Brunswick Longfellow Days to examine nostalgia in poet's work

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BRUNSWICK — This year’s Longfellow Days, an annual series of downtown events commemorating poet and Bowdoin College alumnus Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, will run from Feb. 4-27.

The series that begins next week, presented by the Brunswick Downtown Association, will focus on nostalgia.

The poet lived from 1807-1882, and moved to Brunswick in 1822 with his brother to begin his sophomore year at Bowdoin. He graduated in 1825. 

Amy Waterman, co-organizer of the event, said inspiration for the 2018 theme, “The Heart Hath Its Own Memory,” came from looking at Longfellow’s own fascinations in his writing. 

“He wrote with a lot of feeling and he was fascinated with these sagas from all over the world, and stories of antiquity,” Waterman said. “He would adapt Norse legends into poetry, so he had a huge inquiring mind, but looked back a lot.”

In the past, Waterman said, themes of Longfellow Days have explored a range of topics, including looking at the poet as an abolitionist, and his relationship to the environment.

Choosing the overarching theme of the series’ events, which range from poetry readings to movie screenings, helps organizers choose who to invite to speak.

This year, for instance, Gary Lawless, a poet and co-owner of Gulf of Maine books, will emcee a read-in of Longfellow’s poem “Moritori Salutamos,” which Longfellow wrote for his graduating class at Bowdoin. The event, called “We Salute You!,” will take place Feb. 21 at 7 p.m. 

Waterman said the poem examines the aging process and is LongFellow’s way of saluting his college peers. Organizers then found out Lawless had extensive knowledge of the piece, and knew he would be a good host for the event.

Similarly, Tricia Welsh, a professor of cinema studies at Bowdoin, will host “The Charm of Reading and Re-Reading” on Valentine’s Day at 12:15 p.m. Welsh will present on the experience of reading her childhood favorites, such as “Little Women” and “Heidi,” as an adult.

The presenter is also writing a book on the same topic, called “Loose Leaves.”

Waterman said one of the series’ key events will allow poets who have been featured at past Longfellow Days to choose new poets to speak. The event, known as The Coursen Readings, is divided into four parts, and will open the series on Feb. 4.

The readings are named for Longfellow’s friend, late poet Herbert Coursen. 

Waterman said allowing poets to nominate each other also allows the organizing process to run more smoothly, versus organizers having to reach out to publishers or colleges to find poets.

“The core of the series are the series of four poetry readings; if we did nothing else, that’s what we would do,” Waterman said. “We had the idea a few years ago to let the poets pass the mantle, so each year we ask 12 (poets) to nominate one or two for the following year.”

In addition to being a good event for the community, Waterman said she thinks Longfellow Days being held in February is part of what has helped it continue over the years. The poet was also born in February.

“(This time of year) is when everybody is hibernating and it’s gloomy,” she said. “So that was the notion, to do something, and it’s kept expanding.”

Elizabeth Clemente can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or eclemente@theforecaster.net. Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @epclemente

Longfellow Days, an annual series presented by the Brunswick Downtown Association to commemorate the late poet and Bowdoin College alumnus Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, runs from Feb. 4-27.

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