, Newburyport, MA

September 19, 2013

A party fit for a poet

Maudslay celebration to remember Whittier, raise money for museum

By Ann Reily
Features Editor

---- — On the last day of the season, “Celebrating John Greenleaf Whittier” will honor the influential poet while bidding farewell to the “sweet summer days” he loved.

This Saturday from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., the Whittier Home Museum in Amesbury will present its fourth annual fundraiser at the Maudslay Arts Center in Newburyport.

The event will remember Whittier through poetry, song and dance.

Award-winning poet Rhina Espaillat will debut her new poem, “A Caller at Gove House, Hampton Falls,” while Newburyport’s Exit Dance Theatre will perform choreographed dances to two of Whittier’s poems, read by best-selling author Andre Dubus III.

The John Tavano Trio will provide music, and the Newburyport High School poetry club will present a Poetry Slam. Food from David's Tavern is included with admission, and beer and wine will be available to purchase.

Espaillat’s poem reflects on Whittier’s life, friends and career and was written for this celebration. The Gove House is where Whittier died on Sept. 7, 1892.

Joining Espaillat to read the poem are her fellow Powow River Poets Toni Treadway, Robert Brodsky and Alfred Moskowitz.

“What we’re doing on Saturday is a little bit unusual,” Espaillat said. “I think it’s going to be something of a surprise, and I hope the audience enjoys it.”

Espaillat, a Newburyport resident who often reads at the Whittier Home and has taught Whittier’s poetry in the past, said she really enjoys writing poems for specific occasions like this one.

“I like them very much because they bind communities together,” she said. “I know the life of Whittier pretty well, and there are many details of his life that call attention to him not only as a poet but also as a man. His life was an inspiring life really.”

Whittier was a 19th-century writer, newspaper editor and Amesbury resident who helped lead the slavery abolition movement in the North.

One of his many abolitionist poems, “Abolition of Slavery in the District of Columbia, 1862,” will be read by Newbury resident Dubus on Saturday.

While Dubus reads that poem and “A Lay of Old Time,” dancers, including his wife, Fontaine, will perform.

Fontaine Dubus, who owns The Dance Place and co-founded Exit Dance Theatre in 1987, said the choreography for the two pieces began with improvisation, with the dancers moving to recordings of the poems.

“We would just play it and kind of move around to see what came out,” she said. “As each phrase was read, we would use the words to guide us into the movement. We want to work with the poem but not act it out.”

“A Lay of Old Time,” which tells the story of the Bible’s Adam and Eve, will feature Karl Granoth and Erin Staffiere. They will be joined by Fontaine Dubus and Jen Steeves for “Abolition of Slavery.”

“I’m looking forward to seeing how it comes together,” Fontaine Dubus said.

Proceeds from Saturday’s event will benefit the preservation of the Whittier Home Museum and its educational programs.

If you go

What: “Celebrating John Greenleaf Whittier”

When: Saturday, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Where: Maudslay Arts Center, 95 Curzon Mill Road, Newburyport

How much: $40

More information: 978-388-1337 or