Poetry and jazz have been dancing together for years in Belfast; with Toussaint St. Negritude currently rocking the city’s Poet Laureate cape — as well as head-turning hats — they are even more joined at the hip.

The 11th annual Belfast Poetry Festival is acknowledging the pairing by hosting Elizabeth Gordon McKim, known as The Jazz Poet of Lynn, Mass., as featured guest during the opening Pure Poetry Live evening of readings Friday, Oct. 16. One of the few non-academic poetry fests in the country, the Belfast Poetry Festival will continue all day and into the evening Saturday, Oct. 17. Events are scheduled for the Belfast Free Library, 106 High St., and the Colonial Theatre, 163 High St.

In addition, the downtown art galleries invite visitors to hunt through them for the 10 finalist poems of the sixth annual Maine Postmark Poetry Contest: "That Moon Again" by Jackie Ascrizzi, Montville; "The Cage" by Jay Franzel, Wayne; "Losing Integrity" by Lenora Goldman Jackson, Rockland; "Waiver" by Russell Buker, Alexander; "Signs" by Peggy Gannon, Palmyra; "Six-thirty, Tuesday Morning, Six Below" by Elizabeth Tibbetts, Hope; "How To Burn Your Bridges" by Chuck Marecic, Washington; "Tenebrae: a prose sonnet" by DiTa Ondek, Friendship; "Ogunquit Beach at Dawn, 6/18/15" by Richard Foerster, Cape Neddick; and "Before" by Laurence Coe, Rockland.

Those poems will be read during Friday night’s opener, which begins at 7 p.m. at the library. Before the evening turns into a late-night open mic, McKim will present some of her work in her first festival appearance. Not that she’s a stranger to the Midcoast. She has been coming to Tenants Harbor in the summer since she was a child and for 19 years now has been part of an annual poetry reading there in August, organized by brother-in-law and poet David Riley. She’s also been a part of the annual Conference of the Great Mother and New Father, founded in 1975 by Robert Bly, at Nobleboro’s Camp Kiev and has a number of local artistic cohorts, including dancer Jimena Lasansky, late sculptor Bill Martin and visual poet Joel Lipman “who I think might’ve put in a good word for me.” In any case, she said, she feels very honored to have gotten the invite.

“I’m really thrilled to be a part of it,” she said earlier this month from her home in Lynn, a city changing its hallmark from Sin to Slam, if she and fellow poets have anything to do with it.

McKim is filling several festival roles in Belfast. In addition to sharing her work Friday night, she will lead an all-ages workshop titled "Sounding the Stone/Finding Your Poem," one of four morning workshops at the library (preregistration required; visit belfastpoetry.com). And she will head of thePoetry as a Force for Social Dialogue panel from 2 to 4 p.m. at the library, an anticipated exploration of the possibilities and challenges of using poetry as a force for social dialogue in turbulent times (see story linked below). Attendees of the festival-capping showcase of poetry, visual art and performing arts collaborations starting 5 p.m. Saturday at the Colonial (following an hour-long welcome reception) should not be surprised if she shows up in the musical mix.

“My poems have a lot of rhythm and sound … and some of my training was in improv. I performed for many years with a Swiss musician, a colleague at Lesley University,” she said.

Poet, performer and teaching artist McKim is a longtime adjunct faculty member of Lesley’s Department of Creative Arts in Learning; and Poet Laureate of the interdisciplinary European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland. But she is quick to point out that her life in poetry is not an ivory tower thing.

“I’ve worked with kids for many years, was one of the first Poets Who Teach in the public schools in Boston,” she said.

McKim has published five books of poetry, including “The Red Thread” from Leapfrog Press. She and four others are featured in the new anthology “Wild Women of Lynn.” She currently is working on a couple of manuscripts, including one about her time with the late Etheridge Knight, whom she calls her mentor.

“He said, when you are putting words in the page, it’s like music. You are notating words ‘with the flow/the pause/and the stop.’”

McKim said she considers myself part of an oral tradition, adding that she also is concerned about “the visual quality of the poem on the page.”

An early embracer of the expressive arts therapy movement that flourished at Lesley, McKim knows the power of collaboration among artists and art forms, as well as the healing connection between therapy and various forms of literary, performing and visual arts.

“A lot of us work in trouble spots, rehab centers, schools,” she said.

Her workshop is something she has presented in a variety of settings and for all ages and backgrounds. It offers participants an exercise in empathy … for an unlikely fellow inhabitant of the planet.

“I have a poem I always say as I pass around stones in a bowl, and everyone picks a stone … then we write ‘I am’ poems, using unlined paper, finding the voice of the stone, which takes you out of yourself. We read them out loud at the end,” she said.

The poem, “Directions,” is from “The Red Thread” and lives up to its title, offering short instructions to approaching the stone in hand — or anything else one might encounter — that lead to understanding and compassion. It begins:


it. Warm it

With your own

Life. …”

Another poem, “Smoke,” featured in snippets on front and back of “Wild Women of Lynn,” turns up the heat on the back cover:

“…Your breath is in my song my song is in your

story your story is in my heart my heart is in your hands your

hands are on my body my body

is on your mind your

mind is in my spirit

my spirit is in your fire your fire

is in my life my life

My life!

My life is on fire!”

McKim’s work is created and delivered with musical pulse, especially in recent years as she has become a participant in the popular open mic series at Lynn’s Walnut St. Café.

“The musicians let me sit in with them. I’ve ended up with jazz poems, blues poems … there is a similar flow, pause and stop [to music],” she said.

She also has worked with dancers, dating back to Goddard College days when her training focused on sound, breath, movement and poetry. Visual arts also are in the mix, as they have been for a number of years at Belfast Poetry Festival. This year’s Saturday evening showcase offers a particularly diverse set of pairings: Tameka Cage Conley with artist Alisha Wormsley; Karin Spitfire and Kathryn Robyn with composer, conductor and soprano Anna Dembska; Toussaint St. Negritude with The Ace Tones (Alan Crichton, Willis Crichton and Ethan Andrews); “A Casting of Light” — Guy Wyndham-Jones’s translations of Platonic verse with music by Don Hagar performed by soprano Nancy Ogle and a UMO student chorus; Leonore Hildebrandt with musician Brian Dyer Stewart; Arielle Greenberg with artist Louise Dinsmore; Jeffrey Thomson with poet/photographer Ellen Sander and bassist Mike Whitehead; David Sloan with dancer Zoe Konstantino; Robin Merrill with tattoo artist Jen Jacques and dancers Skyela and Genevieve Burgess; Barbaria Maria with artist Eric Leppanen; and Lady Zen, melding poetry and jazz-funk.

McKim said while her workshop is a known commodity, she will be “winging” the panel discussion. Community and collaboration is what her work has always been about.

“It’s not hard for me to talk about community collaboration and connection! I’ve always been an artist working in community,” she said. “I love the things that happen when artists collaborate.”

Aside from the workshops — which are free for high school and college students — all events of the community-based Belfast Poetry Festival are free. For complete information, visit the website. For more information about “JazzPo” McKim, visit her poetry blog at elizabethgordonmckim.com.