This past summer, hundreds of poets arrived at Mercy by the Sea, a retreat center which hosted the first annual Poetry by the Sea conference.
Poetry by the Sea: A Global Conference’s founder and director is Dr. Kim Bridgford of West Chester University’s English department. According to the website, poetrybytheseaconference.com, “Poetry by the Sea: A Global Conference has been created in the spirit of beginning afresh.”
Dr. Kim Bridgford is no stranger to poetry conferences, as she was previously the director of the Poetry Center and the internationally-known Poetry Conference at West Chester University.
From May 26 to May 29, between 250 and 300 poets passed through the conference, which took place at the beautiful retreat in Connecticut. On Tuesday, May 26, there were a variety of workshops and talks, including a talk called “A Poet’s Field Guide” led by Tom Cable and Natalie Gerber. There was also a Poetry and Politics Panel, new book readings, and much more.
Wednesday included a talk on diverse poetry traditions and a talk on diverse art forms responding to the theme of “water.” There was a popular panel on children’s poetry, new book readings, a viewing of the Sundance film “Our Little Roses,” talks on digital poetry, and more.
Wednesday night also had a keynote speech from Marilyn Hacker.
Anna Evans, a member of the Advisory Board, said, “It would be remiss of me not to draw specific attention to Marilyn Hacker’s inspiring keynote address followed by her reading of her flawless poems on Wednesday night–truly a landmark event.”
Thursday included a tribute to Edgar Bowers, a talk titled “After Modernism,” a discussion on YA long poem, a Mezzo-Cammin Tenth-Anniversary Panel (led by Dr. Bridgford herself), and more.
Friday had seminar leader roundtables, a tribute to Claudia Emerson, workshops, and more.
“The thing that many attendees noted, however, was the general level of excellence of all the panels and readings, without exception,” said Evans.
Of course, the attendees of Poetry by the Sea did not just sit in talks and seminars the whole time.
Poetry by the Sea, much like other poetry conferences, was a chance for a community of poets to reunite and bond. Referring to the work that the Advisory Board put into planning the event, Evans explained that it was a wonderful weekend and easy to laugh.
“It’s easiest to laugh when you are with a community of like-minded souls, many of whom you have known for years, if not decades,” she said.
It took place at the gorgeous retreat center, Mercy by the Sea – which, of course, also inspired the name of the conference. Many attendees enjoyed walking down the beach or swimming.
Mercy Center, which holds Mercy by the Sea, is 33 acres on Long Island Sound. “The sea is a constant companion, whether you want to sit on a waterfront deck or take a walk along the beach,” according to the Poetry by the Sea website. It also has a Labyrinth Garden, “surrounded by sea, sky, and the bounty of the earth,” the website states.
For the 2015 conference, registration for a 3-day workshop or critical seminar, including panels and evening readings, was $650. Panels and evening readings only was $325.
There was also the cost of meals and accommodations, as well as the potential “extra” costs of additional workshops and a ticket to the banquet and keynote. Because of the variety in options, there is something for people of every budget at the conference.
Though this was the first year of the conference, it came together fairly quickly – in only around five and a half months. Bridgford has been in the field for over twenty-five years, she explained. “Experience helps, of course, but I could not have done it without the help of my Advisory Board members: Ned Balbo, Tom Cable, Anna Evans, Natalie Gerber, Katharine Gilbert, Russell Goings, and Cherise Pollard,” she said.
Dr. Pollard is also a faculty member in the English department at WCU.
Other than her background with conferences, Bridgford is also the author of nine books, has collaborated with visual artist Jo Yarrington, and is the editor and found of Mezzo Cammin and The Mezzo Cammin Women Poets Timeline Project, which will become the “largest database of women poets in the world,” she said.
She has also worked with Russell Goings, the founder of Essence Magazine, on his poem The Children of Children Keep Coming.
When asked why she wanted to have this conference, Bridgford said, “I like to get people together to engage in conversation at the great table of excellence.
The barriers that separate poetic niches are so small. Poetry by the Sea embraces the commonalities.”
The 2016 conference will take place in late May.
Theresa Kelly is a fourth-year student majoring in English literature secondary education. She can be reached at TK780615@wcupa.edu.