June 15, 2011 in order to concentrate on her writing, while continuing to engage in the movement to end violence against women as a consultant and advisor. Her chapbook Fever of Unknown Origin was published in 2001 and her full-length poetry book The Truth About Death was published in 2012.
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4 Responses to Visiting Poet

  1. Sharon says:

    You and the Care Center girls are a perfect match. And I’m betting it’s pretty rare for audience members to ask questions that are quite *that* direct. I love that they went to those places – and that you had fun, no less, engaging in that conversation. I’ve always imagined that having an audience of students who’ve actually read and thought about the visiting poet’s work ahead of time must make the experience that much richer for everyone involved. One of the surprising things about The Care Center students is that, wise-beyond-their-years as they are, they are still teens – and given their community and lives, restricted in many ways from the wider world beyond their community. Poetry opens up so much of the world they haven’t experienced, as evidenced by some of those questions you were asked. Bravo – I’m so delighted it was fun (and I hear they loved you too!)

    • Grace Mattern says:

      A very rich experience indeed. I’m so grateful for opportunities like this, to connect with others through poetry and direct expressions of how it feels to live our complicated lives.

  2. Absolutely wonderful Grace that you were called through your poetry and you answered in such a lively and healing forum. Yes – to poetry as an everyday tool to observe, write about life, share and heal ourselves. It’s about time. Have you ever considered regularly teaching poetry? It may be your next calling. So happy for all the “grace that you are” and sharing with the world. This post made my day. I will be visiting Marsie soon, and we will celebrate all of us and all of our growth. Brava!!!! Andrea

    • Grace Mattern says:

      Thanks, Andrea. A calling through poetry is a wonderful thing. Give Marsie a big hug for me and enjoy the glorious world of Santa Fe.

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