Piercy has been an activist throughout her life, as a feminist and opponent of the Vietnam War, and Rich has also engaged with important issues.
“She’s worked with Amnesty International and overseas with the Peace Corps,” Jean said. “That stuff has fed into her work. Her first three books all contain poems that have to do with an international outlook.”
Jean has been teaching a course — “Get to Know the Festival Poets” — for several weeks at the Peabody Institute Library and has led sessions on Rich and five other headliners, including Li-Young Lee.
“I love his work,” she said. “I was so blown away by the faith aspect. You don’t see that in poetry anymore.”
Lee will read Saturday night with Kim Addonizio and Cornelius Eady, both of whom have experimented with mixing poetry and music.
Carol Ann Duffy and Philip Levine, who will read together tomorrow night, are both poets laureate — Duffy, from Great Britain, is currently serving her term, while Levine previously held that office in America.
“Phil and Carol Ann have read together before and enjoyed it,” O’Neil said. “It takes a lot of effort to make something look flawless — I feel that way about Carol Ann. It’s got humor and is also very measured, but it draws you in.
“Phil is so direct, I think he speaks for a lot of people. He represents the common man.”
While poets usually write in solitude, they also rely on communities of readers and other poets to help them evaluate their work.
A number of these groups, affiliated by region, place of employment and personal or ethnic experience, will be present at the festival.
They include poets who teach at Lesley College, poets who have published new books, and poets who are or have written about the experiences of special needs students.