UMF Students Will Read at Plunkett Poetry Festival

UMF Students Will Read at Plunkett Poetry Festival

By Willy Doehring Contributing Writer


UMF students Billie Rose Newby and Gail Bello recently placed second and third respectively in the Terry Plunkett Maine Poetry Festival’s annual Student Poetry Contest, which was open to all University of Maine System students.  To celebrate their achievement, Newby and Bello will be reading their poems before the festival’s keynote speaker, poet Sharon Olds, at the University of Maine at Augusta on April 6, 2018.

Third Place winner Gail Bello. (Photo courtesy Gail Bello)

   The competition was stiff for students participating in the contest. There were over 90 submissions from across the state, with each student allowed to submit up to three poems.  For Newby, a freshman in the Creative Writing program, placing second was as surprising as it was exciting. “I was honestly shocked,” Newby said.  “I was really happy, but also never thought that my work was actually good enough.”

   Like most Creative Writing majors, Newby learned about the contest through reminders sent to majors by professors Pat O’Donnell and Jeffrey Thomson.  At the time, the contest didn’t stand out to Newby, but after seeing that submissions were open to students of any year, she decided to enter.

   “It was a spur of the moment, ‘I’m going to be brave and apply for one of these’ kind of thing,” Newby said.

   Bello, a junior Creative Writing major, had a similar experience to Newby when it came to entering the contest.  Bello had heard about the festival in the past but never entered before. Bello thought to herself, “You know, I’m gonna go for this one,” after seeing the email reminding Creative Writing majors of this year’s contest.  Bello was thrilled to be in third place, but like Newby was surprised to see her work recognized. Bello’s poem “had been rejected by different literary magazines in the past, so it was cool to see it finally be given a place.”

   The festival will be a first for both Newby and Bello. Both have read their poetry in front of an audience before, but it has always been at smaller events such as student readings in the Landing.  “I’ve kind of been not thinking about it in hopes of not getting overly nervous,” Newby said. “I’m sure I’ll be fine right up until the moment I actually get up to read.”

   For Bello, dealing with the nerves is a bit easier.  “Personally, I’m very blessed that I don’t have a fear of public speaking,” Bello said with a laugh.  Still, the festival will be the biggest reading yet for Bello. “It’s not my first time reading my work, but it’s my first time being recognized for it,” she said.

   On the day of the festival itself, Newby will read her poem “Contents of Uncle John’s Attic,” a list poem that tells a couple’s tragic story through the items stored in their attic.  Bello will read from her poem “When I saw Degas’s Little Dancer of 14 Years,” which refers to Edgar Degas’s famous sculpture of a young dancer while reflecting on Bello’s own time ignoring directions in ballet class.


Visiting Writer Spotlight: Meet Cristopher Bakken

Visiting Writer Spotlight: Meet Cristopher Bakken

By Willy Doehring Contributing Writer

Author Christopher Bakken. (Photo Courtesy of Christopher Bakken)

   Writer and poet Christopher Bakken will visit UMF to read from his work as the semester’s first installment of the Visiting Writers series, organized and hosted by the Creative Writing department.  

   Bakken is currently the chair of the English department at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania.  He has a Ph.D. in Literature and Creative Writing.  Bakken describes himself as “a Swiss-Norwegian hockey-playing hillbilly from rural Wisconsin who accidently fell in love with Greece,” giving much more insight into both his personal background and into his writing.

   However accidental it was, Bakken’s love of Greece is reflected in his work.  In his non-fiction book Honey, Olives and Octopus: Adventures at the Greek Table Bakken travels Greece to find the eight elements of the Greek table and explores the traditional ways that each of these elements are produced— among other things.

The cover of Bakken’s latest book ‘Honey, Olives, Octopus’ (Photo Courtesy of Christopher Bakken)

   “The chapters meander along the goat path, covering a lot of territory that has little to do with Greek cuisine,” said Bakken.  “By which I mean to say my book combines elements of memoir, travel writing, food pornography, historical musing, and action-adventure narrative.”

   Professor Jeffrey Thomson of UMF’s Creative Writing program is the primary organizer of the Visiting Writers series and was able to work with Bakken to organize the upcoming reading after another author canceled. The first reading was scheduled for February 15 and would have featured non-fiction writer Stephen Elliot, who was forced to cancel on short notice.
   Thomson was unavailable for interview regarding the matter, but Bakken was unfazed when he learned he was replacing Elliot.  “I had no idea, nor does it matter to me at all,” Bakken said.

   Bakken plans to read primarily from Honey, Olives, Octopus when he visits UMF, but he also recently published his third book of poetry called Eternity and Oranges. Bakken describes the book as being “full of spooky ghost poems,” departing a bit from his focus on Greece. Bakken’s reading will be on February 22nd at 7:30 p.m. in the Landing.