by Len Lear
Not many students can say they were taught by a Poet Laureate, but many students at Musehouse in Chestnut Hill, Arcadia University in Glenside, the Poetry Reading Series at Elkins Park Library, Abington Adult School and Abington Free Library, among others, can in fact say it without fear of contradiction.
That’s because those students were taught by Kristina Moriconi, who says her age is “a lot closer to 50 than 40. A great time in my life!” Kristina is the 2014 Poet Laureate of Montgomery County, a position many area residents probably do not even know exists.
Kristina is a prolific poet whose work has appeared most recently in Cobalt Review, The Schuylkill Valley Journal, Prick of the Spindle, Blue Heron Review and is forthcoming in Blood Lotus and Fox Chase Review. She is the author of a chapbook, No Such Place (Finishing Line Press, 2013), which has received scintillating reviews.
But how does one become Poet Laureate of Montgomery County? Most recently the answer was that one would submit his/her poems to the Montgomery County Poet Laureate competition, and the most recent winner was selected by the poet J.C. Todd, author of “What Space This Body.”
Here is what Todd had to say about Kristina’s work: “In the haunting poems of Kristina Moriconi … with lyric immediacy and quiet yet uncanny images, the poet contemplates the mysteries of what can’t be resolved — dementia, bodily trauma, the death of parents, love that constricts — as a way to imagine how to ‘learn to live without….’ These poems are thin places, locations where the visible and invisible worlds open into each other, where certainty erodes and possibility emerges from letting go.”
And as impressive as Moriconi is as a poet, her teaching is at the same celestial level. For example, here is what a student at Arcadia posted about Moriconi on the website, ratemyprofessors.com:
“My first year seminar with her, If You Build It, was such a great class. She cares about everyone and uses very creative methods of teaching. She is an excellent teacher who has no problem going on fun tangents. She took our class to New York City and paid for our breakfast and subway costs. She is very devoted to being there for her students.”
Kristina, who lives in Jenkintown with her husband and two daughters. earned an MA in English at Arcadia University, then a few years later, an MFA in creative writing from the Rainier Writing Workshop in Tacoma, Washington.
“Adrienne Rich is the first poet whose work I think inspired me to want to write poetry as well as Elizabeth Bishop and Grace Paley,” Kristina told us last week. “The top three contemporary poets whose work influences me right now would have to be Kelli Russell Agodon, Alison Hawthorne Deming and Victoria Redel. I was also greatly influenced by Mary Oliver. I read her poems whenever I am feeling stuck and need to absorb beauty in both nature and language.”
What exactly are the duties of the Poet Laureate of Montgomery County (Moriconi’s term will expire in April of 2015)? Kristina recently started a program called the Traveling Poets Project, which will provide poetry-writing workshops for kids at the middle school to high school level (ages 11 to 18). She and other poets will go to libraries, schools, museums and community events to teach these workshops. In other words, she will try to inspire young people to read and write poetry who may think that poetry is a relic of an irrelevant age before cell phones, Facebook and Twitter.
I asked Kristina how she would respond to what I believe is the overwhelming majority of Americans who do not have the slightest interest in poetry. She replied, “They are obviously not the people I’d want to spend much of my time with. I have been working hard at creating a circle of poetry people who think and feel quite differently than ‘the overwhelming majority of Americans.’ And I am excited that I have found a great community right here in the Philadelphia area, including writers and teachers I’ve met at Musehouse, poets I’ve gotten to know through the Montgomery County Poet Laureate program, the Elkins Park Library poetry reading series that I run, and the local literary journals such as Fox Chase Review, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Philadelphia Stories and Apiary Magazine.
“I believe that if you surround yourself with enough people who are as passionate about poetry and writing as you are then the ‘overwhelming majority’ is just a whisper you can barely hear over all those uplifting voices.
“That said, I do wish our society would see the value in poetry and writing and art and music more than they do now. I think our culture has suffered for its system of values, placing too much importance on money and trophies and statistics rather than on creativity and the process of learning.”
At Musehouse, Moriconi currently teaches memoir classes, and she hopes to teach a class there in the fall on the hybrid form (the prose poem, lyric essay, nonlinear narrative). She also teaches a class called Flashback, a “flash” (brief/short) nonfiction/personal essay class, at the Abington Township Adult School, and she will also be leading a poetry workshop at the Cheltenham Adult School beginning the end of September.
For more information, call Musehouse at 267-331-9552 or visit www.kristinamoriconi.com.