From October 28th to 31st of 2019 New England College hosted the fourth annual Poetry Bridging Continents Conference, which was mostly orchestrated by Professor Maura MacNeil. Attending the conference were five poets from China, CHEN Yihai, Zi , YUE Qi, BU Lanchen, WANG Yuqin, and one university student, CAI Yingming, as well as many poets native to New England. The conference focused on American and Chinese pastoral poetry, or poetry with a focus on the simplicity of rural life in contrast to the corruption of city life, especially in regards to the Anthropocene.
Throughout the conference a multitude of enriching activities were open for students, staff, and faculty to participate in alongside the poets, including a Renga,
which is a call and response poetry writing technique, a workshop in Chinese calligraphy,
and a whole array of panels regarding various aspects of Chinese and American poetry. The last panel culminated with a discussion on environmental consciousness and the responsibility of artists, a subject many of the poets were passionate about.
“Both China and the United States are facing a lot of issues with the environment, so there was discussion about artists and their responsibility towards the environment,” MacNeil said.
The poets were also taken to visit a few organic farms in New England.
Over all, MacNeil considers the conference to have been a success. Reflecting on the experience, she said that “it went really well,” and that she was “really happy with the turn out, like from the people from outside the campus that came.”
MacNeil expressed appreciation: “New England College put on its best face. They [Chinese poets] were really impressed with the students and the whole community. We are in the midst of the daily life of a community, and you forget to appreciate it sometimes. Getting to see it through someone else’s eyes was really nice for the faculty who were involved with it. I’m really proud of the institution for how they stepped up and were really welcoming. I think it was a real testament to the similarities between two cultures, rather than the differences.”
The poets from China were also very impressed with the experience New England College provided them. Zi Chuan, in an email after returning home, expressed gratitude to NEC for providing “the warmth of home,” to him and the other visitors.
As for 2020, the current plan is for the next conference to be held in China, just as it was back in 2018. Ideally the exchange of faculty and staff will be more formalized. In following years the location of the conference will continue to alternate between nations, so that in 2021 it will be back in the U.S., either at NEC or another institution.