LitLife Poetry Festival

Join Philadelphia Stories editors and top-name poets for the 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: Saturday, April 7, 2018 

WHERE: Rosemont College, 1400 Montgomery Ave, Rosemont, PA 19010

This fourth annual poetry conference at Rosemont College brings together poets and poetry lovers to celebrate and discuss the art. The LitLife Poetry Festival annually focuses on poetry’s engagement with the world, and this year’s conference panels continue to explore a range of topics including the relationship between poetry and music, the role of poetry in medicine and health, how poetry thrives on margins rather than in centers, and how local booksellers can be resources for area writers. The day will feature workshops by poets Dilruba Ahmed and John Timpane, engaging panels and presentations, readings, and opportunities to talk to other poets and poetry editors at the book fair and lunch.

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LitLife Poetry Conference Panel Schedule
April 7, 2018, 9:30 am – 3:30 pm
Rosemont College, 1400 Montgomery Ave, Rosemont, PA 19010


9:00am Registration (Lawrence Auditorium Lobby)

9:30am Keynote: Dilruba Ahmed (Lawrence Auditorium)

Dilruba Ahmed is the author of Dhaka Dust (Graywolf, 2011), winner of the Bakeless Literary Prize for poetry awarded by the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Her poetry has appeared in Blackbird, Cream City Review, New England Review, New Orleans Review, and Indivisible: Contemporary South Asian American Poetry.  A writer with roots in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Bangladesh, Ahmed earned BPhil and MAT degrees from the University of Pittsburgh and an MFA from Warren Wilson College. She has taught in Chatham University’s Low-Residency MFA program.

10:15am Master Class with John Timpane: Turning and Momentum in Poetry (Good Counsel, Global Classroom)

The word verse derives from the Latin verb vertare, meaning “to turn.” For millennia, there’s been a belief that poems get their forward momentum via “turning” — from one line to the next, one image to the next, one rhythm to the next. In our workshop, we’ll share our poems and look for what pulls and pushes us through them, the sources of that “turning” sense. Come prepared to talk about line endings, enjambment, rhythm, and rhetoric.

10:15am Health & Expression: Poetry and Medicine (Lawrence Auditorium )

It’s no coincidence that healers have a long history of practicing poetry, and poet-clinicians intuitively seem to understand the links between their disciplines. Creative expression often makes us feel better, but how does poetry enrich our understanding of bodily and social experiences, and how can this make us better listeners and healers? How might poetry be a salve for dis-ease/disease? In this panel two physicians and a social worker will discuss the ways that poetry can be useful in their professions – as a therapeutic device, an educational mode for health care providers-in-training, self-care for those in helping professions, and more – and will read relevant samples of their own and others’ poetry.

Panelists: Trapeta Mayson, Wynne Morrison & Irene Mathieu

11:30am  Booksellers & Poetry Communities (Lawrence Auditorium)

Three local booksellers will introduce you to the business of bookselling – because writers need to understand the business to know how bookstores choose books, stock books, pay for books, and organize events. We’ll introduce you to the difference between cost and price, to the big wholesalers and how they work, and to how discount structures allow us to be in business. We’ll also explore how to work with stores to understand their customer base and how to choose which stores to approach to sell your book or hold an event. Indie booksellers will handsell the heck out of books that we believe in – and writers can help us believe in them by understanding how we function and teaming up with us.

Booksellers: Elliott bat Tzedek, Leslie Finkel & Ellen Trachtenberg

12:30pm Lunch (Good Counsel, Global Classroom)

1:30pm-3:30pm  Master Class with Dilruba Ahmed: As Stones From a Necklace: Repetition & Surprise in the Ghazal Form (Good Counsel, Global Classroom)

In the words of Shadab Zeest Hashmi, the resilient and intricate ghazal “forges an affinity between high- and low-brow concerns, between the sacred and the profane, the intellectual and the spiritual…”  Agha Shahid Ali wrote of this ancient and versatile poetic form that we “should at any time be able to pluck a couplet like a stone from a necklace and it should continue to shine in that vivid isolation, though it would have a different luster among and with the other stones.”  This workshop will explore the ghazal’s key formal elements, and examine how those elements work together to create resistance to linearity as well as movement by repetition and surprise. Using a wide range of poetic examples, we’ll investigate the ghazal’s incorporation of the “beloved” in many different forms (lover, revolution, the Divine); its embrace of grief, ecstasy, and longing; and the traditional themes of love, longing, wine, and devotion.  After a close look at contemporary ghazals written in English—including poems by Agha Shahid Ali, Kazim Ali, Reginald Dwayne Betts, Gabrielle Calvocoressi, Evie Shockley, Safia Elhillo, Ross White, Mimi Kalvati, and others—we’ll try a variety of writing experiments to help us compose our own couplets that might “shine” in “vivid isolation” and take on a “different luster” when strung together.

