Cambridge Poetry Awards Committee Vows to Go On Despite CCAE Budget Cuts


By Susie Davidson



The Cambridge Center for Adult Education’s sponsorship of the annual Poetry Festival/Poetry Awards has been cancelled for 2003, due to recently all-too-common, arts-related budget cuts.


“They didn't get the grants they needed so they are down-sizing, and the Poetry Festival is apparently just one of many casualties,” said Festival organizer Jeff Robinson. “The ‘Poetry Awards’ were funded by and part of the ‘Poetry Festival’, which means we now have no funding as we are about to enter the next voting season.  


“The obvious question,” he said last week, “is do we continue without the CCAE, or do we call it quits? We need to make some decisions soon if we are to try to continue with the  voting/showcase/presentation schedule that we have.”


Rallying to the cause, a group has been formed to help keep the Fest alive. MC’d by local social satirist Jimmy Tingle since its inception three years ago, its Cambridge Poetry Awards Ceremony has proven to be a very popular event. Last year’s competition drew approximately 200 submissions of five poems each for its “Written Competition”; the ceremony itself, held this past March 10 at Lesley University, drew nearly 200 people.


In addition to Robinson, who hosts and plays with his jazz ensemble at the Lizard Lounge’s Sunday night Poetry Jam (1667 Mass. Ave.), core Cambridge Poetry Awards Committee members are Valerie Lawson, who co-hosts the Wednesday night Poetry Slam at the Cantab Lounge at 738 Mass. Ave., Melissa Goodrum, who hosts the Subterranean Ras Café every Monday night at 286 Franklin St. in Central Square, Ren Jender, whose monthly Amazon Slam occurs at Ryle’s at 212 Hampshire St., Mick Cusimano, who co-hosts the Squawk Coffeehouse at the Harvard-Epworth Methodist Church at 1555 Mass. Ave., Richard Cambridge, host of the Sunday Poets’ Theatre at Club Passim, 47 Palmer St. and Marc Goldfinger, who edits Spare Change Magazine at the Old Cambridge Baptist Church at 1151 Mass. Ave.


At the group’s Aug. 11 meeting, the tone was optimistic. “This allows us to be more community-based,” stressed Goodrum, “and to give more back to the poets.”


“Nothing against the Cambridge Center for Adult Education,” added Robinson, “but we were under their umbrella, and so they made some decisions for us. Now we will make our decisions together.”


The Festival and Awards are for all Mass. residents in every poetic denomination, slam or nonslam. “We’re just about poetry,” said Goodrum.


Robinson distributed a timetable leading to the main event, which the group scheduled for March 9, 2003, at an as-yet unnamed locale. “We would actually like the ceremony to be free,” he said, “as a goodwill gesture to the community at large.” Numbered ballots will initially be disseminated between Oct. 1 and Dec. 20, so that poets and audience members can vote for nominees within the 18 “Performance Poetry” categories. Poetry will also be submitted to the Written Poetry Committee; guidelines will be on the ballot and the website, The Committee will then decide on the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award and the host of the 2003 ceremony.


A mid-November benefit will feature acclaimed local poets as well as auction items solicited from area bookstores and theaters.


Ballots will be tabulated and written poetry evaluated by the committee between Dec. 21 and Feb. 7, 2003; Feb. 8 and 9’s Performance Showcase will be hosted by winning poetry venue nominees. Showcase winners will then be decided upon and awards and plaques printed, with the final ceremony on March 9.


Can they do it? The enthusiasm seems there for the grassroots literary cause. “Without the traditional poetry festival sponsorship, we will be relying on human effort,” said Lawson. “Even people to just sit at the door will be valued.”


The next CPAC meeting is planned for Sept. 12 at 7 p.m. at the Cambridge Common Restaurant. For more information or to help out, contact or call 508-833-3100.