Millay fest begins on rebellious note

Author celebrates Edna St. Vincent Millay as 'Symbol of beauty and rebellion'
By Daniel Dunkle | Sep 07, 2017
Photo by: Daniel Dunkle Author Jerri Dell talks about her grandfather Floyd Dell's memoirs about his love affair with Edna St. Vincent Millay at the Farnsworth Art Museum on the first day of the Millay Arts & Poetry Festival.

Rockland — Edna St. Vincent Millay, the poet born in a duplex on Broadway here in Rockland in 1892, was celebrated for her courage, beauty and rebellious politics as the festival in her honor kicked off Thursday morning in Rockland.

The Millay Arts & Poetry Festival is being held Thursday through Saturday, Sept. 7-9, and has drawn national "heavy hitters" in poetry and writing circles to the city. Those include 2013 presidential inaugural poet Richard Blanco and Pulitzer-Prize-winning National Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith. Bestselling author and Millay biographer Nancy Milford is the featured keynote address speaker Saturday, Sept. 9.

The event opened with a talk at the Farnsworth Art Museum by Jerri Dell, author of "Blood Too Bright."

Dell's grandfather, Floyd Dell, was a Bohemian author and socialist editor of Masses magazine in Greenwich Village about a century ago. He met Millay when she auditioned successfully for a part in a play he had written, and a love affair was born.

His granddaughter later discovered numerous letters that Dell wrote about his love of Millay. They were heavily involved in progressive and socialist politics in the years before and after World War I, and his granddaughter likened him to a Bernie Sanders of his time period.

One of the fascinating aspects of the story was the fact that the government actually prosecuted Floyd Dell for his radical political writing in newspaper articles, seeking to imprison him for a 20-year sentence. It was his writing on the topic of conscientious objection that brought the charges.

As he waited to hear his fate in the trial, Millay walked with him, reading him poetry. Jerri Dell cut the tension here a bit, quipping that Millay loved the drama of the situation.

Fortunately for all involved, the jury was deadlocked. Fortunately for Jerri Dell, Millay left her grandfather, and he had a 50-year marriage to her grandmother, who, rather than being jealous, loved Millay for her courage and strong will.

The younger Dell also inherited her grandfather's books of Millay's poetry, which are inscribed with personal notes from the famous poet to her friend.

The two revolutionaries saw themselves in a world gone insane as bearing a little flame of intelligence and beauty, keeping it alight as long as possible, Jerri Dell said.

Millay was one of the most important poets of her time and the most successful. She also influenced important figures of the 20th century, yet Jerri Dell lamented that Millay is no longer taught in schools or universities.

In Rockland this weekend, however, she will be celebrated and analyzed, cherished and recited as the events continue at venues all over the downtown.

"Vincent," a play about the last hour of Millay's life, will premier at The Strand Theatre at 8 p.m. Friday night, Sept. 8. The play was written by Alva Hascall of Rockland, who has been producing the festival.

For more information, visit millayhouserockland.com. For more on "Blood Too Bright" visit bloodtoobright.com.

Millay Festival volunteer Rose Willson, left, and playwright Alva Hascall of Rockland sell tickets to the events the first day of the festival at the Strand Theatre in Rockland. (Photo by: Daniel Dunkle)
The Millay Arts & Poetry Festival begins Thursday, Sept. 7, on Main Street. (Photo by: Daniel Dunkle)
City Councilor Valli Geiger helps out with the festival at the Farnsworth Art Museum Sept. 7. (Photo by: Daniel Dunkle)
Comments (2)
Posted by: Barbara Dyer | Sep 08, 2017 11:02

Thanks to all the people ,who is keeping this spirit of Edna St. Vincent Milley alive. because her parents were divorced and her mother had to work, they were looked down upon in Camden.  She was one of the most famous poets who lived and we should honor her in this area.



Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Sep 07, 2017 16:23

Wonderful! I wish I could again attend the Rockland festivities. Congrats to the volunteers that keep this Poet and poetry alive!



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