Past Portland poet laureate Martin Steingesser. John Ewing/Staff Photographer

In times of crisis, we need to be our best selves.

That’s part of the message that poet Martin Steingesser will convey when he convenes artists and writers in Yarmouth on Saturday for a gathering to discuss a collective response to the climate crisis. The climate problems are massive and daunting, and they sometimes feel unsolvable, he said. To help keep perspective, the former Portland poet laureate draws inspiration from Etty Hillesum, a young woman killed in the Holocaust who wrote about her experiences and who remained her best self during the worst possible times.

Steingesser wrote about her in “The Thinking Heart: The Life & Loves of Etty Hillesum,” which he has also turned into a performance.

“In a dark time when we cannot see the outcome, we need to be our best selves more than ever,” Steingesser said.

The cover of “A Dangerous New World.” Several contributors to the book will participate in a program Saturday in Yarmouth. Courtesy of Littoral Books

Saturday’s program, Artists Sing Out for Life and the Planet, begins at 2 p.m. at Merrill Memorial Library. It includes authors who contributed to the recent anthology “A Dangerous New World: Maine Voices on the Climate Crisis.” Published by Littoral Books of Portland and edited by Meghan Sterling and Kathleen Sullivan, the book includes poems, essays and artwork about the changing environment. Steingesser asked several contributors, and others, to participate in Saturday’s presentation.

The lineup includes Lori Harley, Cathleen Miller, Caitlin Shetterly, Robert Shetterly and Elizabeth Tibbetts, in addition to Steingesser. They’ll read and talk about their work in the context of the environment and climate change. The library also will exhibit visual artwork from the anthology.

The Royal River Conservation Trust is copresenting Saturday’s program. The goal is to bring artists together “to sing out” for the planet and to inspire a deeper and more respectful love of the earth as a living thing, Steingesser said.

Caitlin Shetterly said the anthology is timely for Mainers now and in the future. “I think it’s such an important book because it begins a difficult conversation here in Maine about where we are and what we can do and what is already a fait accompli and what will remain in the world we are bequeathing to our kids and grandkids,” she said.

Steingesser understands “that mostly we’ll be speaking to the choir, but maybe there’ll be somebody there who does not believe in the climate crisis.” This is an opportunity to speak collectively and to share both moments of inspiration or despair over an existential threat, he said. That’s when being one’s best self is most important – and why Hillesum continues to inspire him.

During times of crisis, artists sing out, he said.


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