Join Philadelphia Stories editors and poets for the

2021 LitLife Poetry Conference

a day of master classes, discussions, readings, and more — including a celebration of the Sandy Crimmins Poetry Prize and Montgomery County Poet Laureate winners.


WHEN: 10:00am-7:00pm [Eastern]; Saturday, April 17, 2021
WHERE: Online

This poetry conference from Rosemont College, the Montgomery County Poet Laureate Program, and Philadelphia Stories brings together poets and poetry lovers to celebrate and discuss the art. The LitLife Poetry Festival focuses on poetry’s engagement with the world, and this year’s conference panels continue to explore a range of topics including a poet’s responsibility to the world outside their work, the relationship between poetry and research, the role of the environment and place in poetry,  and how local presses work with area writers to develop manuscripts. The day will feature masterclasses led by poets Ernest Hilbert and Airea D. Matthews, engaging panels and presentations, readings, and opportunities to connect with other poets and poetry editors.

REGISTRATION FEE: $75 (Regular); $45 (Student, Senior 65 & Over, Rosemont Student/Alum/Faculty)


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Judge of the 2021 Sandy Crimmins National Prize in Poetry, Airea D. Matthews


Judge of the 2021 Montgomery County Poet Laureate Competition, Ernest Hilbert





LitLife Poetry Conference Panel Schedule
April 17, 2021, 10:00am-4:00pm


10:00am Welcome Statement from Philadelphia Stories, Rosemont College MFA, and Montgomery County Poet Laureate Program 

10:15am Keynote Address from poet Airea D. Matthews

11:00am-12:00pm Master Class with Ernest Hilbert, “Root and All: Power of the Object”

The Renaissance polymath Leonardo da Vinci instructed that “it should not be hard for you to stop sometimes and look into the stains of walls, or ashes of a fire, or clouds, or mud or like places in which you may find really marvelous ideas.” Carl Jung observed in Man and His Symbols that “commonplace objects . . . can assume such powerful psychic significance in a dream that we may awake seriously disturbed, in spite of having dreamed of nothing worse than a locked room or a missed train.” How can a poem capture the full force of a meaningful image, or bring meaning to an image no one imagined there before? Even the simplest or most common objects may contain powerful resonance.

In this workshop we will explore the aesthetic and emotional potential contained in a single object: an object as vast as a galaxy, as small as a microbe, or anything in between. Every culture in history has invested objects with symbolic power and even talismanic properties. These may be found in a mountain or river, an article– of clothing or jewelry, a cloud or a wall, a skyscraper or a single blade of grass. It can be deeply personal or utterly unfamiliar. Together we’ll learn how to split the atom on the page, releasing enormous energies from a single source—an object powerfully observed and profoundly felt.


Panelists: Keith Kopka, LindoYes, John Timpane, Hayden Saunier

Poets are alternately told that “poetry does nothing” and that poets are “the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” We can sometimes feel that our work is self-serving and navel-gazing. Other times, the work feels like a sacred task. How do poets balance their needs against the needs of the larger world? These panelists will discuss how their work engages with the larger world and how they decide what goes into the poetry and what work goes alongside it.

12:00pm  Practice of Poetry: USING RESEARCH IN POETRY

Panelists: Vernita Hall, Maria James-Thiaw, J. C. Todd, Artress Bethany White

In this panel, poets will discuss the relationship between research and their work. We will talk about how difficult topics or historical trauma can take a toll on the poet who writes about them. How should poets approach research ethically and responsibly? How can poets protect themselves from second-hand trauma? 

1:00-2:00 LUNCH BREAK

2:00pm-4:00pm  Master Class with Airea D. Matthews, “Beyond The Line” 

Visual Poetry has been defined by Willard Bohn as “poetry that is meant to be seen.” There are traditions of visual poetry in many cultures, ancient, modern, and contemporary, and because meaning is invested in pattern, color, dimension, texture, graphics, image, and animation as well as in the word, these poems can communicate in many more ways than linear narrative. This master class introduces cross-cultural traditions of visual poetry, including pattern poetry, illumination, concrete poetry, and what digital poet and theorist David Jhave Johnston calls TAVs (textaudio- visual poems) and TAVITs (text-audio-visual-interactive poems). Particular attention will be paid to contemporary practitioners, and to relationships between material traditions of poetry, including sound, visual, and digital. 

