United by words

WordFest Media Outreach Project’s slogan, “Because poetry unites people,” offers a glimpse of the festival’s four days of poetic diversity. Not surprisingly, the inaugural WordFest includes a variety of poetry performances and events designed to appeal to—and unite—a variety of people.

“For millennia, poetry has held cultures together even in the face of great changes,” says organizer/poet Laura Hope-Gill. “We’re just building on its ancient role. Poetry unites people. It’s what we as poets do.”

Crafting a community of words: WordFest organizers Laura Hope-Gill and Sebastian Matthews are bringing together poets from a variety of traditions. Photo by Anne Fitten Glenn

In that spirit, she and other local poets Sebastian Matthews, Glenis Redmond and Jeff Davis dreamed up and organized a festival to celebrate poetry and the poetic tradition of this area.

Galway Kinnell, Patricia Smith and Simon Ortiz are just a few of the internationally known poets who will be participating in WordFest. The festival runs from Thursday, April 24, to Sunday, April 27, and includes workshops, readings and spoken-word performances.

“People are surprised that the poetry voices we’re bringing in are so wide-ranging and multicultural,” says Matthews, noting that the lineup includes Native American and African-American poets as well as two Rumi translators. “One of our goals is to connect poetry to community issues and social change.”

All WordFest events will be free and open to the public. Much of the festival will also be streamed live on the Mountain Area Information Network’s Web site. MAIN will film WordFest for broadcast on URTV and WPVM, and for other educational uses.

“WordFest is a good fit with our mission, which is to return local voices to the airwaves and online,” says Wally Bowen, MAIN’s executive director. “In the process, we’re having lots of thoughtful conversations about the synergy between poetry and journalism. Both try to get to what is authentic and real in experience.”

This meshing of poetry and media is one reason the organizers have dubbed the festival a “media outreach project.”

“The way poetry is taught in schools kills it for people,” says Hope-Gill, whose day job is teaching English at Christ School. “Nowadays poetry readings are authentic entertainment while drawing attention to profound truths.”

She adds that community “is key for us, as this idea comes out of a community of writers.” The organizers have invited community leaders to open some of the sessions, including Mayor Terry Bellamy, who will read a poem before Friday night’s reading.

WordFest culminates with a reading by renowned Rumi translator and scholar Coleman Barks at the Fine Arts Theatre on Saturday, April 26, at 2 p.m. Other participating poets, including N.C. Poet Laureate Kathryn Stripling Byer and Iranian poet and Rumi translator Fatemeh Keshavarz, will gather for a reception and signing at Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café after Barks’ reading.

Additional participating poets include Lee Ann Brown, Richard Chess, Nina Marie Collins, Thomas Rain Crowe, Keith Flynn, Graham Hackett, David Hopes, Devin Johnston, Gary Copeland Lilley, Rose McLarney, MariJo Moore, Jim Navé, Cathy Wagner and Allan Wolf.

“I believe that this is the only festival dedicated wholly to poetry, which in itself is exciting,” says Byer. “So many other festivals tend to give more weight to prose memoirs and fiction. I would like to see poetry receive more notice, since I believe it may do more to heal and awaken us than fiction.”

Workshops and readings will take place at various downtown locations, including UNCA, the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center and BoBo Gallery.

And Byer insists that this is just the beginning for WordFest.

“We have a vision that is expansive and adventurous,” she says. “We want to feature poets born and bred here in the mountains, as well as those who hail from all parts of the U.S. and the world. Being able to bring Fatemeh Keshavarz here this year is a wonderful start. She was born in Iran, speaks Persian, has translated Rumi, teaches at Washington U. in St. Louis, and writes in English.”

[Anne Fitten Glenn is a freelance writer based in Asheville.]

who:WordFest 2008
what:Poetry-focused literary gathering
where:Multiple locations in Asheville
when:Thursday, April 24, to Sunday, April 27 (Free. Visit www.ashevillewordfest.org for a complete schedule of events. 681-5348)


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