Michael Cervas Visiting Writers Program

The Michael Cervas Visiting Writers Program is named in honor of Michael Cervas who taught English from 1986-2020 and who initiated two longstanding visiting writers programs: The Westminster Poet Series and the Friday Nights at Westminster series of readings. The Michael Cervas Visiting Writers Program is supported by generous gifts from the Ford-Goldfarb English Department Enrichment Fund, the McKinley Fund, and the Friday Nights at Westminster Fund.  

About Michael Cervas
During his 34-year tenure on the Westminster faculty, Michael taught all levels of English; coached basketball, soccer, track, baseball, golf and squash; worked as a corridor supervisor in Alumni House; and presided as department head for three decades. Having retired from his full-time appointment to the faculty at the end of the 2019-2020 academic year, Michael continues to direct the Visiting Writers Program.

Friday Nights at Westminster

The Friday Nights at Westminster series of readings began in 2009-2010 to coincide with the opening of the Armour Academic Center. Six times a year (twice each trimester) writers are invited to come to campus to give a Friday evening reading in the Gund Room of the Cole Library and then return on Saturday morning to visit with English classes. Typically, English teachers introduce their students to works by the visiting writers prior to their readings or performances, thus guaranteeing an educated audience for the guest writers. The program has featured readings and performances by poets, essayists, novelists, jazz musicians, and singer-songwriters, many of whom, like Jennifer Egan, Ron Carlson, Emily St. John Mandel, Anthony Doerr, Monica Wood, Dar Williams, Kris Delmhorst, Nat Reeves, and Mark Erelli, have national reputations. Local writers and musicians, like Colin McEnroe, Rand Richards Cooper, Lynn Hoffman, Jonathan Gilman, Gina Barreca, and Rob Duguay, have also appeared in the program. One special feature of Friday Nights at Westminster is that the evening always begins with a reading by a student or a faculty member.

2022-2023 Schedule

List of 1 items.

