Sunken Garden Poetry

Sunken Garden Poetry encompasses not only the annual summer festival—which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2012—but also a variety of other programs directed at poets, students, and teachers

 The Sunken Garden Poetry Festival

 “A cultural phenomenon”
– Billy Collins

Experience remarkable performances of live music and poetry in the midst of the exquisite natural setting of the historic Sunken Garden.

Sunken Garden Poetry audience

Photograph by Morrow Jones

The Sunken Garden Poetry Festival began in 1992 in Farmington, Connecticut with a single poetry reading in the magical setting of Hill-Stead’s Sunken Garden. Drawing huge crowds even that first year, this series has become one of the premiere and best-loved venues for poetry in the country. Featuring the top tier of American poets such as Billy Collins and Natasha Tretheway, as well as emerging and student writers from the state and region, the festival has given equal weight to the quality of text and the poet’s ability to deliver an engaging, powerful and entertaining experience in the unique theater of the Sunken Garden.

For a list of poets who have read at past festivals, see Featured Poets 1992 to 2014.>

For information on this year’s festival, see 2016 Sunken Garden Poetry Festival.  To join Hill-Stead’s poetry mailing list, contact Lisa Lappe, 860.677.4787 ext. 111 or

For information on last year’s festival, see 2015 Sunken Garden Poetry Festival.

Poetry for Students and Teachers

Out of the festival have grown competitions—including the Sunken Garden Poetry Prize and our high school student Fresh Voices Poetry Competition—year-round workshops and events, and an educational outreach program for high schools.  In addition, Hill-Stead has launched Theodate: An Online Poetry Journal, to feature original student compositions, particularly poetry produced through Hill-Stead educational programming and by those participating in the Fresh Voices student poetry competition.

Theodate Pope Riddle and Poetry at Hill-Stead

Poetry has played a part in life at Hill-Stead since the time when the Pope Riddle family lived here.  In her diaries, Theodate mentions poetry—sometimes expressing her opinions of well-known poets, other times copying poems she found meaningful or comforting so she could read them again or as a preliminary step to memorizing them, as was common during this period.  The library at Hill-Stead contains more than 80 volumes of poetry, ranging from classical poets to novice poets, and poets who are obscure today.  A number of the volumes appear to be given as gifts to members of the family.  One volume in the library is inscribed to Theodate “in happy recollection of a poetical week-end at Hill-Stead,” making it clear that Theodate read and discussed poetry with her friends and family.


Sunken Garden Poetry 1992–2011

Visit the Hill-Stead Museum Shop to purchase your copy of the 20th Anniversary Anthology, Sunken Garden Poetry 1992-2011. Over 100 poets who participated in the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival contributed to the beautiful volume, edited by Brad Davis, with an introduction by Rennie McQuilkin and Lary Bloom, and published by Wesleyan University Press. All proceeds from sales of this book in our Museum Shop support Sunken Garden Poetry programs.

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