2:00pm Poetry of Place: THE EVOLVING PASTORAL POEM

Panelists: Grant Clauser, Cleveland Wall, Jerry Wemple, Liz Chang

The tradition of pastoral poetry stretches as far back as poetry itself. In this panel, poets will discuss the ways that they approach writing about nature in a time when our relationship to nature is changing. What of the pastoral tradition can help us enhance our connections to the natural world? How can our writing reflect the urgency of the current moment? These panelists will discuss their approaches to writing about the natural world as well as their reflections on how this work is evolving as the natural world evolves.

3:00pm Business of Poetry: ASSEMBLING A MANUSCRIPT 

Panelists: Risa Pappas [Tolsun],  Gabriel Cleveland [CavanKerry Press], Fred Shaw, Pattie McCarthy, Shanna Compton [Bloof Books]

In this panel, poets and editors talk about the work that goes into creating a book or a chapbook. How closely do presses work with poets? What should a poet know about submitting work during open reading times or contests? What are some of the expected and unexpected challenges of assembling a manuscript for publication?


LitLife Crimmins & MCPL Reception
April 17, 2021, 4:30pm-7:00pm

We’ll celebrate the winners of the Sandy Crimmins National Prize in Poetry as well as the 2021 Montgomery County Poet Laureate with a reception. Poets will be attending virtually from around the country and around the block to participate. Free and open to the public.

2021 Crimmins Poetry Contest Winner: Caitlin Kossmann, 2021 MCPL: Paul Siegell



Airea D. Matthews’ first collection of poems is the critically acclaimed Simulacra, which received the prestigious 2016 Yale Series of Younger Poets Award. The collection explores the topics of longing and desire with power, insight, and intense emotion. New Yorker critic Dan Chiasson describes Matthews’s experimental forms as, “Fugues, text messages to the dead, imagined outtakes from Wittgenstein, tart mini-operas, fairy tales: Matthews is virtuosic, frantic, and darkly, very darkly, funny.”

For her writing, Matthews earned a 2020 Pew Fellowship as well as the 2017 Margaret Walker For My People award. In 2016, she received both the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award and the Louis Untermeyer Scholarship in Poetry from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Her work has appeared in Callaloo, Gulf Coast, Best American Poets, American Poet, The Rumpus, Tin House, Los Angeles Review of Books, Harvard Review, and elsewhere. A Cave Canem, Callaloo, and Kresge Literary Arts Fellow, Matthews is a founding member of the transdisciplinary art studio The Teeth Factory.

Matthews holds a B.A. in Economics from the University of Pennsylvania as well as an M.F.A. from the Helen Zell Writers’ Program and an M.P.A. from the Gerald Ford School of Public Policy, both at the University of Michigan. She is an assistant professor and directs the poetry program at Bryn Mawr College, where she was presented the Lindback Distinguished Teaching award.

Airea D. Matthews’s Website

Ernest Hilbert is the author of Sixty Sonnets, All of You on the Good Earth, and Caligulan, which was selected as winner of the 2017 Poets’ Prize. His fourth collection, Last One Out, appeared in March 2019. He lives in Philadelphia where he works as a rare book dealer and book critic for The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. His poem “Mars Ultor” was included in Best American Poetry 2018, and his poems appear in Yale Review, American Poetry Review, Harvard Review, Parnassus, Sewanee Review, Hudson Review, Boston Review, The New Republic, American Scholar, and the London Review. Visit him at

Vernita Hall is the author of Where William Walked: Poems About Philadelphia and Its People of Color, winner of the Willow Books Grand Prize and of the Robert Creeley Prize from Marsh Hawk Press; and The Hitchhiking Robot Learns About Philadelphians, winner of the Moonstone Press Chapbook Contest. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in numerous anthologies and journals, including Poetry, American Poetry Review, African American Review, Atlanta Review, Baltimore Review, Barrow Street, Mezzo Cammin, Solstice, The Cortland Review, Potomac Review, and The Common. With fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center and Ucross, Hall holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Rosemont College and serves on the poetry review board of Philadelphia Stories