  • Friday Nights at Westminster 2022-2023

    Please join us for Friday Nights at Westminster, a series of readings and concerts held at Westminster School during the 2022-2023 academic year on selected Friday nights, (occasionally on other nights of the week too).
    The events begin at 7 p.m. and are free and open to vaccinated members of the public with advance registration by emailing mcervas@westminster-school.org with the number of people attending. Reservations may be made until the day before the event and space may be limited.
    Events are held in either the Westminster Centennial Center or the Gund Reading Room of the school’s Armour Academic Center. We will let you know where each event will be held once the decision is made. Parking is available in the parking lot adjacent to Armour.
    Friday, Oct. 7
    Richard Blanco
    Selected by President Obama as the fifth inaugural poet in U.S. history, Blanco joined the ranks of such luminary poets as Robert Frost and Maya Angelou. The youngest, first Latino, immigrant and gay person to serve in such a role, he read his inaugural poem, “One Today,” at the ceremony.
    Blanco describes himself as being made in Cuba, assembled in Spain and imported to the United States — meaning that his mother, seven months pregnant, and the rest of the family arrived as exiles from Cuba to Madrid, where he was born. Only 45 days later, the family immigrated once more and settled in Miami, where he was raised and educated. The negotiation of cultural identity and universal themes of place and belonging characterize his body of work.
    Blanco is the author of the memoirs “The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood” and “For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet’s Journey”; the poetry chapbooks “Matters of the Sea,” “One Today” and “Boston Strong”; the poetry collections “Looking for the Gulf Motel,” “Directions to the Beach of the Dead” and “City of a Hundred Fires”; and a children’s book of his inaugural poem, “One Today,” illustrated by Dav Pilkey.
    “How to Love a Country,” his latest book of poems, explores immigration, gun violence, racism, LGBTQ issues and more, in accessible and emotive verses.
    The recipient of numerous literary awards, he has written and performed occasional poems for organizations and events such as the re-opening of the U.S. embassy in Havana, Cuba, the Boston Strong Benefit Concert, Freedom to Marry, the Fragrance Awards and the Tech Awards in Silicon Valley.
    Friday, Nov. 4
    Monica Wood
    Wood’s newest novel will appear in 2023 from Mariner Books. Her most recent novel, “The One-in-a-Million Boy,” has been translated into 20 languages in over 30 countries. She is also the author of “When We Were the Kennedys,” a New England bestseller, Oprah magazine summer-reading pick, and winner of the May Sarton Memoir Award and the Maine Literary Award.
    Her novel “Any Bitter Thing” was an American Booksellers Association bestseller and Book Sense Top Ten pick. Her nonfiction has appeared in O, The Oprah Magazine; The New York Times; Martha Stewart Living; Parade and many other publications and her play, “Papermaker,” enjoyed an extended debut run at the Portland Stage Company in Portland, Maine.
    Wood is a novelist, memoirist and playwright; the 2019 recipient of the Maine Humanities Council Carlson Prize for contributions to the public humanities; and a recipient of the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance Distinguished Achievement Award for contributions to the literary arts. She lives in Portland, Maine, with her husband, Dan Abbott and their cat, Susie.
    Friday, Dec. 9
    Julia Phillips
    Phillips is the debut author of the internationally bestselling novel “Disappearing Earth,” which was a finalist for the National Book Award. A Fulbright fellow, essayist and short fiction writer, Julia has written for The New York Times, The Atlantic and The Paris Review. She teaches at the Randolph College MFA program and is the founder of the online event series Lit Mixer.
    Friday, Jan. 27
    Adam White
    Adam White grew up in Damariscotta, Maine, and now lives with his wife and son in Boston, where he teaches writing and coaches lacrosse. He holds an MFA from Columbia University. “The Midcoast” is his first novel. It’s the story of a family of lobstermen who skyrocket from poverty to wealth, a local writer obsessed with their rise and the small-town secrets that bind them all together.
    Friday, April 21
    Qais Akbar Omar
    Qais Akbar Omar (first name pronounced “Kice”) is the author of “A Fort of Nine Towers,” which has been published in more than 20 languages and the co-author of “A Night in the Emperor’s Garden,” which has been dramatized by BBC Radio. He has written for The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Boston Globe, The Sunday Times and The Globe and Mail, and he has published short stories in The Southern Review, AGNI, The Hopkins Review, Guernica and elsewhere. In 2014–15 Omar was a Scholars at Risk Fellow at Harvard University.
    Omar was born in 1982 in Kabul, Afghanistan. He holds a bachelor’s in journalism from Kabul University. He studied business at Brandeis University and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Boston University.
    In Afghanistan, Omar worked as an interpreter for the U.S. military. He also worked for the United Nations. He comes from a family of carpet traders, and he served as a textiles specialist for U.S. Agency for International Development and the Asian Development Bank, helping carpet weavers across Afghanistan.
    Tuesday, May 16
    Westminster Artists Collective
    (student and faculty writers and musicians)
    The Michael Cervas Visiting Writers Program, which includes the Friday Nights at Westminster series, is supported by generous gifts from the Ford-Goldfarb English Department Enrichment Fund, the McKinley Fund, the Connell Music Fund, and the Friday Nights at Westminster Fund.

Westminster Poet Series

The Westminster Poet Series began in 1999 when Linda Pastan, at the time the Poet Laureate of the State of Maryland, came to Westminster to give an evening reading and visit with English classes the following day. The second poet in the series was Billy Collins, who had just been named United States Poet Laureate. Since then, the school has welcomed award-winning poets from all around the United States to campus for two-day visits. Westminster Poets have been United States Poets Laureate, State of Connecticut Poets Laureate, Pulitzer Prize winners, and National Book Award winners.

Margaret Gibson Named Westminster Poet for 2022-2023
The English Department is delighted to announce that Margaret Gibson will be the Westminster Poet for 2022-2023. Ms. Gibson, who is a professor emerita at the University of Connecticut and a nationally and internationally renowned poet, is currently finishing a three-year appointment as the Poet Laureate for the State of Connecticut during which time she chose as her focus “Poetry and the Environment during Climate Crisis.” Previous Westminster Poets who were also Connecticut Poet Laureates are Marilyn Nelson (in 2005 and 2017) and Rennie McQuilkin (in 2018).
Ms. Gibson’s numerous collections of poetry include “Long Walks in the Afternoon” (1982), which was a Lamont poetry selection; “The Vigil” (1993), a finalist for the National Book Award; “Earth Elegy: New and Selected Poems” (1997); “One Body” (2007), which won the Connecticut Center for the Book Award in poetry; and the trilogy, “Broken Cup” (2014), “Not Hearing the Thrush” (2018) and “The Glass Globe” (2021). She is also the author of “The Prodigal Daughter: Reclaiming an Unfinished Childhood” (2008).
About her recent trilogy, Rick Koster writes, “At the core of these works are real-time poems, reflections and observations that chronicle the diagnosis of her husband, the writer David McCain, with Alzheimer's disease; the progression of the illness; and his passing. The work is astonishingly moving in its beauty and craft — swirling, gorgeous and evocative — and similarly profound in the cumulative sense of Gibson's own intertwined explorations of love and grief. Ultimately, the works skillfully and almost frighteningly reflect our tenuous and symbiotic connection to the natural world.”
In one sense, Margaret Gibson is an “old school” poet who writes lyrical descriptive-meditative poems which address all of the traditional questions that great poets have always explored, questions about what it means to live fully in this world, about how we can eventually come to terms with loss and grief, about how the inner world of the mind and the outer world of nature are connected, about what art and poetry can ultimately teach all of us about finding our place in this world. But she is also a “new school” poet in the multifarious ways she approaches these traditional topics and especially in her attention to detail, to language and to form. A simple nature poem, in Margaret Gibson’s hands, opens up through metaphor and imagery into profound and profoundly moving visions of what it means to be alive and human on this planet. 
Margaret Gibson will be visiting Westminster from Feb. 26-28. She will give an all-school reading Monday morning, Feb. 27 and speak with English classes during the academic day on both Monday and Tuesday.

