Poetry here can be viscerally contemporary. A spoken word artist at an open mic can perform a living protest. A Brooklyn poet who came north for a writing residency once told me she had never seen spring come before — until she lived here for a few months, she had never seen the hills move from the first stirrings of green to the waterfall of new leaves opening in early May.

Poets who live here share their work as it emerges, in bookstores and bars and barns. On one incomparable day, Richard Wilbur sat with me in his studio in Cummington — one of the best known poets in the last hundred years, living quietly an old house in the hilltown where he had lived for decades — and he told stories … looking back on the eve of his 90th birthday.

Mass MoCA may wind poems through their contemporary art. I remember a spring night, locals listening to Agha Shahid Ali’s words in the galleries at night — his brother read them in tribute to his life, and I felt close to the hills outside
the quiet of the museum after hours and the light in the translucent walls of the rooms Ishar Patkin made to hold them.

Writers come around the country to read at local colleges on spring nights, and some stay longer. And sometimes we talk together. I remember Safiya Sinclair exploring the soul of the Caribbean, and the clear tensile strength in her lines — conversations about courage and rage and intimacy, Phillip B. Williams conjuring with words like Dante questing and dancing in a club in Queens at 3 a.m.

Nationally awardwinning poets Joy Harjo and Ross Gay have brought light with their words.
Poet and professor Jessica Fischer will speak at Williams College. Press photo courtesy of Williams
Jessica Fisher

Poems alive in the hills

We have poets here from many directions. Some live here, and some come for some quiet time, in a writing residency or on their own.

Some come with the help of local places who build new honest words into the core of who they are — WordxWord leading slams and open mics, translators at Art Omi, Williams College (Jessica Fisher at left), Bennington College’s MFA just up the road, writing residencies in Edith Wharton’s house and gardens at the Mount and the Amy Clampitt House in Lenox, and the Mastheads out in the fields at Arrowhead …

Listening to Mastheads poets on a summer night, I hear their honesty. I feel the weight of events bear down on them, and the warmth they gave each other … and the peace of the meadows at night. Here are some of the poets I’ve met and talked with over the years, and who have moved me.

BTW Berkshires