Poet/Playwright, Maria James-Thiaw is CEO and founder of Reclaim Artist Collective (RAC), a nonprofit focused on arts programming for and about individuals in marginalized communities. She developed the American Griot Project, a program in which she teaches students to use research and oral history to develop choreopoems. She was inspired to start RAC after her first choreopoem, Reclaiming My Time, sold out 6 shows in 2018. The show was based on oral history research and featured poetic translations of women’s memories of the Civil Rights era. In 2018 works from Reclaiming My Time won the Art of Protest Poetry Prize from the Center of American Literary Studies at Penn State University. Maria is a spoken word artist and the author of three poetry books. After 16 years as a professor at Central Penn College, she enthusiastically took charge of the Creative Writing program at the Capital Area School for the Arts in Harrisburg, PA. She lives in the Harrisburg area with her husband and two little boys who are a constant source of both exhaustion and inspiration. 

J. C. Todd’s most recent books are Beyond Repair, Able Muse Press, forthcoming in 2021, and The Damages of Morning (Moonstone Press), a 2019 Eric Hoffer Award finalist. Winner of the Rita Dove Prize in Poetry and twice a finalist for Poetry Society of America awards, she holds fellowships from the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage, Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, Leeway Foundation, and residency programs including the Bemis Center, VCCA, and Ucross. Poems have appeared or are forthcoming in the Baltimore ReviewBeloit Poetry Journal, Gargoyle, Mezzo Cammin, One Art, The Paris Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, and in the recent anthology Welcome to the Resistance. She lives in Philadelphia and has taught in the Creative Writing Program at Bryn Mawr College and the Rosemont College MFA Program.

Artress Bethany White is a poet, essayist, and literary critic. She is the recipient of the Trio Award for her poetry collection, My Afmerica: Poems, published by Trio House Press in 2019. Her debut essay collection, Survivor’s Guilt: Essays on Race and American Identity, was published by New Rivers Press in 2020 and is listed as a Community of Literary Magazines and Presses social justice read. Her prose and poetry have appeared in such journals as Harvard Review, PoetrySolsticePleiades, Tahoma ReviewGreen Mountains ReviewTupelo QuarterlyEcotone, and The Hopkins Review.  Her literary criticism appears in the anthologies Literary Expressions of African Spirituality, published by Lexington Books in 2013, and Seeking Home: Marginalization and Representation in Appalachian Literature and Song, published by University of Tennessee Press in 2017.White has received fellowships, scholarships, and residencies from The Appalachian College Association, the Hambidge Center for Creative Arts, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, The Writer’s Hotel, and the Tupelo Press/MASS MoCA studios. Her research interests include American slave archives and contemporary African American poetics.  She is associate professor of English at East Stroudsburg University.

Grant Clauser is the author of four books, most recently The Magician’s Handbook and Reckless Constellations. His awards include the Cider Press Review Book Award, the Dogfish Head Poetry Prize and the Montgomery County Poet Laureate. His poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, Cortland Review, The Journal, The Literary Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Southern Poetry Review, and others. He’s a contributing editor to the online publication Cleaver and works as a senior editor for Wirecutter at the New York Times.

Cleveland Wall is a poet, editor, and teaching artist. Her work has appeared in Philadelphia Stories, Möbius, Schuylkill Valley Journal, and beyond.  She is a founding member of the poetry improv group No River Twice and cohost of Tuesday Muse, a monthly performance series at Bethlehem’s Ice House. She also performs with poetry/classical guitar combo The Starry Eyes. Her first poetry collection, Let X=X, was published by Kelsay Books, fall 2019.

Jerry Wemple is the author of three full-length poetry collections, most recently Artemas and Ark: the Ridge and Valley Poems. He is also the author of two poetry chapbooks and co-editor, with Marjorie Maddox, of the anthology Common Wealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania. His poetry and creative nonfiction work appear in numerous journals and anthologies, and have been published internationally in Ireland, Chile, and Canada. Wemple, a Professor of English at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, is the recipient of several awards for writing and teaching including a Fellowship in Literature from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, the Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award, the Word Journal chapbook prize, and Bloomsburg University’s Jack and Helen Evans Endowed Faculty Fellowship.

