The Poetry Programs of Hill-Stead Museum

Welcome to Sunken Garden Poetry


Connecticut Has a New Poet Laureate:
Congratulations to Rennie McQuilken

Connecticut’s newest poet laureate, Rennie McQuilkin, says he wants to make poetry an integral part of the state’s culture.

McQuilkin, a resident of Simsbury since 1973 and current poet laureate of the town, has taken to promoting poetry as his life’s mission since he began teaching summer creative writing classes in the early 1960s at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass.

“I started to do my own assignments and that’s when I really got hooked as a poet,” McQuilkin said. “Ever since I have wanted to make people realize that poetry isn’t esoteric, hateful or scary. It’s beautiful and enjoyable.”

To read the full article, visit the Hartford Courant website.

at the prelude

The Beginning of a Perfect Festival Evening

Ravi Shankar and Vijay Seshadri in conversation at the prelude held prior to readings by both poets.

2014 Sunken Garden Festival Readings

These are now available on YouTube, on the Simsbury Community Television channel devoted to highlights shows of past readings.

Poetry Workshops

For information on the remaining workshops to be led by this summer’s festival poets, see our calendar page.

Fresh Voices Winners Announced

And the winners are:

COLE ADAMS – Kingswood-Oxford

AVERY CHRISTENSEN – Rockville High School

KHADIJA HUSSAIN – Wilber Cross High School


KALEIGH PERKINS – Rockville High School 

Fresh Voices finalists read their poetry for a panel of judges on Friday in Hill-Stead’s Makeshift Theater, in front of 60 family members, friends, and supporters.  At the conclusion of the readings, the judges deliberated for some time and revealed the five winners.  “This year’s Fresh Voices submissions were some of the best this competition has seen,” said Executive Director and CEO, and Fresh Voices Judge Susan Ballek. “Congratulations to the Fresh Voices Finalists and Winners and thank you to all the students who participated, and to the teachers and parents who support them.” The Fresh Voices Poetry Competition provides Connecticut high school poets the experience of a lifetime, while offering students the opportunity to write and prepare poems suitable for presentation and publication.

The five winners will participate in a performance workshop with professional poets on May 31st, and their poetry will be published in a chapbook by Antrim House Press.  Winners will also share the podium with nationally recognized poets Natalie Diaz and Aja Monet on August 19th, reading their own work before a large, receptive audience in the breathtaking Sunken Garden at Hill-Stead Museum!

 Eve of Poetry


Click on the photograph of Sue Ellen Thompson above to see a video of the her first three poems read at the Eve of Poetry at Hill-Stead on April 10.

Museum’s New Website Unveiled!

Hill-Stead Museum is rolling out the red carpet for a brand new streamlined website,

Start spreading the news!

Use on Facebook and Twitter TODAY!

The new site features a completely new layout, redesigned for greater usability.  The expanded content includes the story of the museum’s founders, the Pope and Riddle families, and the architectural history of the 1901 Country Place Estate.  It also includes access to more than 100 works of art in the museum’s collection—from our spectacular Impressionist paintings, to exquisite Japanese woodblock prints, and the home’s original furnishings.

An extensive Programs and Education section links to our calendar and enables visitors to learn about upcoming events at Hill-Stead.   Educators can purchase tickets online and are afforded the opportunity to see what Hill-Stead has to offer.

The site also includes an expanded Sunken Garden Poetry Festival section, with up-to-date news on the award-winning poets who perform in the museum’s historic garden. It also includes links to videos of past music and poetry performances.

A World of Poets

The Sunken Garden Poetry Chapbook Award competition has received 648 submissions, from every State in the Union but for the Dakotas, Oklahoma and Alaska, and every continent on earth but for Antarctica.

