From Henniker to Yancheng: Professor Maura MacNeil Travels to China

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Professor Maura MacNeil may be tucked away in the small corner of Henniker, where she teaches creative writing and publishes her poetry, but she recently traveled all the way to China, along with six other poets from the United States, to join Chinese poets for a “Poetry Bridges Continents” symposium held at Yancheng Teachers University.

Through her connection with Rodger Martin, a fellow poet and scholar, MacNeil was granted the chance to travel to China. She has known Martin for years, as they connected through the Monadnock Writers’ Group, where she has been a member for over a decade and also currently serves on the board.

In addition to the Writer’s Group, she also takes part in Monadnock Pastoral Poets’ annual writing retreat. Pastoral poetry focuses on “writing about landscape and the environment.” MacNeil mentions that much of her work falls into that category. Being so deeply involved with writing groups and retreats led her to take part in the “Poetry Bridges Continents” symposium.

“It was a long process,” MacNeil said, as preparation for the November trip was started during the summer. “Official letters of invitation from Yancheng University were needed for the application.”

MacNeil presented a paper titled, “Poetry of Place: The Poetry of David Budbill,” paying tribute to the deceased poet from Vermont.“Budbill’s poetry focused on the geography of the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont and how the external landscape becomes part of our internal lives,” she said.

MacNeil had a fantastic opportunity to present a formal reading of her own poem (one of many that have been translated into Chinese.) Along with the symposium, she traveled around Jiangsu Province to visit other artists and writers and talk of the many ways poetry connects human beings.

“We acted as non-governmental ambassadors of peace and poetry,” MacNeil said.

This was not the first time she has traveled because of her career. In 2015, she participated in “A Room of Her Own” writing retreat in New Mexico, just for women writers. “I think it’s important for writers to gather with other writers outside of our routine lives in order to have the important conversations that move our work forward,” she said.

Being surrounded by other writers is of the upmost importance to MacNeil, “When with other poets there is a language that they speak that is specific to their writing lives.”

MacNeil is always learning and greatly inspired by her friends and colleagues. Being surrounded, not just by other poets and their poetry, but by music and art, made the trip truly enjoyable. She mentioned that “in China, culture is quite important, and they put a great deal of effort into cultivating and preserving the arts”

“The Chinese people are also so gracious and hospitable and they care deeply about the comfort of the people around them,” MacNeil said.

In addition to the abundant music and art, she was impressed with the ancient architecture, and the “beautiful country of contrasts, the modern and the ancient.”

Although the trip was a wonderful experience, there was a necessary downside. MacNeil stated that the “travel was difficult.” Being an anxious traveler already has its disadvantages, but the 12-hour time difference made it even worse. Traveling an excruciating 24 hours altogether, she was glad to be home. However, she said, “I would certainly go again. In fact, the plan is to return in two years.”

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Elizabeth is a freshman at New England College, majoring in creative writing. She stayed close to home in order to pursue a college education, as her hometown of Salisbury NH is only a dozen or so miles from NEC's campus. She spends most of her time focused on writing (whether it be personal or academic), photography, and reading. She also enjoys being an active member of NEC's writing club, Ravens and Writing Desks.
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