1:30pm Poetry & Music (Lawrence Auditorium)

What is the relationship between poetry and music? For many people outside of poetry communities, exposure to “poetry” might be just come from song lyrics and commercial jingles. This panel will consider questions related to poetry education, adaptation of poetry to song, music vs. “musicality,” the process of writing with or without music in mind, and the “gateway drugs” some songwriters and poets can be for writers. How do lyricists and composers determine the relationship between poetry and music in creating songs? How can we use that relationship to welcome new audiences to poetry in and out of the classroom? How do poets honor the poetry of popular music in their work?

Panelists: Sydney Coffin, Carla Spataro, Ricky Belcastro, & Martin Wiley

2:45pm Margins: Finding Poetry at the Fringes (Lawrence Auditorium)

Margins is Chad Frame’s service project as Montgomery County Poet Laureate and is a panel celebrating marginalized voices in the arts. This panel seeks to amplify those voices and consider how location relative to the mainstream informs their work. Each panelist will give a short presentation combining personal anecdotes and narrative with a reading or performance, giving perspective their unique sound and style.

Panelists: Chad Frame, Autumn Konopka, Cleveland Wall & others

4:00pm Crimmins & MCPL Reception (Main Building)

We’ll celebrate the winners of the Sandy Crimmins National Prize in Poetry as well as the 2018 Montgomery County Poet Laureate with a reception. Poets will be traveling from around the country and around the block to participate. Free and open to the public.

2018 Crimmins Poetry Contest Winner:  Chelsea Whitton, 2018 MCPL: Megan Gillespie

6:00pm Break

7:30pm-8:30pm Open Mic (Location TBD)

After a day of writing, listening, and discussing poetry, join panelists, organizers, and other participants in the LitLife Poetry Conference. Poets will have a chance to share original pieces — perhaps pieces developed in LitLife workshops! Free and open to the public.



The music of composer Richard Belcastro has been called “an eclectic blend of melodic and rhythmic elements of Jazz and Rock and Roll with a uniquely contemporary harmonic vocabulary” – The NY Concert Review, and his talents as a sitarist have been “characterized by introspection and joyful exuberance.” –

Belcastro has enjoyed commissions and performances from many of today’s premiere ensembles and musicians such as the PRISM Saxophone Quartet, The NakedEye Ensemble, pianist Kathleen Supové, Network for New Music, and numerous others.  His music has been heard in such prestigious venues as Carnegie Hall, Merkin Hall, and Philadelphia’s Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. His work can also be heard on the Starkland, Innova, and Navona record labels.  As a sitarist, Belcastro utilizes the instrument in unique contexts for which the sitar is not typically suited.

Belcastro studied music composition at the University of California in Davis, Brandeis University and the University of Pennsylvania. In addition to his work as a composer and performer, Belcastro is the Artistic Director of the DCCC Performing Arts Concert Series and serves as Assistant Professor of Music at Delaware County Community College in Media, PA.  For additional information visit

Sydney Hunt Coffin, a 5-time National Fellow at Yale University’s national initiative to strengthen teaching in public schools, has also been a consultant to the Teacher Advisory Council of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has published poetry in Apiary Magazine, Mad House Press, at the Philadelphia Writing Project, and by Yale University Press. He has published seven 25 page curriculum units on teaching music lyrics for literacy through African American musical history, short stories through a study of jazz music, Spanish language and slang performance poetry, collage poetry, ekphrastic poetry, Native American poetry, as well as one on women’s poetry during the Black Power movement with help from Yolanda Wisher Palacio. He teaches Art, English, and Leadership at Edison/Fareira High School in North Philadelphia.

Leslie Finkel is Manager and Event Coordinator of the Wellington Square Bookshop. After spending 20 years in IT and medical device recruiting, and 2 years as a high school teacher, Leslie decided to give in to her dormant literary passions and go to work in an Independent Bookstore. She grew up in Pittsburgh but has lived in the western suburbs of Philadelphia for 18 years.

Chad Frame earned his MFA at Arcadia University. His work has appeared in various journals including decomP, Barrelhouse, Rust+Moth, Menacing Hedge, Calamus Journal, Mobius: The Journal of Social Change, and elsewhere. He was the 2017 Poet Laureate of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, the Poetry Editor of Ovunque Siamo: New Italian-American Writing, and a member of No River Twice, a poetry improv performance troupe. Chad was recently interviewed and featured on the radio program “The Poet and the Poem” by Grace Cavalieri from the Library of Congress. Chad often writes about his experiences growing up gay in small-town Pennsylvania.