Announcing Poets for 2015 Sunken Garden Poetry Festival

Hill-Stead Museum is thrilled to announce the 2015 line up for its renowned and highly-anticipated Sunken Garden Poetry Festival:

Wednesday, June 24 – Ted Kooser

Sunday, July 12 – Marie Howe

Wednesday, July 22 – Vijay Seshadri

Sunday, August 9 – Li-Young Lee & Tina Chang

Wednesday, August 19 – CT Young Poet’s Day – Natalie Diaz & Aja Monet

Read more on our calendar page.

Great News

The Sunken Garden Poetry Festival has just been awarded a generous grant from Connecticut Humanities to present its 2015 season!  This grant was awarded due to the humanities-rich content of the proposed 2015 program, which will include workshops, enhanced Preludes, and opportunities to better-involve the community in the Festival.  Especially of interest to CT Humanities was a shift in dates to allow for increased Festival attendance: a later start-date and two weekend performances.  Please mark your calendars for: Opening Night, Wednesday, June 24; Sunday, July 12; Wednesday, July 22; Sunday, August 9; and Wednesday, August 19 (Connecticut Young Poets’ Day).

Meet Our New Festival Manager

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHill-Stead is very pleased to announce that Lisa Lappe has accepted the dual position of Marketing and Public Relations Manager/Sunken Garden Poetry Festival (SGPF)  Program Manager, effective February 2.  Lisa has an extensive background in public relations, advertising and event management.  She has served as a public relations coordinator at Mintz & Hike in Avon and Rensselaer in Hartford and  has worked in the college relations office at the University of Saint Joseph.  Lisa holds a BA in Economics and Art History from Mount Holyoke College.

A New Book from Brad Davis

Brad Davis, founding editor of Hill-Stead’s online poetry journal, Theodate, and editor of the festival’s 20th anniversary anthology, SUNKEN GARDEN POETRY 1992-2011, has had a new book of his own poems, STILL WORKING IT OUT, published in the Poiema Poetry Series. It is available online from Cascade Books or your favorite online bookstore.

Highlights from 2012 and 2013: Video on Demand

If you missed some events or would like to relive the great moments, have a look at our highlights shows done for local public access television. Nutmeg TV airs our shows in the spring, in anticipation of the new festival season, but you can watch them at your convenience online; click here to see the shows available.  Simsbury Community Television airs the same series of shows and makes them available on its YouTube channel.


Sunken Garden Poetry: 1992-2011 – Have you purchased your copy of the 20th anniversary anthology yet?

Have you heard about the Live Poets Society?  Join this growing circle of poetry lovers and we’ll arrange for priority seating and special opportunities to meet the poets.  Or contribute to the Phyllis Joffe Memorial Poetry Fund, an endowment established by Sara Niego in 2010 in honor of her mother, the late Phyllis Joffe, who for many years was co-producer of festival radio broadcasts.

DONATE HERE –Help keep the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival alive for years to come!



4 comments on “Welcome to Sunken Garden Poetry

  1. Karen Burwell
    May 16, 2015

    How do I join the Live Poets Society? Also, interested in knowing more about the Festival and the possiblity of being able to read some of my work at one of your events. (I’ve been reading/performing my poetry for the past eighteen months.)

  2. Karin Dionne
    May 19, 2015

    I’m wondering how accessible the hill-stead museum and poetry reading in the garden is for an electric wheelchair. It is too heavy to lift. I think this is important for anyone wanting to visit who has a need for assistive equipment. Thank you for your assistance.

  3. jmj
    May 21, 2015

    The Sunken Garden Poetry Festival is fully accessible and features a reserved wheelchair row in the garden. This year we also have a sign language interpreter! Welcome!

  4. jmj
    May 21, 2015

    We invite you to join the Live Poets Society. Please contact Hillary Fortin or Lisa Lappe at 860-677-4787. You may use a credit card or personal check.

    The best way for any poet to get involved in the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival, is to start by attending a poetry writing workshop with one of the season’s headlining poets. You may register for any workshop by visiting or by calling Lisa Lappe at 860-677-4787.

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