ROCKLAND — Edna St. Vincent Millay was more than a world-famous poet. She was also a multi-faceted singer, a musician, an actress, a writer, a playwright, and an opera lyricist.
This week, hundreds of people who are fascinated by her life, her work and her persona will be attending the inaugural Millay Arts & Poetry Festival in Rockland, a three-day event of 35 performances featuring more than 80 performers, authors, presenters, poets, actors, musicians, and visual artists, which all pay tribute to her multiple talents.
The idea for the event coincided with the purchase last March of a modest house in Rockland that happened to be Millay’s birthplace. As Penobscot Bay Pilot initially covered in a story earlier in the year, “A Peek Inside The House Where Edna St. Vincent Millay Was Born,” the house, rescued by Roxanne Quimby and the Rockland Historical Society, symbolized the need to celebrate Millay's art and legacy.
Lisa Westkaemper, Treasurer of Millay House Rockland Board, her husband Alva Hascall, Tom O’Donovan, owner of Harbor Square Gallery and Board President, along with other Board members Michelle Gifford and Steve Cartwright, spent the last six months organizing the three-day fête.
“It’s tough to pinpoint what the ‘best’ part of this festival will be, but a lot of people are excited about the caliber of poets invited to speak such as Tracy K. Smith, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and our newly appointed national poet laureate, as well as Richard Blanco, 2013 presidential inaugural poet who is an amazing speaker, very charismatic,” said Westkaemper. “One of the biggest highlights will be a number of Millay biographers around the country who have all been invited to do a roundtable, including a keynote address by Nancy Milford, author of ‘Savage Beauty.’”
As the program promises of this particular event: “This is a once-in-a-lifetime event for lovers of Millay and her works.”
Another performance that is garnering early ticket sales is Hascall’s play “Vincent,” premiering Friday night, featuring New York actress Sarah MacDonnell as Millay, and the DaPonte String Quartet collaborating on music. “Writing the play has taken about two and a half years,” Hascall said. “Based on my research and what information was available at that moment, I have a fictionalized account of the last moments in her life. Not all of the facts were known, but what evidence we have, revealed that very late at night at Steepletop, Vincent had been working on Latin translations. They found her at the bottom of the stairs the next afternoon.” This play will only run once with a reception preceding.
The play’s title “Vincent” is another nod to creative license. “People who are infatuated by Millay have all made her personal,” said Hascall. “Some call her ‘Edna;’ some call her ‘Vincent.’ She speaks to them in all different media and ways. Everyone has his or her own ‘Millay’ and are very protective of that personal relationship with her.”
Music, which was such a huge part of Millay’s childhood upbringing, is a central piece in the festival with a Poetry Concert featuring once again, actress Sarah MacDonnell reading Millay poems, and the DaPonte String Quartet providing antiphonal response to Millay’s words. “The Quartet has a wonderful ear for what the emotional tone should be,” said Hascall, producer of the event.
The organizers of Millay Arts & Poetry Festival felt fall was the best time to introduce an arts and literary festival.
“We have the Blues Festival and The Lobster Festival of the summer, but in the fall, you tend to have more ‘cultural tourism’ and that’s what we’re aiming for to get Edna St. Vincent Millay back into the public eye as much as possible,” said Westkaemper. “We hope to offer this Festival every year.”
The Millay House in Rockland is still currently under demolition and construction and won’t be “finished” in time for this year’s event, but a number of Millay biographers will get a special tour of the poet’s birthplace during the weekend.
Kay Stephens can be reached at email@example.com