Program Information for 2021 Princeton Poetry Festival

November 12, 2021

Given how restricted in our movements we have been over the past two years, it’s particularly gratifying to be able to hold our seventh Princeton Poetry Festival “in person.” Though we may sometimes think of poets writing in the isolation of their godly garrett, and readers also reading in splendid isolation, the fact is that poetry is a profoundly social activity. For as long as humans have gathered around a fire and told each other stories that would help them understand themselves in the world, the poet has always taken a key role in the community.

In the case of the Princeton Poetry Festival, that community has always been an international one; though our roster is a little smaller than usual this year, we’re pleased to welcome poets from a wide range of backgrounds. I myself am particularly interested in hearing how they might respond to the “prompt” for our panel discussions on “Poetry and Purpose.” Does poetry have an objective? If so, what might it be? Is it true, as Keats suggests, that “we hate poetry that has a palpable design upon us”? May poetry sometimes come close to propaganda yet achieve important ends? Or is it most successful when least programmatic? Are ideas of art and utility mutually exclusive?

— Paul Muldoon


Festival Schedule

10:30 AM — Gala Opening Reading
Introduction by Paul Muldoon; reading by Polina Barskova, Reginald Dwayne Betts, Victoria Chang, Sasha Dugdale, Laura Kasischke, Daljit Nagra, Patricia Smith, and Javier Zamora

11:05 AM — Intermission

11:15 AM — Panel: “Poetry and Purpose (1)” moderated by Paul Muldoon featuring Reginald Dwayne Betts, Victoria Chang, Daljit Nagra and Javier Zamora

12:05 PM — Intermission

12:15 PM — Reading by Polina Barskova, Sasha Dugdale, Laura Kasischke and Patricia Smith with introduction by Michael Dickman

1:30 PM — Lunchtime Intermission

2:15 PM — Lecture by Sasha Dugdale on “Contemporary Russian Poetry” with introduction by Olga Peters Hasty

3:05 PM — Intermission

3:15 PM — Panel: “Poetry and Purpose (2)” moderated by Paul Muldoon featuring Polina Barskova, Sasha Dugdale, Laura Kasischke and Patricia Smith

4:05 PM — Intermission

4:15-5:30 PM — Reading by Reginald Dwayne Betts, Victoria Chang, Daljit Nagra and Javier Zamora with introduction by Rowan Ricardo Phillips


Meet the Poets

polina with brown curly hair smiles and leans against window

Photo courtesy Hampshire College

Polina Barskova is a poet and a scholar, author of twelve collections of poems and three books of prose in Russian. Her collection of creative nonfiction, Living Pictures, received the Andrey Bely Prize in 2015 and is forthcoming in German with Suhrkamp Verlag and in English with NYRB. She edited the Leningrad Siege poetry anthology Written in the Dark (UDP) and has four collections of poetry published in English translation: This Lamentable City (Tupelo Press), The Zoo in Winter (Melville House), Relocations (Zephyr Press) and Air Raid (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2021). She teaches Russian Literature at the University of California, Berkeley.


reginald in profile view with black beard and shirt against red orange background

Photo by Mamadi Doumbouya

Reginald Dwayne Betts transformed himself from a sixteen-year-old kid sentenced to nine years in prison to a critically acclaimed writer and graduate of the Yale Law School. He has written three acclaimed collections of poetry including the recently published Felon, Bastards of the Reagan Era and Shahid Reads His Own Palm, as well as the memoir A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison. Named a 2021 MacArthur Fellow and a past Guggenheim and NEA Fellow, his writing has generated national attention and earned him a Soros Justice Fellowship, a Radcliffe Fellowship, a Ruth Lily Fellowship, an NAACP Image Award, and New America Fellowship. Betts has been featured in The New York Times, The New Yorker, and the Washington Post, in addition to interviews with NPR’s Fresh Air, The Travis Smiley Show and several other national shows. He holds a B.A. from the University of Maryland; an M.F.A. from Warren Wilson College, where he was a Holden Fellow; and a J.D. from Yale Law School, where he is a Ph. D. in Law candidate.


Victoria with dark straight hair, smiling in navy blouse

Photo by Isaac Fitzgerald

Victoria Chang’s poetry books include OBIT, Barbie Chang, The Boss, Salvinia Molesta, and Circle. OBIT was named a New York Times Notable Book and a TIME best book of the year. The book received the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and the PEN Voelcker Award. It was also longlisted for a National Book Award and named a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Griffin International Poetry Prize. Her children’s picture book, Is Mommy?, was illustrated by Marla Frazee and published by Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster. It was named a New York Times Notable Book. Her middle grade novel, Love, Love, was published by Sterling Publishing. She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Sustainable Arts Foundation Fellowship, the Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay Di Castagnola Award, a Pushcart Prize, a Lannan Residency Fellowship, and a Katherine Min MacDowell Colony Fellowship. She lives in Los Angeles and is the Program Chair of Antioch’s Low-Residency MFA Program.


sasha with dark hair smiles and looks off to side

Photo courtesy Sasha Dugdale

Sasha Dugdale has published five collections of poetry, most recently Deformations (Carcanet, 2020), which was shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Prize and the Derek Walcott Prize. Her poetry translations from Russian include the work of Elena Shvarts and Maria Stepanova. Dugdale’s prose translation of Maria Stepanova’s work In Memory of Memory (2020) was shortlisted for the Man International Booker Prize and is currently longlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize. She is former editor of Modern Poetry in Translation and current writer-in-residence at St John’s College, Cambridge.