Autumn Konopka was the 2016 Montgomery County Poet Laureate. Her poems have appeared in Literary Mama, Crab Orchard Review, Philadelphia Stories, Apiary, Mad Poets Review, and others. In 2014, her chapbook a chain of paper dolls was published by the Head & the Hand Press. Autumn teaches composition and creative writing in Philadelphia and curates the Arthur Krasnow Poets and Poetry Series in Elkins Park. Autumn’s experience on the margins is that of a feminist who grew up in poverty and now writes about domesticity and motherhood, chronic pain, and mental illness.

Irène Mathieu is a pediatrician, writer, and public health researcher. She is the author of orogeny (Trembling Pillow Press, 2017), which won the Bob Kaufman Book Prize, and the galaxy of origins (dancing girl press & studio, 2014). She has received fellowships from the Fulbright Program and the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Narrative Magazine, Boston Review, Southern Humanities Review, Los Angeles Review, Callaloo Journal, New Delta Review, Yemassee Journal, Foundry, and elsewhere.

Trapeta B. Mayson is a poet, educator and licensed clinical social worker. She has worked extensively with young people and adults in educational, artistic and institutional settings conducting creative writing and poetry workshops. She has received numerous literary awards and fellowships including a 2002 Pew Fellowship in the Arts for poetry, two Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Grants and a 2007 Leeway Transformation Award. Trapeta is a Cave Canem and Callaloo Fellow and has completed residencies at schools, community agencies and artistic institutions. Trapeta’s recent publications include submissions in The American Poetry Review. Her second poetry collection, She Was Once Herself was released in 2012.

Trapeta is a native of Liberia and had lived in Philadelphia for over 30 years. She is a member of the Greene Street Artist Cooperative in Germantown. She received her BA at Temple University and an MSS from Bryn Mawr College, Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research. Trapeta’s professional career has encompassed leading teams and managing programs within major agencies in health, education and government. Trapeta enjoys cooking, traveling, writing and performing poetry. She is motivated by working with diverse groups of young people and exposing them to fun, empowering and exciting artistic, social and education opportunities.

Wynne Morrison is a physician practicing pediatric palliative care and critical care at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. She teaches at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Her academic interests are pediatric ethics and the medical humanities.  Writing poetry helps to keep her sane.

Carla Spataro is the MFA program director at Rosemont College in suburban Philadelphia and the editorial director of Philadelphia Stories and PS Books. She is a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts grant winner for fiction and her short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in literary journals including The Baltimore ReviewIron Horse Literary ReviewSwitchgrass Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Permafrost and others. Her work has also been anthologized in Another Breath, Forgotten Philadelphia, Extraordinary Gifts, and 50 Over 50. In 2013, she was awarded the Award for Distinguished Teaching at the Graduate Level by Rosemont College and several of her students have recently signed contracts with big five publishers.

Ellen Trachtenberg is the owner of the Narberth Bookshop. After 27 years’ experience in the world of books, Ellen opened Narberth Bookshop in October of 2016. Before that, she’d worked as a publicist for University of Pennsylvania Press, as a consultant for authors on publicity and marketing, and, for several years, a bookseller at Three Lives & Company in New York’s Greenwich Village.

Elliott bat Tzedek is Outreach Coordinator of Big Blue Marble Bookstore. Elliott has worked with books and publishing for nearly 20 years. For the last four years she’s been bookselling and creating events at Big Blue Marble in Mt. Airy, Philadelphia.  Although the store is small, they hosted more than 200 events in 2017, including author visits, festivals, book clubs, reading series, and writing classes.

Cleveland Wall is a poet, editor, and arts advocate. Her poetry/music fusion play “Odeon” recently debuted at Bethlehem’s IceHouse Tonight series. She is a charter member of the poetry improv group No River Twice, contributing editor at Rag Queen Periodical, and co-creator of Lehigh Valley Poetry, a clearinghouse for community poetry events. She has led workshops with Poetry Writers in the Schools in Montgomery County, Southside Children’s Festival in Bethlehem, and Nurture Nature Center in Easton. Publications include Philadelphia Stories, Full of Crow, The Oakland Review, Voicemail Poems, Philosophical Idiot, Indigent A La Carte and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Martin Wiley is a recovering poet and community college professor in Philadelphia.  He spent the last few years frantically trying to stay on the wagon but his children’ love of words has dragged him, kicking and screaming, back into the poetry world.

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