Courtesy of the Hill-Stead Museum
As museums and history organizations across the state of Connecticut brace for budget cuts, we contemplate where in the order of priorities fall the arts and humanities. Is poetry a luxury or a staple of human mental health and spirit?

Riding atop the daily business of mankind, the arts are the most perfect manifestation of the human spirit, and poetry is not least among those arts. We turn instinctively to poetry in times of crisis, just as we turn to religion. Nor is it just in crisis that our deepest selves resonate to its music.

Connecticut is home to one of the nation’s premier poetry events, the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival. Five days of poetry, music, and writing workshops at the magnificent venue of Hill-Stead Museum’s circa-1920 Beatrix Farrand-designed garden, enliven the spirits of its nearly 5,000 attendees each summer. The popularity of this nationally-acclaimed event tells us how impoverished we would be without the likes of Richard Wilbur and Maya Angelou, Sharon Olds and Langston Hughes. The Sunken Garden Poetry Festival as we know it would not be possible without generous support from Connecticut Humanities, an organization endangered by the proposed state budget.

Poetry reaches far beyond the stone walls of Hill-Stead’s Sunken Garden. Since 1993, student poets from all corners of Connecticut have entered the Fresh Voices Poetry Competition and mentoring program.  High school-age poets discover courage and self-confidence by submitting their own work, and perhaps discover themselves in the process. Fresh Voices winners read at the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival on Connecticut Young Poets Day, and their work is featured on Hill-Stead’s website. Without funding from CT Humanities, the opportunity for Connecticut’s next generation of language artists to find their voice will be missed.

The greatness of a civilization is measured by its arts. Without Virgil, Rome would not be Rome; and without Shakespeare, England would not be England. We put our poets on our postage stamps to send our words from here to there; may we continue to let their words be heard in Connecticut.

Poet Robert Rennie McQuilkin is publisher at Antrim House and serves on Hill-Stead’s Poetry Advisory Committee; Susan Ballek is Hill-Stead Museum’s executive director and CEO.

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