New Bedford Poet Laureate Sarah Jane Mulvey teaches how to write poetry


NEW BEDFORD — Poetry is not dead.

Sarah Jane Mulvey, driven in her role as New Bedford Poet Laureate, said she wants everyone to know that anyone can write poetry, and it can be about anything.

“You’re taught in school that it’s this thing you have to analyze…they automatically think back to that Shakespeare class,” Mulvey, 33, said. “It’s so much more than that.”

Mulvey said poetry has become an evolving art form, where modern poets are reshaping the way people view and interact with poems.

“You can write a poem about flowers or a sunset, and it deserves to be called art,” she said.

For Mulvey, after writing a few poems growing up, she tapped into the art form professionally only eight years ago as a mechanism to deal with a major breakup.

“It was kind of a way of coming back to myself,” she said. “It became the right vehicle, at that time, for me to heal myself. It really went from there.”

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Mulvey said she attended a Hollihock Writer’s Conference that took place at the College of Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA) on Purchase Street.

It was the first time she read her poetry aloud in front of a room full of people. “The feedback I got from that first day was kind of like a little spark and a little fire,” she recalls.

Now, the New Bedford native has co-founded Anomaly Poetry, a collection of weird and exceptional artists in the SouthCoast area. The band hosts open mic nights on a monthly basis.

“It really became a catalyst for a lot of my community work,” she said, adding that the group has released two anthologies with the Domesticated Primate bookstore.

(Mulvey said they open submissions for their winter edition in September.)

Become New Bedford’s Poet Laureate

Eventually, Mulvey said she crossed paths with former New Bedford Poet Laureate Patricia Gomes, who had held the position for six years since 2014.

“I call her my fairy godmother,” Mulvey said. “She was a great role model for me, which encouraged me to apply to become the next Poet Laureate after her.”

New Bedford Poet Laureate Sarah Jane Mulvey.

Last summer, Mulvey went before the New Bedford Cultural Council – a committee of six artists, including Gomes.

The app included a resume, a sample of their poetry, resume, awards, accomplishments, and publications. Mulvey was also interviewed by the committee.

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Although she published locally and majored in communications and journalism at Bridgewater State University, Mulvey said she felt intimidated and slightly out of her element compared to other writers for consideration.

However, she told the committee that her main platform would be to revitalize and reshape the way people think about poetry and the need to go to schools to re-educate young people as well.

In August 2021, Mulvey was sworn in as New Bedford Poet Laureate, one of only six in Massachusetts.

How to write a poem

To start writing a poem, Mulvey said it should start with some sort of underlying emotion such as joy, sadness, or anger.

“I’ll write different points that I want to make, or specific lines that I think really need to be in there,” she said. “Then it’s kind of like playing Scrabble, where I try to fit the words I want, in the right place, and make sense of them.”

An excerpt from one of New Bedford Poet Laureate Sarah Jane Mulvey's poems.

She said you don’t need an elaborate vocabulary either. “Every time you hear someone speak, that’s their form of poetry.”

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As for following certain structures, rhymes, or rhythms, Mulvey said the writer is in charge, and he doesn’t need to have secret depth either.

“You don’t have to open your soul. Don’t throw away all the horrible things that are in there,” she said. “Anyone can write a perfectly good love poem about your dog or cat.”

New Bedford Poet Laureate Sarah Jane Mulvey recites one of her poems while on vacation.

Mulvey said that’s how she wants to educate her students. She wants people to find pleasure in being expressive with poetry and worry less about everything they think they know or have been told what makes a good poem.

“There’s so much going on in the world. But at the same time, poetry is what’s gotten people through many unprecedented times before,” she said.

“Poetry does not die, it evolves.”

Standard-Times writer Seth Chitwood can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @ChitwoodReports. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Standard-Times today.

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