For more about Margaret Gibson, here are a few links to pursue: her website and her page on Poets.org.  

And here are a few poems:

List of 3 items.

  • Losing It

    What little I know, I hold closer,
    more dear, especially now
    that I take the daily
    reinvention of loss as my teacher.
    I will never graduate from this college,
    whose M.A. translates
    “Master of Absence,”
    with a subtext in the imperative:
    Misplace Anything.
    If there’s anything I want, it’s that more
    people I love join the search party.
    You were once renowned
    among friends for your luck
    in retrieving from the wayside
    the perfect bowl for the kitchen,
    or a hand carved deer, a pencil drawn
    portrait of a young girl
    whose brimming innocence
    still makes me ache.  Now
    the daily litany of common losses
    goes like this:  Do you have
    your wallet, keys, glasses, gloves,
    giraffe?  Oh dear, I forgot
    my giraffe—that’s the preferred
    response, but no:  it’s usually
    the glasses, the gloves, the wallet.
    The keys I’ve hidden.
    I’ve signed you up for “safe return”
    with a medallion (like a diploma)
    on a chain about your neck.
    Okay, today, this writing,
    I’m amused by the art of losing. 
    I bow to Elizabeth Bishop, I try
    “losing faster”—but when I get
    frantic, when I’ve lost
    my composure, my nerve, my patience,
    my compassion, I have only
    what little I know
    to save me.  Here’s what I know:
    it’s not absence I fear, but anonymity.
    I remember taking a deep breath,
    stopped in my tracks.  I’d been
    looking for an important document
    I had myself misplaced;
    high and low, no luck yet. 
    I was “beside myself,”
    so there may have indeed been
    my double running the search party.
    “Stop,” you said gently.  “I’ll go
    get Margaret.  She’ll know where it is.”
    “But I’m Margaret,” I wailed.
    “No, no.” You held out before me
    a copy of one of my books,
    pointing to the author’s photograph,
    someone serious and composed.
    “You know her.  Margaret
    Gibson, the poet.”  We looked
    into each others’ eyes a long time.
    The earth tilted on its axis,
    and what we were looking for,
    each other and ourselves,
    took the tilt, and we slid into each others’ arms,
    holding on for dear life, holding on.
  • Heaven

    The leaves are turning, one by one carried away in the crisp wind.
    In one letter he penned,
    Coleridge turned away, calling love
    a local anguish he meant to leave
    behind him. Away, away,
    says the blue and gold day, and no one hears it but the wind, whose law
    it echoes. The dog has a red ball to chase.
    You pick a flat, perfect stone for the wall you hope to live long enough
    to rebuild. I prune
    briars, pick burrs from the dog’s fur.
    I teach Come and Sit. Sit here
    a longer sit beneath the cedars. The grass is freshly cut,
    sun low, all the energy
    of a summer’s day rushing into bulb and root.
    The dog runs off, returns. The stones balance
    steeply. Good work. Good dog. This is
    heaven. Sit. Stay.
  • Passage

    Once in sunlight I pinned to the clothesline a cotton sheet, a plane of light sheer as the mind of God,

    before we imagined that mind creased by a single word.
    With my hand I smoothed any rivel, any shirr, any suggestion of pleat or furrow.

    Whatever it was I wanted from that moment, I can’t say. It failed to edify. 
    Nor did I bow.

    And yet the memory holds, and there is a joy that recurs in me much as the scent of summer abides in air dried sheets I unfold long after,

    lying down in them as one might in a meadow,
    as one might with a lover, as one might court the Infinite, however long it takes.

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