For most of the 21st century, mid-October has mixed a flurry of creative excitement with the flying leaves in the little city of Belfast. This year’s Belfast Poetry Festival, which combines literary, visual and performance art, will run Friday through Saturday evenings, Oct. 14 and 15.

Like the previous month’s Common Ground Country Fair, the festival has become a once-a-year get-together for a number of people from around the state. They come together to celebrate the art of poetry and to push its boundaries, as well.

“It’s kind of old-home weekend, an annual confab,” said Linda Buckmaster, former Belfast Poet Laureate and member of the hard-working festival steering committee.

Belfast Poet Laureate Jacob Fricke agreed, saying “It’s a great place to meet people with the same literary, collaborative and art interests from all around the state and beyond.”

That state-wide aspect is what drew Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance to co-sponsor, with the city of Belfast, this year’s festival. Joshua Bodwell, executive director of MWPA, said the organization has worked hard to become something of a hub at the center of the great wheel of literary arts around Maine.

“Because Maine is a such a large state, and because writing, by nature, requires long bouts of solitude, we believe that working to support literary events such as the Belfast Poetry Festival is essential to our mission — it gives us a reason to gather with purpose,” he said.

Bodwell admitted he also was pleased to have an excuse to spend a couple of days in Belfast and “do our small part to fan the flame of their good work.”

In what is perhaps becoming a tradition, the festival will be opened by the newly appointed Maine Poet Laureate Wesley McNair, who will read at 7 p.m. Friday evening at the Gammons Room of Belfast Free Library, 106 High St.

“The first year Betsy Sholl was appointed we got her too. We asked as soon as he was appointed and got on his dance card early, I think,” said Buckmaster.

That card has been filling fast, including a reading last month at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. The well-published McNair, who is professor emeritus and writer-in-residence at the University of Maine at Farmington, is the recipient of numerous awards in poetry, grants from the Guggenheim and Fulbright foundations, two Rockefeller fellowships, two grants in creative writing from the National Endowment for the Arts and was selected for a United States Artists Fellowship as one of “America’s finest living artists.”

Also reading from his work Friday evening will be Thomas Moore of Brooksville, winner of the annual Maine Postmark Contest for his poem, “Chet Sawing.” Moore’s poem was chosen by judge Emily Wilson from the more than 90 poems entered from people all around the state, as well as summer folk (all entries had to bear a Maine postmark).

Fricke will honor the city’s poetry roots Friday evening by reading not only his own work but also reprising a collaborative work that made a big impression during his installation celebration last spring.

“It’s a conversation between me and Alan (Crichton) on saxophone; I’m reading lines from a poem by Bern Porter. It should be quite the lovely night,” Fricke said.

The next morning, recently returned Arielle Greenburg will lead a poetry writing workshop, which is already full to capacity — no surprise to the poet, who said one of the reasons her family was so glad to move to Belfast is because of its lively poetry community. She will soon offer an eight-week poetry workshop out of her house to continue the kind of holistic critique featured during the festival’s workshop.

Fricke and Greenburg are fellow members of the steering committee that has been working on this year’s festival since March. In addition to them and Buckmaster, it includes Elizabeth Garber, Ellen Goldsmith, Brenda Harrington, Tom Maycock, Debbie Mitchell and Carl Little. By the beginning of May, they were ready to make the crucial poet/artist pairings or, as Buckmaster put it, the nefarious matches.

“It’s a game of What If — what would it be like if we put this person with that person? What will happen?” she said, and Fricke agreed that the pairings are integral to what makes the festival tick.

“People can expect excellent art, excellent writing and expect to be surprised by collaborations and combinations that no one saw coming,” he said.

Some of these results will be revealed during the downtown’s First Friday art walk (Oct. 7) and others will occur during the festival’s Art & Poetry Gallery Walk Saturday afternoon. In particular, the one pairing of poet and performance artist this year will be a revelation to all — no surprise to fans of Dan Beckman, visual artist and musician whose band’s latest moniker is Village of Spaces. He and poet Megan Grumbling will kick off the walk at 1 p.m. at the downtown Åarhus Gallery.

“He’ll present some kind of performance piece in the Dan Beckman tradition, something different” said Buckmaster.

The Art & Poetry Gallery Walk has become so popular it has outgrown many of the city’s galleries, so this year there will be several pairings in each of three spaces: Åarhus Gallery, 96 Main St. (1 to 2:15 p.m.); Belfast Free Library, 106 High St. (2:15 to 4 p.m.); and Waterfall Arts, 256 High St. (4:30 to 7 p.m.)

“It’s gotten so big, our central concern is accommodation. We say room for 70 and seating for half that,” said Buckmaster, whose suspects a sweeping change of format may be called for soon.

“Standing room only for poetry? That’s a good thing,” said Fricke.

The poets include those established and emerging and the artists’ cover media from portraiture to Native American basketry. This year’s pairings are: Richard Miles with painter Ingrid Ellison; Megan Grumbling with performer Dan Beckman; Carey Salerno with book artist Sally Faulkner; Christian Barter with multi-media artist Russell Kahn; Carolyn Locke with carver and basketmaker Kathy Pollard; Robert Shetterly with painter Judy Taylor; Elisabeth Benjamin with photographer Anna Strickland; Molly McDonald with assemblage and installation artist Maryjean Viano Crowe; and Ira Sadoff with sculptor/fiber artist Barbara Andrus

The day concludes at Waterfall Arts Belfast. In addition to the three poet/artist pairings to be enjoyed at the nonprofit arts center, located in one of the city’s former schools, there will be bits of haiku displayed along the staircase and hallway. These works will be/were generated during the First Friday opening of the center’s current shows, both the Poetry Festival pairings and “Meditations on Thoreau,” Koichiro Kurita’s large format platinum/palladium and calotype prints. They will be/were gathered via the Haiku Tent, which makes periodic appearances at city events.

“It’s an idea that Mallery Dalto thought up a few years ago… it’s rather an intriguing spectacle,” said Fricke of the Haiku Tent.

He said the idea is to have the tent set up for events of note “so that people paying an artist’s attention to a special event can respond to them.” The tent provides a brief introduction to the form, paper and pencil. Many people sign their poems, and others prefer to stay anonymous. The haiku’ are being collected with the thought of an anthology sometime in the next few years.

“It will be a town-written sense of the creativity and times of the town,” Fricke said.

There will be a 5:30 p.m. reception at the arts center, followed at 6:30 p.m. with a closing call and response reading, which Buckmaster described as a open to the public and a bit of a refinement of the open mic format.

The entire festival is open and free to the public and is unusual in that it is non-academic in its celebration of poetry in all its forms. Perhaps that is what draws the crowds so visible downtown during the Art & Gallery Walk each year.

“Passersby are asking, what’s going on? Where are they going? The energy is incredible,” Buckmaster said.

For the festival schedule and background on all the participating poets and artists, visit

VillageSoup Art/Entertainment Editor Dagney Ernest can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by email to