laura gazes forward with pursed lips and wavy short brown hair

Photo courtesy Laura Kasischke

Laura Kasischke has published twelve collections of poetry, most recently Lightning Falls in Love (Copper Canyon, 2021) and eleven works of fiction. Three of her novels have been made into feature films. She has been the recipient of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Rilke Award for Poetry, the Elle Prix for Best Novel of the Year, and two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. She teaches at the University of Michigan.



daljit standing by podium, gesturing with his hands

Photo by Martin Figuera

Daljit Nagra has a Sikh-Indian heritage and was born and grew up in West London, then Sheffield. He is Chair of the Royal Society of Literature, serves on the Council of The Society of Authors, acts as Adviser to Poetry By Heart, and is Professor of English & Creative Writing at Brunel University. He has published four poetry collections with Faber & Faber, including Look, We Have Coming to Dover! which is one of Faber & Faber’s iconic books of the past 90 years. Nagra’s awards include the Forward Prize for Best Individual Poem and Best First Book, the South Bank Show Decibel Award, the Cholmondeley Award, and the Royal Society of Arts Travelling Scholarship. His books have been nominated for the Costa Prize and twice for the T.S. Eliot Prize. He has been selected as a New Generation Poet by the Poetry Book Society. As the inaugural Poet-in-Residence for Radio 4 & 4 Extra, Nagra presents the weekly program Poetry Extra on Radio 4 Extra. He has judged several prizes including The Samuel Johnson Prize, The T.S. Eliot Prize, The Costa Prize, and the David Cohen Prize. Nagra’s poems have been published in The New Yorker, Poetry Chicago, The LRB, The TLS and The New Statesman, and he has written for The Guardian, The Financial Times and The Times of India. His poems are set texts at GCSE and A-Level exams in the English National Curriculum.


patricia with golden hair against black shadowed background

Photo by Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Patricia Smith is the winner of the 2021 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, an award for lifetime achievement from the Poetry Foundation. She is the author of eight books of poetry, including Incendiary Art (Northwestern University Press, 2017), winner of the Kingsley Tufts Award, the LA Times Book Prize, the NAACP Image Award and finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah (Coffee House Press, 2012), winner of the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets; and Blood Dazzler (Coffee House Press, 2008), a National Book Award finalist. She is a Guggenheim fellow, an NEA grant recipient, a finalist for the Neudstadt Prize, a former fellow at Civitella Ranieri, Yaddo and MacDowell and a four-time individual champion of the National Poetry Slam, the most successful poet in the competition’s history. Smith is a distinguished professor for the City University of New York and a visiting professor at Princeton University, as well as an instructor for Cave Canem and the Vermont College of Fine Arts Post-Graduate Writing Program. She is currently at work on her first novel and second children’s picture book; her next book of poetry — an as-of-yet untitled series of dramatic monologues accompanied by 19th century photos of African-Americans — will be released in the fall of 2022.


javier standing in white tee by fence around green field

Photo by Ana Ruth Zamora

Javier Zamora was born in El Salvador and migrated to the United States when he was nine. He was a 2018-2019 Radcliffe Institute Fellow at Harvard and has been granted fellowships from CantoMundo, Colgate University, the Lannan Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Poetry Foundation, and Stanford University. Unaccompanied is his first poetry collection. He lives in Harlem, where he is working on a memoir.



Special Thanks

Special thanks to the staff of the Berlind Theatre, University Services and Public Safety, and the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Production Staff and Office of Communications for their assistance in making the Princeton Poetry Festival possible.


Lewis Center for the Arts


Interim Chair: Michael Cadden
Executive Director: Marion Friedman Young

Program in Creative Writing

Jhumpa Lahiri, Director
Michael Dickman, Lecturer
Mark Doten, Lecturer
Aleksandar Hemon, Professor
A.M. Homes, Lecturer
Tyehimba Jess, Visiting Professor
Daphne Kalotay, Lecturer
Sheila Kohler, Lecturer
Christina Lazaridi, Lecturer
Yiyun Li, Professor
Susanna Moore, Lecturer
Paul Muldoon, Howard G.B. Clark ’21 University Professor in the Humanities; Professor of Creative Writing
Idra Novey, Lecturer
Joyce Carol Oates, Roger S. Berlind ’52 Professor in the Humanities, Emeritus; Professor of Creative Writing, Emeritus
Kathleen Ossip, Lecturer
Rowan Ricardo Phillips, Visiting Professor
Kirstin Valdez Quade, Assistant Professor
James Richardson, Professor of Creative Writing, Emeritus
Nicole Sealey, Lecturer, 2019-20 Hodder Fellow
Patricia Smith, Visiting Professor
Susanna Styron, Lecturer
Susan Wheeler, Professor

Danez Smith, Princeton Arts Fellow

Erin West, Program Manager
Katie Welsh, Office Assistant

Kim Wassall, Events Coordinator
Elaine Milan, Fellowships Program Associate

Cheryl Mintz, Event Production Supervisor

View a full list of the Program in Creative Writing Faculty & Guest Artists

For a look at all the people working behind the scenes to bring you this event, View a full list of LCA staff members  »


Download 2021 Poetry Festival Program (PDF)

Event Poster