Under new status, Ridgefield’s Poet Laureate hopes to expand his lineup, create a festival

RIDGEFIELD — Enhanced programming and a regional poetry festival is what Barb Jennes hopes to accomplish in her final year as Poet Laureate in the city, which recently gained nonprofit status.

Last month, Selectman’s board of directors approved the position for inclusion in Friends of Ridgefield Community Programs, Inc., which will allow Jennes to generate capital for the poets and programs she hosts. Any funds she raises or grants she receives, for example, will be easily cached for future use.

“Last summer we had a series of…free poetry readings in the walled gardens of Keeler Tavern, and the only cost we incurred – which I paid – was a COVID cleaning fee for using toilets,” Jennes said. “I want to be able to offer poets, like any artist, the fees they deserve.”

Jennes was named Ridgefield’s first Poet Laureate in April 2020. She was an English teacher at Scotts Ridge Middle School for 13 years and also previously worked as a copywriter for GE.

Now retired, the position allowed Jennes to get back into poetry “with both feet,” she said, noting that she wrote a lot of poetry during her undergraduate years at SUNY Albany.

In the post’s two short years — the entirety of which occurred during the pandemic — Jennes has brought a slew of poetry workshops, readings and other programs to Ridgefield while earning recognition from the whole state.

“We have big events planned for the spring and summer … to bring national-level poets to town, including a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet,” Jennes said.

By hosting these “incredible talents locally”, she added, people can “see how accessible poetry is”.

On February 17, Ridgefield Library will host an in-person Poet Laureate Program in honor of Black History Month. “An Evening of Rap, Hip-Hop and Poetry” will feature performances by poet laureates from Hartford, New Britain and Manchester, as well as Hartford’s inaugural troubadour.

“All of these artists are educators with families and come to art from a very empowering position for young people, not just young people of color,” Jennes said.

Then on April 23, four black poets will read poems written from the perspective of Connecticut slaves at The Meetinghouse in Ridgebury.

“The people of Ridgefield are blessed to have so many different fine arts available to them, and these programs can introduce family and friends to all the wonderful opportunities (we have) here in town,” Jennes said. .

Jennes also wants to showcase the region’s poets in the form of a poetry festival over the next two years. The multi-day event would be hosted in Ridgefield and invite poets from across the state to enjoy the “rich wealth of poetry” that southwestern Connecticut has to offer, she said.

Some of the breeders recognized the economic benefit associated with such an event.

“Barb … loves being able to teach, write and share (poetry) with the people of Ridgefield,” first coach Rudy Marconi said. “She’s a great representative as a Poet Laureate.”

Jennes also has a poetry collection coming out. “Blinded Birds” will be available on March 25.

To register for the upcoming event at the library, visit ridgefieldlibrary.org.

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