Liz Chang was 2012 Montgomery County Poet Laureate in Pennsylvania. Her 2018 chapbook Animal Nocturne is available from Moonstone Press. Her poems have recently appeared in Verse Daily, Origins Journal, Breakwater Review and Stoneboat Literary Journal, among others. She is an Associate Professor of English at Delaware County Community College.

Gabriel Cleveland is the Managing Editor at CavanKerry Press. A poet and fiction writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from Pine Manor College, he is an avid video gamer and music lover as well as a mental health advocate, often working online to raise awareness, visibility, and money for psychological and psychosocial issues. Gabriel has spent several years in the field of caregiving for people with increased physical and/or mental needs and wants you to know that you’re not alone.

Fred Shaw was named Emerging Poet Laureate Finalist for Allegheny County in 2020. He is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, and Carlow University, where he received his MFA.  He teaches writing and literature at Point Park University and Carlow University. His first collection. Scraping Away, was recently published by CavanKerry Press. A book reviewer and Poetry Editor for Pittsburgh Quarterly, his poem, “Argot,” is featured in the 2018 full-length documentary, Eating & Working & Eating & Working.  The film focuses on the lives of local service-industry workers. His poem “Scraping Away” was selected for the PA Public Poetry Project in 2017.  He lives in Pittsburgh with his wife and rescued hound dog.

Shanna Compton’s most recent book is Creature Sounds Fade, forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press in 2020. Her poetry and essays are widely published, appearing in Best American Poetry, the Nation, American Poetry Review, and elsewhere. She is the founder of Bloof Books, and works for several other small presses as a freelance book designer. She lives in Lambertville, NJ. For more, see

Pattie McCarthy is the author of six books, most recently Quiet Book from Apogee Press. Her previous books include Nulls (2014, Horse Less Press), Marybones (Apogee, 2012), Table Alphabetical of Hard Words (Apogee, 2010), Verso (2004), and Bk of H(r)s (Apogee, 2001). She has also written several chapbooks, most recently scenes from the lives of my parents (Bloof, 2013) and x y z && (Ahsahta, 2015). A former Pew Fellow in the Arts, she teaches at Temple University. Pattie’s chapbook mercy, a midden is forthcoming from Bloof.

Risa Pappas is a poet, filmmaker, writer, editor, audiobook narrator, and public speaker. She has most recently been published in bluntly magazine and Black Fox Literary Magazine and is a senior editor at Tolsun Books. Risa received her MFA in creative writing at Fairleigh Dickinson University. She currently resides near Philadelphia.

Keith Kopka is a former touring punk musician and the author of Count Four (University of Tampa Press, 2020), which won the 2019 Tampa Review Prize for Poetry. His poems and criticism have appeared in Best New Poets, Mid-American Review, New Ohio Review, and The International Journal of The Book, and many others. He is also the author of the critical text Asking a Shadow to Dance: An Introduction to the Practice of Poetry (GRL, 2018) and a recipient of the International Award for Excellence from the Books, Publishing, & Libraries Research Network. Kopka is currently a Senior Editor at Narrative Magazine, the Director of Operations for Writers Resist, and an Assistant Professor at Holy Family University in Philadelphia. 

Hayden Saunier’s newest book of poetry, A Cartography of Home, was published in February. Her work has been awarded the Pablo Neruda Prize, Rattle Poetry Prize, Gell Poetry Award, and been published widely, most recently in Thrush, 32 Poems, Lake Effect, and Tar River Poetry. She is founder/director of No River Twice (poetry + improvisation) an interactive, audience driven poetry reading/performance.

LindoYes is a spoken word artist from Philadelphia. They have appeared on Def Poetry Jam, Button Poetry, and Philadelphia weekly just to name a few. Their poetry touches on soft masculinity, racial injustice, and emotional well-being.


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*You can purchase the Philadelphia Stories Events Pass Standard for $280 or Philadelphia Stories Events Pass Deluxe for $360 to get a deal on our events and workshops (includes LitLife Poetry Festival).