Panels & Resources

“Poetry as a Force for Social Dialogue” 2015

In 2015, the Maine Humanities Council awarded the festival a grant to produce a panel discussion and public forum on “Poetry as a Force for Social Dialogue” hosted by poet Elizabeth Gordon McKim, “the jazz poet of Lynn, Massachusetts,” on Saturday, October 17 at the Belfast Free Library.

Poetry has always carried the torch of social conscience. Adrienne Rich, Amiri Baraka, Allen Ginsberg – the list of giants goes on. Poetry is a tireless innovator in forms of speech, a voice for breaking out of social and journalistic strictures. It’s indirect and symbol-using, a meeting place and ‘safe space’ for parties with differing experience, persuasions, and views. It’s a luminous forum for marginalized voices. Poetry is the original alternative medium.

Elizabeth Gordon McKim brought to the task wide experience using poetry to explore social issues and foster community engagement. She has published five books of poetry, most recently The Red Thread, and co-authored a manual on teaching children to engage their world through poetry, Beyond Words: Writing Poems with Children. McKim is a teacher, performance poet, and spoken word artist, and has been an adjunct professor for forty years in the department of Creative Arts in Learning at Lesley University. She is the poet laureate of the European Graduate School in Switzerland and poetry editor of POIESIS in Toronto, and teaches from a multi-arts trans-cultural perspective.

Panelists included:

  • Kathleen Ellis, Pablo Neruda Prize recipient and organizer of the annual Poets/SPEAK! event at the Bangor Library
  • Joel Lipman, previous poet laureate of Lucas County, Ohio and co-director of the community-based Toledo Poets Center
  • Arielle Greenberg, columnist for American Poetry Review and co-editor of the anthology Gurlesque
  • Lady Zen, recipient of USM's Community Service/Social Justice award and featured artist at the Butch Voices Conference, Institute for Civic Leadership Gala, Creative Portland, NAACP MLK Day Celebration, and more
  • Toussaint St. Negritude, Belfast Poet Laureate and author of Upheave
  • Elizabeth Gordon McKim, pioneer of the Expressive Arts Movement, co-author of the textbook Beyond Words: Writing Poems

On the subject, previous Belfast Poet Laureate Ellen Sander commented, “As a nation, we are experiencing a brutal and divisive year, rife with events precipitating an urgent need for social dialogue. It is imperative that the arts be a vehicle to further this conversation.”

The following video of the panel discussion was produced by Belfast Community TV.

An audio recording of the proceedings is available here.

(link to download)

A full transcript of the discussion with commentary by the panelists will be available shortly.