A Few of the Many Magical Moments at the Nantucket Book Festival
“A book is a dream that
you hold in your hand.”
“There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry –"
MY FIRST NANTUCKET BOOK FESTIVAL
I am on a plane flying back from Hawaii, and I am completing Alice Hoffman’s The Dove Keeper’s Daughter. I am weeping through the end of this amazing book. The flight attendant makes a makes a mad dash to my seat, and I assume that she is concerned because I am sobbing. This, however, is not the case. She says, “It looks like you are almost finished. Can I have the book as soon as you finish it? I am dying to read it.” I finish it and hand it to her. I love Alice Hoffman, and I have read every book that she has written. I impatiently wait for each new book. I never imagined that I would have the opportunity to hear her in person, to meet her, and to sit at the same table with her at lunch. But all of this happened this week at the Nantucket Book Festival.
The small island of Nantucket hosts major writers each year at the annual Book Festival. Through the generosity of donors, the Festival is largely free to the public. There are just seven ticketed events and over 32 events that are open to everyone at no cost. As a volunteer, I was able to attend three ticketed events in addition to all the free events. No only do writers come from all over the world but the audience does as well. I met people who had come to Nantucket from California, Washington, D.C, Maine, Indiana, and Asia. This festival is so rich and full and beautifully run that it is difficult to know where to begin. You can find all the details on line or in one of the programs, so I am going to focus on just a few sessions and the moments that were most magical for me.
Typewriter Rodeo is a group of poets lined up at a table with old fashioned typewriters. All one needs to do is give them a topic and in a matter of minutes, he or she will have composed a poem just for you. Since most of my articles this year have been focused around my first full year living on Nantucket, it was natural that, when Jodi, the Typewriter Rodeo poet, ask me for a topic for my poem, I said “Living on Nantucket Full Time.” This is the beautiful poem that Jodi composed for me:
Living on Nantucket: Full Time
This summer time energy is lovely
But come see what our island feels like
In the crush of winter
Where fog makes the sky and ocean one
And you couldn’t leave if you wanted to
Where everything is quiet
But also roaring with life
Currents and quahogs and crashing waves
We love to have our visitors
Swoon over our bright blue skies in summer
But Nantucket is Nantucket most
When it’s just us year-rounders
Holed up against the
Billy Collins, the former Poet Laureate of the United States, enthralled us with his wit, humor, skill, and humility. He reminded us that poems do not necessarily need to be analyzed. Instead they are meant to be heard, read, enjoyed, and loved. I think (with a bit of shame) of all the poems I have encouraged my students to “beat with a hose.” Had Billy Collins been their teacher, he would have taught them to listen, to love, and to laugh.
Introduction to Poetry
I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.
No need to beat any of Collins’ poems with a hose. They are lovely, lyrical, funny, and easily accessible.
Nantucket writers--Elin Hilderbrand, Nancy Thayer, Steve Axelrod, and many others-- remind us that we don’t need to go beyond our small Island to find amazing writers. I loved talking with Nantucket historians Fran Karttunen and Barbara White, and I am hoping to talk more with them and learn more from them as time goes on.
I was particularly intrigued by the poetry of Peggy Freydberg, who began writing at age 90 and continued to write and publish until age 106. Needless to say, this inspires me as I began a ton of new pursuits at seventy-two—a mere youngster compared to Freydberg’s ninety.
A final highlight of the Festival was the closing session: “Book to Film: When Words Take Flight.” In this session, Diane Ackerman, Marlon James, and Nathaniel Philbrick engaged in a lively discussion about the process of having their books transformed into films. The discussion, moderated by Rob Cocuzzo, editor at N Magazine, was provocative—a perfect session to end on. It will keep me reading, thinking, and watching film all summer.
True to its Mission Statement, the Festival benefits “the breadth of the community by hosting a variety of events, including author readings, presentations, panel discussions, book signings, workshops, writing competitions, school programs. gatherings and conversations” and it makes most sessions free so the everyone on the Island can hear these authors.
The Nantucket Book Festival is truly a transformative experience.