In partnership with the Westwood Public Library's 21st Century Fund and the Westwood Cultural Council, the Town of Westwood is pleased to announce the selection of Westwood's first Poet Laureate.
Meet Westwood's inaugural Poet Laureate:
Lynne Viti was appointed Westwood’s inaugural poet laureate by the Westwood Select Board in February 2023, for a term of two years. Viti is a teacher, poet, fiction writer and community advocate for poetry.
As part of her mission to bring poetry to every corner of Westwood, Lynne Viti produces events that bring poets into the town’s public school classrooms, designs and facilitates poetry workshops for adults, including the ongoing Tuesday Poetry Workshop at the Westwood Library and programs at the Council on Aging, the annual town-wide Poetry Reading and Open Mic in April, and in collaboration with teachers and staff, produces a spoken word poetry slam at Westwood High School during April, National Poetry Month. Viti also recites an original poem at official town occasions such as Memorial Day and Westwood Day.
Viti mentors and collaborates on poetry events with the town’s Inaugural Youth Poet Laureate, a position also established by the Select Board in Spring 2023. This academic year’s Youth Poet Laureate is Lucie Sechler, Westwood Class of 2023.The duo’s major 2024 event, supported by a grant from the Mass. Cultural Council and by the Westwood Library, will be a Children’s Poetry Festival slated for February 20-22, 2023, during February school vacation week. The headliner speaker for children in grades 2 through 5 and their parents or elders at that event will be the acclaimed poet Richard Blanco, the youngest poet ever to read at a Presidential inauguration, in January 2013, President Barack Obama’s second inauguration.
Both the Poet Laureate and Youth Poet Laureate positions are sponsored by a gift from the Westwood Public Library's 21st Century Fund. The Westwood Cultural Council and the Massachusetts Cultural Council have also granted funding for programs and initiatives facilitated by the Poet Laureate.
Viti is the author of four books of poetry, most recently The Walk to Cefalù, from Cornerstone Press. She has published widely in online and print journals and newspapers, and has won prizes in local, national and international competitions, including the Miriam Chaikin Writing Award, the WMOR/Joe Gouveia Outermost Poetry Contest, Fish Publishing Poetry Contest, Glimmer Train Short Fiction Contest, Allen Ginsberg Poetry Contest, and the Tucson Festival of Books Literary Awards. A lecturer emerita in the Writing Program at Wellesley College, she and her family have lived in Westwood since 1991.
Photo Credit Richard Howard
All events listed here are free and open to the public.
January 23, at 10 AM - Seniors, Poetry and Pie at the COA.
Bring a favorite poem to share, hear Poet Laureate Lynne Viti read a few poems, and enjoy apple pie and tea/ coffee.
Location: Westwood Senior Center, 60 Nahatan Street,
Contact: 781-329-8799 for further information.
February 20-22, at 1:30 PM - Children's Poetry Festival
Children’s Poetry Festival at the Main Library with music, crafts, and poetry events. Featuring headliner poet Richard Blanco, on February 22, 1:30 PM event for children grades 2-5 and their families.
Location: 660 High Street, Westwood Public Main Library.
Reservations are required at https://westwoodlibrary.libcal.com/event/11282552
April 2 at 6:30 PM - Annual Town-wide Poetry Reading with Open Mic
Third Annual Town-wide Poetry Reading with Open Mic , open mic signups start at 6:15 PM. (ages 16 and up)
Location: Westwood Public Main Library, Meeting Room, 660 High Street.
*If your library, church, community center, high school college alumnae/i group, or book club would like to book a poetry reading and book signing event, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for information. I’d be delighted to come and read and do a Q &A for you!
Presidential Inaugural Poet Richard Blanco Accepts Invitation to Speak at Westwood Children's Poetry Festival
American Poet Richard Blanco receives the honor of the National Humanities Medal from President Joe Biden.
“...[P]oetry, like bread, is for everyone.” -Richard Blanco (quoting poet Roque Dalton).
American poet Richard Blanco, the youngest, first Latinx, immigrant, and gay person to serve as Presidential Inaugural Poet, and to whom President Joe Biden awarded the National Humanities Medal, will headline the first Westwood Children’s Poetry Festival, planned for February school vacation next year, says Westwood’s Poet Laureate Lynne Viti.
Mr. Blanco's plans to visit Westwood on February 22, 2024, will add excitement and larger geographical and intergenerational interest to the poetry festival. That he will be a thought-provoking participant is a given.
Mr. Blanco, in a biographical note, has said, “Whether speaking as the Cuban Ricardo or the American Richard, the homebody or the world traveler, the shy boy or the openly gay man, the engineer or the presidential inaugural poet, I strive to create story-rich works that illuminates the human spirit. I’m driven by the belief that the questions I ask myself are the same universal questions we all ask ourselves on our own journeys: Where am I from? Where do I belong? Who am I in this world?"
Dr. Viti, with $2,500 in grant money to spend from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, brainstormed with Westwood’s Youth Poet Laureate Lucie Sechler about ways to use it. Both poets were keen to come up with an idea for an event that would bring poetry to elementary school aged students. They hit upon the idea of a children’s poetry festival. They strategically have targeted the festival timing for February school vacation week, given Dr. Viti’s recollections of it being a difficult time to find local activities for kids.
“Many in Westwood - particularly in middle school and high school – families go away the whole week to Disney, the Caribbean, skiing in New Hampshire, rent a house, and the rest are left hanging around town. And I remember that was a really difficult week. What do you do with your kids? You don’t want to park them in front of the TV. . . There are elementary school kids whose parents would be happy to leave them at the library for a few hours where they do a combination of activities,” Dr. Viti explains.
