March 23, 2003

Howard County Poetry and Literature Society

Mailing address: HoCoPoLitSo, 10446 Waterfowl Terrace, Columbia 21044. Information: 410- 730-7524 or 301-596-6183, or

For 29 years, the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society has offered the community the opportunity to sit up close and listen firsthand to the works of distinguished poets and writers.

"There are lots of venues, but we're special because of the nature of the organization," said Ellen Kennedy, founder and executive director. "We have a commitment to building a community through literature, through the writing and poetry of many different people. We want people to talk about the literary life."

With its snappy acronym - HoCoPoLitSo - and commitment to poetry and prose, the not-for-profit arts organization presents readings and other literary events to the public, bringing in three to four writers and poets each year.

Founded in 1974, HoCoPoLitSo has been called "a model for community literature programs" by the National Endowment for the Arts and is frequently noted for "excellence" by the Maryland State Arts Council.

The array of renowned artists who have visited include Isaac Bashevis Singer, Allen Ginsberg, Saul Bellow, Stanley Kunitz, Seamus Heaney, Michael Dirda, Lucille Clifton, Edna O'Brien, Edward Albee, Taylor Branch, Germaine BrM-ie, Frank Conroy, Garrison Keillor, W.S. Merwin, Mark Strand, Swedish poet Thomas Transtromer and Iranian poet and author Reza Baraheni.

HoCoPoLitSo also sponsors a poet-in-residence at 11 Howard County public schools and produces The Writing Life, a local cable television series from Howard Community College's Cable 8.

Last month, HoCoPoLitSo presented its 25th "Evening of Irish Music and Poetry" fund-raiser at Jim Rouse Theatre for the Performing Arts in Columbia.

The event featured Belfast writer and poet Ciaran Carson, Celtic music and step dancing.

Heaney has spoken three times at HoCoPoLitSo, including the year before he was awarded the 1995 Nobel Prize.

With friends Jean Moon and Prudence Barry, Kennedy founded HoCoPoLitSo in 1974 and booked poet Lucille Clifton.

"It's a way to bring something special to Columbia and a way to do something meaningful to me and the people who gathered around us," Kennedy said.

In 1980, the organization implemented a program of bringing poets or writers to Howard County schools for 90-minute reading visits.

"It's a way to stimulate kids," Kennedy said.

In April, HoCoPoLitSo sponsored an interactive presentation of scenes from Shakespeare's plays at the Long Reach High School auditorium.

Six hundred middle school pupils attended.

An onstage Shakespeare workshop followed the event.

HoCoPoLitSo also has produced 70 editions of The Writing Life.

"I'm very proud of them," Kennedy said. "Some are really pretty special."

About four to six shows are produced annually.

Each 30-minute show runs a month.

Previous editions that are not dated are replayed.

For its 30th anniversary, the organization, which received a new two-year grant from the National Endowment of the Arts, is planning a celebration with a day of poetry.

When events require tickets, they are available by sending a self-addressed, stamped envelope to HoCoPoLitSo, 10446 Waterfowl Terrace, Columbia 21044 or by calling 410-730-7524 or 301-596-6183, or by e-mail at

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