SACKETS HARBOR — The main speaker at a poetry gathering here on Saturday hopes the event helps people become well-versed in such literary works, either by creating poems or writing them.
“If we want to be the fullest human beings we can and should be, we need to have poetry in our lives,” said Cindy Hunter Morgan. “To the extent that we can promote that and share that, is a service to everybody. It’s really wonderful to see Hay Memorial Library making that commitment and offering that experience for the community.”
Ms. Hunter Morgan will present a two-hour online workshop on Saturday, called “What’s Hiding in a Lake’s History? How Research and History Inspire Poetry” as part of the Great Lakes Poetry Gathering.
The all-day regional poetry program focuses on maritime character covering historic, geographic and natural themes of the Great Lakes.
Organizers are hosting the event as a blend — a live virtual session in the morning upstairs at the library, 105 S. Broad St., followed by socially distanced workshops and readings in the afternoon at the Union Hotel in the village and (weather permitting) readings outside in the waterfront gazebo.
The online morning workshop and reading, from 10 a.m. to noon, will feature Ms. Hunter Morgan, author of “Harborless,” published by Wayne State University Press. “Harborless” won the 2017 Moveen Prize in Poetry and was a 2018 Michigan Notable Book.
In a phone interview from her home in East Lansing, Mich., Ms. Hunter Morgan, who teaches in the English Department at Michigan State University, said that poetry can help us address the complexity of our lives.
“I think that affective poetry avoids simplification and acknowledges complexity,” she said. “Poetry can give us kind of a quiet place to think about our lives. Poems are also a place where we can find our own lives. Poetry isn’t an escape from our lives. It’s actually a way to help us enter our lives more deeply and fully. We can go there and to find deeper thoughts.”
Ms. Hunter Morgan explored the deep with her award-winning collection, “Harborless.” It features poems inspired by Great Lakes shipwrecks. Each poem begins in a real, historical moment that she transforms into an imagined truth. Publisher Wayne State University Press notes that most of the poems are titled after the name of a ship, the year of the wreck, and the lake in which the ship met disaster.
Such history, Ms. Hunter Morgan said, can give a writer a way into creating poems.
“Mystery is a big part of poetry,” she said. “It gives mystery a place to dwell. I think a poet’s job is to give space to mystery.”
“Harborless” is full of mystery.
“There’s so much we don’t know about what happened to some of these boats that went down,” Ms. Hunter Morgan said. “Even when we know details, there are other details we can’t possibly know. In that way, there’s already mystery associated with these wrecks that fit with poetry well.”
For example, wondering about a load of lost cast iron stoves that went down with a ship became inspiration for her. In another poem, the 1922 explosion of the river ferry Omar D. Conger intrigued her. A boiler exploded while the ferry was docked at Black River dock in Port Huron, Mich.
The explosion, Ms. Hunter Morgan said, caused a 2,000-pound radiator to rocket into the air before falling through the roof of Falk Undertaking Parlor during a funeral service.
“That seemed wildly fantastic,” Ms. Hunter Morgan said. “It sounded like fiction, hyperbolic. But that was the kind of little nugget of factual information around which I could start a poem. The poem plays with language and thinks about the radiator. But it winds up being almost a playful poem, even though it’s thinking about something tremendous serious.”
History, she said, is a good way to find those “nugget” to launch a poem.
“They can serve kind of like prompts,” she said. “The trick is to find our way — sometimes away from that triggering subject so that the poem becomes more than just that nugget. It leads somewhere new. It heads somewhere surprising. If you think of the nugget of information like a hub, then you have to find the spoke and find where you’re going to branch off from that nugget of information to build a poem.”
In a “loud and abrasive world,” building and reading poems can be a soothing pastime, Ms. Hunter Morgan said.
“Poetry can help us think more deeply about the way we use language and the way we engage with language. And I think we all need to be reminded of that,” she said.