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Poetry Out Loud state champion headed to Washington, D.C.; Jane Yolen publishes anthology celebrating a kid’s world

A weekly digest of literary events from around the region

Ailin Sha (center) won the Poetry Out Loud contest in Massachusetts, here with 2nd place finisher Calysa Alba (right) and third place finisher Anna Popnikolova (left).Erik Holmgren

2024 Poetry Out Loud state champion headed to Washington D.C.

Earlier this month, Ailin Sha, a student at Boston Latin School, was named the 2024 Poetry Out Loud state champion, competing earlier this month against 15 other finalists from around the state at the Old South Meeting House. Sha will go on to represent Massachusetts at the National Poetry Out Loud contest in Washington, D.C., next month. The program, which has been running in Massachusetts for 19 years, is a recitation contest: students memorize and recite a poem of their choosing. Sha recited Diane Seuss’s “Self Portrait with Sylvia Plath’s Braid.” “In the dream I fasten/ her braid to my own hair, at my nape / I walk outside with it, through the world/ of men, swinging it behind me like a tail.” More than 15,000 students from across the state competed, the second highest number of participants per state in the US after California. Massachusetts was also second in the growth of student participants and of teachers participating. Calysa Alba, of Methuen High School, took second place with “The Ocean” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Anna Popnikolova, of Nantucket High School, took third with “One Girl” by Sappho.


Loneliness explored in new book of micro-prose

Boston author and professor Michael Keith confronts the pandemic of loneliness with a frank and discomfiting matter-of-factness in his new book of micro-prose “The Loneliness Channel” (Scantic). “‘Can you describe how it feels to be lonely?’ asks the stranger seated next to her on the subway. Her fellow commuter seems sincere, so she strains for an answer.” The book, in some ways, serves as this answer, offering up moments and fragments and glimmers, often raw, often painful, that speak to our isolation, our solitude, our ongoing struggle to connect. “Was it too much to ask for a partner from Earth?” A prisoner’s only jail-cell friend is a cockroach; Clarence shares Sartre’s view of chance; people convince themselves of gratitude for their independence. There’s a wry humor here, too: One piece called “Elon Musk Says He’s Lonely” reads simply: “Three ex-wives, 11 children, and 110,000 employees.” And in “Snake Knots,” Keith writes, “Do rattlers get lonely? Bertrand wondered. They show little interest in other creatures, except to eat or bite them. Of course, there are those orgies.” Keith spent a stretch of his childhood hitchhiking across America with his alcoholic father, the subject of his memoir “The Next Better Place,” and the emptiness and longing of the open road in this country haunt this book, too.


Beloved children’s author publishes anthology celebrating a kid’s world

Jane Yolen, based in Hatfield, Mass., prolific and wide-ranging children’s book author, winner of multiple awards, perhaps best known for “Owl Moon” or “The Emperor and the Kite,” has written over 400 books. Her latest, an anthology of her poetry with lively illustrations by Cathrin Peterslund, sings the praises of what it is to be a kid. “In and Out the Window” (Philomel) pulls together over a hundred poems, attuned to the rhythms and joys and of quotidian kiddom. Some are brief and playful: One called “Getting Dressed for School” reads in its entirety “It’s hard to choose/ after a snooze.” Some are poignant: “Around the Table” reads “It is always set for six,/ but never more than five/ eat there now.” There are poems on careers (professor, doctor and nurse, conductor, museum guard, coder, publisher, therapist, poet), on sports (track, fencing, football, soccer, gymnastics, baseball, rock climbing), and poems on the earth and storytelling: “By hare’s breath and fox breath,/ By fawn’s prattle, wolf’s growl,/ By dawn’s break and eve’s ache/ The story is told.” A series of calendar poems captures the different seasonal moods: “No corn on the cob that I remember./ No heat, no sweat, just this: November!” And she gives good reminder to all of us, in an answer to one called “Who Can Write a Poem”: “Anyone who can look at the sky.”


Coming out

“There’s Always This Year: On Basketball and Ascension” by Hanif Abdurraqib (Random House)

“All the World Beside” by Garrard Conley (Riverhead)

“On Giving Up” by Adam Phillips (FSG)

Pick of the week

Hannah Robinson of Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts, recommends “Life of the Party: Poems” by Olivia Gatwood (Dial): “Gatwood beautifully describes the tragedy that comes with female adolescence and sexuality in the most raw and immersing fashion. Incredible poet, incredible woman — an all-time favorite. Each word spoke to me on a level that I didn’t even know words were capable of reaching. ‘Life of the Party’ is a page-turner for sure and is something I will forever hold close to my heart.”