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Brunswick’s Longfellow Days festival celebrates 20th birthday and the poet’s 217th

March 1, 2024

Rin Pastor
HONOR THY FATHER: The Longfellows a cappella group pose with a photo of their namesake at Brunswick’s Unitarian Universalist Church, where they performed for the annual Longfellow Days festival. Next year will mark the 200th anniversary of Longfellow’s graduation of the College.

This February, the Brunswick Downtown Association and other local organizations like Curtis Memorial Library and the Pejepscot History Center partnered to host their annual month-long program in commemoration of one of the two literary giants who grace the College’s main library: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Longfellow Days celebrated the writer’s birthday and memory through fifteen different events featuring Maine poets, local poetry lovers and even Bowdoin’s own Longfellows a cappella group.

Brunswick resident and event organizer Maryli Tiemann has planned the Longfellow Days programming since its inception, building from a group of just five poets in its first year. Now, in the festival’s 20th iteration, the events host a range of creative writers, from Brunswick High School students to poets from all over Maine.

“[Poetry is] kind of a cure for loneliness, even if you don’t want to admit that. We’re all kind of  lonely [and have a] hunger for community,” Tiemann said. “I think what’s really wonderful is, especially in February in Maine, to be able to kind of come out and be warm around other people and be inspired by things that people create.… It’s a verbal crafts fair.”

Although the festival honors Longfellow, its programming goes far beyond celebrating just one poet. The events held throughout the month include community poetry readings, tours of the Joshua L. Chamberlain Museum and the launch of “Read to Me Some Poems: 20 Years of Longfellow Days Poems” a book edited by Tiemann celebrating the anniversary.

On Tuesday, Brunswick’s Unitarian Universalist Church—where Longfellow once worshipped—hosted a poetry open mic emceed by Laboratory Instructor in Chemistry Ren Bernier, in addition to a performance by the Bowdoin Longfellows commemorating the poet’s 217th birthday.

L. Grady, a Brunswick High School student new to the Maine poetry scene, found a novel community during Tuesday’s event.

“I think [the event] was super awesome,” Grady said. “The poets that I saw were very creative and open. They found something that they turned into a poetry event, but they didn’t have to. That means a lot to me, like all these people who are here and enjoy poetry.”

Bernier, a longtime Brunswick resident, sees the Longfellow Days events and programming as a way to deepen connections between Brunswick and the College.

“It’s funny to me how separate Bowdoin feels. I grew up in the Brunswick area, [and] I’ve lived here my whole life.… It’s important to do these things that dissolve [boundaries],” Bernier said. “[It’ll] make Bowdoin students feel more comfortable in town and to make the town feel more comfortable with Bowdoin.”

Longfellows member Declan O’Connell ’27 found that the events made connections to the Brunswick community and to his own values.

“The original legacy of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was as a poet,” O’Connell said. “That makes me feel alive, to have that connection to creativity.”

In their performances, the Longfellows also incorporate traditions that honor their namesake. Next year will mark the 200th anniversary of Longfellow’s graduation from the College.

“A lot of times before a performance, we will read a bit of his poetry to hype us up,” Longfellows member Kevin Chen ’26 said. “The main reason why we’re named the Longfellows is because he’s an alumnus. We want to have that Bowdoin connection. It kind of connects us because we all go to Bowdoin—and even though he’s long dead, you can still relive, revisit and revitalize his history.”

Bernier added that arts events are a prime avenue by which the town of Brunswick and Bowdoin students can come together.

“Arts are something that the average person can relate to,” Bernier said. “We have speakers here in the chemistry department and biology department that talk about novel synthesis, but average guys are like, ‘What the heck is that? We don’t care.’ It’s unrelatable to the average person, but the arts are relatable. This is one place where we can [dissolve] the boundaries between the College and the town.”


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