After being uprooted from her life in Italy in 1968, Rita Monte turned to poetry to express how she felt about leaving her home country, which led her to a world of like-minded poets.
Monte wrote her first poem, called “Italia,” upon arriving from her native land at the age of 12. She has won several poetry contests, with some of her work being featured at the annual Italian Festival at Hofstra University.
Her journey to becoming a successful poet has encouraged her to share what she has learned as a host of WHPC Radio at Nassau Community College and an upcoming co-host of the Festival of the Spoken and Written Word.
“When I came from Italy, I didn’t speak any English, I felt very lonely, and I missed my country,” Monte said. “And this prompted me to start writing and expressing what I felt.”
Monte wrote poetry about Italy when she was 12, which she referred to as her “therapy.” As she became more accustomed to American life, she started to write poetry in English, and kept a notebook with her poems, as she started to grow as a writer.
“At least 20 years ago, I joined the Long Island Writers Guild in Bellmore,” she said. “And then we used to meet in the Baldwin library for a writing class.”
Monte, who lived in Baldwin for 36 years, would frequently visit the local library for workshop sessions. She would bring a story that she wrote, and the group would critique it, she said. Although these workshop sessions stopped due to the pandemic, Monte added that she “lives in the library” and has used it frequently.
“They told me they’re going to give me a bed because they see me all the time there,” Monte said.
After seeing how helpful these work sessions were in the development of her writing skills, Monte then started joining other organizations like the Walt Whitman Society.
“Every year, the Walt Whitman Society would have an event called ‘Super Poem Sunday,’” she said. “I would go there and read my poems.”
Monte then started to submit her poetry to different groups and got accepted into about a dozen, including the Poets of Long Island and the Performance Poets Association.
“So then there’s the Princess Ronkonkoma Productions, where I received three awards from,” Monte said. “Then I started taking writing classes at Nassau Community College.”
Through the different organizations that she was part of and the classes that she took, Monte kept learning new ways to write better. As she kept surrounding herself with people who held the same interests, Monte thought about hosting a festival to get the poetry community together on Long Island. She approached Paula Curci, the 2022 Nassau County Poet Laureate, asking if she would like to help bring this festival to life.
“She said, ‘Why don’t we apply for a grant?’” Monte said. “Because she is the Nassau County Poet Laureate, she could. So we ended up getting a grant from the Huntington Arts Council, and also the Oceanside library will be sponsoring us.”
The festival will take place on the Oceanside Schoolhouse Green, at 65 Foxhurst Road, on Oct. 14, between 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., with a rain date of Oct. 15. This is the first year that Monte will be co-hosting the festival.
The event is the first of its kind, boasting several established poets who will read their works throughout the day, including poets laureate from Nassau and Suffolk counties and Queens. The event will have three come-one-come-all open mics, including one designated for teenagers. The event will also feature mini workshops, and on hand will be radio station WHPC 90.3.
“I always say there’s a poet inside of us,” Monte said. “We just don’t know it.”
Monte said that poems don’t need to rhyme, and that a true poem is comprised of words and verses that come from the heart. To Monte, writing is very “cathartic,” and she expressed hope that she can encourage young people to use poetry as an outlet to express their “bottled up” emotions.