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Connecticut State Poet Laureate Margaret Gibson, shown at her home in Preston on Tuesday, is putting together Green Poetry Workshops for high school students and preparing for Green Poetry Cafés, including a live event at Arts Café Mystic on Oct. 11. | Harold Hanka, The Westerly Sun

PRESTON — Margaret Gibson wants people to read poetry out loud and outside. 

Gibson, who has been the Connecticut poet laureate since 2019, understands the therapeutic power of reading poetry aloud — especially now, in these times of climate crisis, a prolonged pandemic and social unrest. Writing, talking and reaching out to others via poetry can help, she believes. 

As poet laureate, she said, she feels a responsibility to "encourage communities to have dialogue about poetry and to promote the reading of poetry in the open ... in forests and fields and on land trust properties."

With that in mind, and fortified by a $50,000 grant from the Academy of American Poets, Gibson set to work to create spaces around the state for poets of all ages to write and read their work as it relates to the climate crisis.

She has been busy organizing "Green Poetry Workshops" for high school students, preparing for an upcoming "Green Poetry Café" and editing an anthology of poems focused on "the living world that surrounds us in this time of climate crisis."  

Such poems are called by various names, Gibson said, such as "climate crisis poetry, eco-poetry, nature poetry and green poetry."  

"In a time of crisis, it is crucial to write love poems to the earth," Gibson said, "poems that praise and respect what it is to live on this earth ... poems that pay attention to specific living beings.

"Making connections between racial and social injustice and environmental injustice, between ecosystems and social systems, between human and other living beings — all this is 'nature' poetry," she said.

"I'm really excited," Gibson said during a telephone interview from her home in Preston one morning last week. "The first 'Green Café' is really happening ... and it will be live."

The café, she said, will feature Connecticut poets reading works — in appreciation, anger and hope — about nature and the climate crisis.

On Sunday, Oct. 11 at 2 p.m., the Arts Café Mystic will host "A Green Poetry Cafe with Connecticut Poet Laureate Margaret Gibson and Friends." Gibson will be joined by poet Joan Hoffman.

"The Arts Cafe Mystic is thrilled and honored to collaborate on the first live Green Poetry Café," said arts café Artistic Director Lisa Starr. "Her concept for 'Green Poetry Cafés' comes at a dire time in the history of our country and our planet.

"Margaret Gibson hit the ground running when she was named Connecticut Poet Laureate," Starr added, "and she hasn't stopped."

Gibson, who has been reading submitted poems since Sept. 1, said Connecticut poets have until Oct. 10 to submit work for the anthology. Poems are welcome "from poets of every racial and cultural background and experience," she said. "We all live on this earth together."

"We are looking for poems that explore what you experience and respond to in the natural world around you ...  remembering that the natural world is impacted by human choices and actions," she explained. "Wherever we live — city, town, village, country, woods, seaside, mountain — is affected by our social and political and spiritual choices. Pesticide runoff spoils rivers; industrial waste creates brown fields; incinerators get put in poor neighborhoods; as species go extinct, our lives also become endangered."

Nature is not all primroses and otters, Gibson said. "It is equally crucial to write poems that warn of the dangers as temperatures rise, oceans rise, weather patterns alter and cities begin to sink."

Poems submitted for the anthology will be read by several readers, with Gibson serving as final judge. Advisers for the anthology include Marilyn Nelson, Bessy Reyna and David Leff.

The anthology will be published by Grayson Books in Hartford and will be released in time for Earth Day 2021.

"Poetry is alive and well in Connecticut," said Ginny Lowe Connors, who owns the poetry press and is a great admirer of Gibson's poetry.

Connors, who has served as the poet laureate of the town of West Hartford, is a founding member of the Connecticut Coalition of Poets Laureate and serves on the executive board of the Connecticut Poetry Society.

"The amazing thing about poetry," Connors said, "is that it gets people to slow down a bit and think a little."

Gibson, professor emerita at the University of Connecticut who has been the Connecticut poet laureate since 2019, is the author of 12 poetry collections, including "Not Hearing the Wood Thrush"; "Broken Cup"; "Earth Elegy"; and "Autumn Grasses"; a memoir, "The Prodigal Daughter"; has won a Connecticut Book Award, a Pushcart Prize and has been a finalist for both the National Book Award in Poetry and the 2016 Poet's Prize.  

The grant from the Academy of American Poets was made possible after the Academy received a $4.5 million grant in January from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for the Poets Laureate Fellowship program.

In a statement announcing the awards, Jennifer Benka, president and executive director of the Academy of American Poets, said, "As we face the crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more people are turning to poetry for comfort and courage. We are honored and humbled in this moment of great need to fund poets who are talented artists and community organizers who will most certainly help guide their communities forward." 

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