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Longfellow Days in Brunswick to focus on Civil War

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Longfellow Days in Brunswick to focus on Civil War

BRUNSWICK — Longfellow Days, an annual month-long celebration of 19th-century poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, will mark its 10th year of promoting history, poetry and the arts next month.

This year's celebration will focus on the Civil War, which reached its turning point 150 years ago, and how it impacted writers like Longfellow, Walt Whitman and Herman Melville.

The Feb. 1 opening event will feature U.S. Senator Angus King, I-Maine – a professed admirer of Maine Civil War hero Gen. Joshua Chamberlain – and poetry readings by three former Maine State Poets Laureate, Wesley McNair, Betsy Sholl and Baron Wormser.

King founded the State Poets Laureate program while serving as governor.

Other well-known Maine poets will read on Feb. 2, Feb. 9 and Feb. 16, and there will be opportunities on Feb. 11 and Feb. 20 for anyone to read their own poetry.

Most of Longfellow Days' events are being held at Curtis Memorial Library and at locations on the Bowdoin College campus. More information about programming can be found on the website of the event's organizer, the Brunswick Downtown Association, at brunswickdowntown.com/longfellowdays.

For Civil War buffs, there are two particular events of note.

On Feb. 15, the Smith Auditorium at Bowdoin College will screen the renowned 1926 silent comedy film, "The General," which stars Buster Keaton as a train engineer who attempts to enlist in the Confederate Army. The event will begin with opening remarks by Tricia Welsch, a film studies professor at Bowdoin.

On Feb. 19, Peter Coviello, a Bowdoin English professor, will lecture about literary responses to the Civil War by Longfellow, Whitman, Melvin, Harriet Beecher Stowe and other writers living at the time.

Coviello said his talk will focus on the difference in their responses; some saw the Civil War as a redemption, with the abolition of slaves, while others saw the war as a cataclysm that brought devastation to the country.

He said Whitman, in particular, fell in between those two camps of thoughts.

"The union emerged better because slavery was abolished," Coviello said, but it also left "left vast amounts of people defenseless." In some writers' views, the Civil War was "a cataclysmic waste that didn't benefit anyone in the poor North and the poor South."

Unfortunately, Civil War buffs won't be treated to the traditional one-day tour of the Joshua L. Chamberlain Museum, which couldn't happen this year due to broken water and heating pipes in the building.

The museum is expected to reopen on Memorial Day in May.

Maryli Tiemann, founder of Longfellow Days, said she didn't imagine the event would ever reach its 10th year when she started it.

"I didn't think beyond Longfellow's 200th birthday," she said, "and then everybody said, 'What are we going to do next year?' So here we are, 10 years and we're still doing it."

Besides celebrating history, poetry and the arts, Tiemann said the another point of Longfellow Days is to strengthen the relationship between the town and Bowdoin, which is a major sponsor of the event.

A Brunswick resident and former teacher at Morse High School in Bath, Tiemann now works as a service learning consultant with colleges, including Bowdoin. That's how she got the idea in the first place.

"It became clear to me how wonderful everyone is," she said, "and how seldom the students get real contact with the community and vice versa."

Besides fostering a greater connection between the town and Bowdoin, Tiemann said it's a joy to have poetry captivate people who previously didn't think they would find it interesting.

"It feels so great to have someone who wrote the poem share it in a room where the people are to appreciate it," she said. "It makes such a big difference for people who were skeptical."

Dylan Martin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or dmartin@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DylanLJMartin.