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Believing that she could get volunteers to staff the festival, Dr. Viti was determined to go big with the $2,500, and spend it all in one place, on one speaker’s fee. She and Ms. Sechler discussed looking for a poet who had a back story, was a teacher, engaging, and bilingual. “We looked at each other, and we both said, ‘Richard Blanco!’” Dr. Viti exclaims, conveying excitement with the memory.
“I said, ‘This is crazy. This will never happen. We don’t have enough money,’” she recalls. But she had a connection, who had a connection, and she was able to send the famous poet’s assistant an email. She learned that Mr. Blanco commands significant fees, but that projects that grab his interest may be given special treatment.
A description of Mr. Blanco’s interests on his website includes a special mention of educators, and a passion for inspiring students with poetry. He is “committed to empowering educators who wish to enhance their poetry and language arts curriculum with a focus on diversity and inclusion," it says.
“I don’t believe a poem can change the world. I really don’t. But I believe it can change a person. And a person can change the world.” --Richard Blanco, from his website (video)
Dr. Viti’s first overture was not accepted. She tried to find a way to greatly increase her speaker fee budget. While her efforts fell short of her goal, Dr. Viti was able to locate a source of additional funding with the help of Westwood Public Library Director Elizabeth McGovern.
“I went back, and I didn’t think it would carry the day, but that I could call it an interesting experience,” she said.
To her surprise, her offer was successful. As a result, Mr. Blanco will be speaking on the final day of the three-day Westwood Children’s Poetry Festival that will be held on February 20 -22, 2024 at the Westwood Public Library.
“To bring someone of this stature to Westwood . . . we had to pitch to him and he’s willing to come. . . . That’s a big deal,” remarks Dr. Viti.
While planning for the festival is still in the works, Dr. Viti says that activities will be targeted to children in grades 2 to 5, with registration for 40 children operating on a first come, first served basis. Interested 6th graders are also welcome to attend, she says.
Dr. Viti envisions the festival consisting of small group mini-workshops that will include creating poems with musicians who will set participants’ verses instantly to music. There is also likely to be a craft workshop. A number of additional poets, paid an honorarium, will participate by reading poetry, answering questions, and giving some instruction.
The afternoon of the last day of the festival is when Mr. Blanco will make his highly anticipated appearance. Dr. Viti plans to ask him to tell his back story, read poems, talk about the connection between life and the page, answer questions, and sign books. It will be a “short event” for young children, she says. She is mindful not to make the festival feel like school.
“It’s primarily for kids, but also for their families. I would like parents, grandparents to be there,” comments Dr. Viti. “This is part of my mission as Westwood Poet Laureate, to bring poetry to people who might not otherwise be invited in.”
Registration for the first Westwood Children's Poetry Festival is expected to open sometime after January 1, 2024.
Thanks to Lynne Viti, Westwood Poet Laureate, for sharing this news with Westwood Minute.
What is a Poet Laureate?
Why would Westwood need a Poet Laureate? What does that entail and why do we need poetry in the municipal sphere? What practical purpose can a Poet Laureate serve? All good questions!
Many other municipalities in Massachusetts have already established Poet Laureates and have explained it thus:
Just as a town has common property — the town library, the town hall, the town parks — there is a common human landscape inhabited by all whose lives are rooted in a place. It’s a landscape of history, attitudes and common experiences. Without someone striving to weave the community into words, a town’s identity remains the unexamined sum of fleeting moments. Whether or not one agrees with the Poet Laureate’s words, they can help to crystallize the town’s view of itself. The Poet Laureate holds up a mirror so the town can see itself. https://westtisburylibrary.org/
And as Ellie O’Leary, Poet Laureate of Amesbury, MA states “In the civic sphere, poetry can offer succinctness that is not available in other writing. Even people who say they don’t 'get' poetry will sometimes find themselves reading or quoting it in stressful times.”
Having a town sponsored Poet can be a gift to the community and create a lasting archive of a living history of Westwood seen through poetry. The Poet Laureate for Westwood typically writes poems about the town, the time, and the spirit of Westwood. We have a history of Westwood through photos, newspapers, letters, and so much more; establishing a Poet Laureate to write poems for Westwood would create a unique time capsule of Westwood seen through poems.
The Poet Laureate might mark Westwood’s upcoming quasquicentennial (125th anniversary) with a poem that captures the life, essence, and identity of this community in the year 2023.
Poets have commemorated the history of the nation, the state, the city, for decades. For example,
Robert Frost, “The Gift Outright,” inauguration of President John F. Kennedy, 1961.
Maya Angelou, “On the Pulse of Morning," first inauguration of President Bill Clinton,1993
Miller Williams, “Of History and Hope” at the second inauguration of President Bill Clinton, 1997
Richard Blanco, “One Today,” second inauguration of President Barack Obama, 2013
Amanda Gorman, “The Hill We Climb,” inauguration of President Joe Biden, 2021
When we lack words for how we are feeling, what we have accomplished, what we are proud of, or where we want to go, poets can create something that unites us as a community.
She is a lecturer emerita in the Writing Program at Wellesley College, where she taught in the Writing Program for three decades. Previously, she taught high school English and creative writing in Connecticut, New York, and Massachusetts, and in the College of General Studies at Boston University.
Viti is the author of two full-length poetry collections, The Walk to Cefalù (Cornerstone Press 2022), Dancing at Lake Montebello (Apprentice House, 2020), two poetry chapbooks, Baltimore Girls (2017) and The Glamorganshire Bible (2018) all from Finishing Line Press and a short story collection, Going Too Fast (2020).
Have a question? Want to learn more about poetry? Lynne will have office hours at the Main Library by appointment. She can be reached by email email@example.com.