FREEPORT – Richard Blanco of Bethel, who delivered the Inaugural Poem for President Obama’s second inauguration last year, will be festival judge for the Merriconeag Poetry Festival on Sunday, May 4.

The festival features poems created by Maine high school students. Blanco selected the festival finalists from more than 150 entries, out of 20 public and private high schools. The students will read from their works.

David Sloan, poet and teacher at Merriconeag, said that he met Blanco when the poet appeared before a big crowd at Merrill Auditorium in Portland in February 2013.

“There was something moving about both his poetry and the audience’s reception to his poetry,” Sloan said. “From that time forward, I wanted to pursue him to be judge of this festival.”

This is the ninth Merriconeag Poetry Festival. Maine Poet Laureat Wesley McNair and past Maine Poet Laureate Besty Sholl have been judges in previous festivals.

“I think we’re on the poetry map, which is very gratifying,” Sloan said. “The arts are at the very heart of our curriculum.”

Merriconeag invited all public and private high school students in Cumberland, Androscoggin and Sagadahoc counties to submit their work, which could be on any subject and in any poetic form. Entries were only identified by titles, so Blanco had no idea about the identity or school affiliation of the poet.

The finalists include Zoe Konstantino and Jesse Saffeir from Merriconeag; Kelsey Talbutt, Gigi Chen and Dow Drukker, from Hyde School of Bath; Elizabeth Lemieux and Charlotte Feinberg from Gorham High School; Danielle Guibord, Akech Allolding, Jennifer Devine, Mikayla Carney, Meredith Wheeler and Emily Norman from Catherine McAuley in Portland; Natalie Dedon from Greely of Cumberland; Caroline Dyhrberg from Falmouth High School; Sydnee Harris from Edward Little in Auburn; Kevin Jackson from South Portland High School; Emmy Shaffer from Chop Point School in Woolwich; Ambrosia Klenda from Yarmouth High School; and Jane Vaughan, Cape Elizabeth High School.

Blanco will reveal the winners of the top three prizes. Their poems will be displayed on a poster to be distributed to all high schools in the region. Finalists will receive gift certificates and a festival booklet containing all the selected poems.

Blanco is the author of award-winning collections, including “City of a Hundred Fires,” “Directions to the Beach of the Dead,” and “Looking for The Gulf Motel.” He will read his own work, as well, and speak briefly on the power of poetry.

“It’s very exciting having Richard Blanco coming,” Sloan said. “We were pleasantly surprised when someone of his notoriety agreed to serve as a judge. He must be supportive of young poets to do this.”

The festival was made possible, in part, by a grant from the Maine Humanities Council and the Maine Arts Commission, as well as by donations of gift certificates from Longfellow Books in Portland, Gulf of Maine Books in Brunswick, and Sherman’s Books & Stationery in Freeport.

A CLOSER LOOK

The Merriconeag Poetry Festival is Sunday, May 4, from 3-4:30 p.m., at Merriconeag Waldorf School’s Community Hall, 57 Desert Road, Freeport. The event features poet Richard Blanco and finalists from 11 area high schools. There is no admission charge, but pre-registration is required. See www.merriconeag.org.

Poet Richard Blanzo, who lives in Bethel, is the judge at the Merriconeag Poetry Festival, Sunday, May 4, in Freeport.  


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