The words of a poem may dance around, sit quietly or even challenge you to a duel. But each word has an intention and a purpose.
Asheville Wordfest, an annual poetry festival, celebrates the creative use of words with a series of events, May 4 through 8. Laura Hope-Gill, the executive director of the festival and a known face in the Asheville poetry scene, explained, “Wordfest frames poetry in its original state: as a form of reasoning, a form that has sustained humanity for a very long time, through times of strife and change.”
Not only is poetry still relevant to today’s society, it plays an important role. Wordfest brings vitality to the full spectrum of Asheville’s culture. The poetry scene is activated and energized by Wordfest.
The concept of Wordfest was developed when Hope-Gill held a gathering of local poets to answer the question of what a poetry festival should do. “We didn’t want poetry to seem like this high, out-of-reach thing. We wanted it to have a real connection to real things,” recalls Hope-Gill. “Every year when I sit down to design [the festival], I hold to those origins. I pull out those great big pieces of paper with wild magic marker on them, and ask myself how can I hold to the vision from that party and make it fresh every time.”
This year, the theme of the festival is “resilience,” as inspired by the film The Poetry of Resilience, which will be screened on Thursday, May 5, at the Fine Arts Theatre, followed by a reception with filmmaker Katja Esson. “I didn't know 18 months ago that resilience would be so pertinent as it is today,” explains Hope-Gill. “The world feels so shaken, literally and metaphorically, and people are looking for ways to move through this era.”
This theme of resilience not only was used to develop this year’s lineup of events, it is also used to drive which poems each artist will read. Linda Hogan, an influential Native-American poet who will be reading on Saturday, May 7, at 7 p.m. comments, “I am looking forward to having a chance to read and speak about our resilience, and the amazing ways we come back like plants year after year, from tragedy, from illness, from historical trauma, post-traumatic warfare experience, from poverty.”
As the events of the festival explore the resilience of human beings, they will also explore the interconnectedness of people. Bridging cultures, ages and places of origin, Wordfest allows poetry to act as a unifier. In the words of Hope-Gill, “It is all about vectors and reaching across opposites: old and new, local and global, formal and experimental.”
Hogan’s thoughts mirrored this when commenting about her drive to write poems. “I need to say it, to put it into words that reach into the world right at the heart of things. It comes from wanting to make a difference, from knowing how this world could be, from inner vision.”
Wordfest offers many ways to participate. Over six days, there will be readings from both local poets and nationally renowned poets, including Quincy Troupe, Kwame Dawes, Brian Turner and Paul Guest. Sunday will feature a poetry slam where participants will share their words with the audience. The festival will offer opportunities for youth to explore their poetic creativity. There are film screenings, a panel of directed conversation and opportunities to socialize with other event-goers. The lineup of poets, says Hope-Gill, “aims to inspire all of us to apply our creativity to our own healing and to the healing of the world we live in. Creative imagination is medicine.”
All events will be broadcast live and archived online. As Hope-Gill states, “We wanted to combine the very ancient to very modern so threw in live webcast as well as deep roots in the past."
Poems have the power to change the quality of air when read aloud. They bend time and space to give room for the potency of considered words. “I can't say poetry solves all our problems,” says Hope-Gill, “but I can say that it does unify language and make it very effective and useful. Communication is at the core of problem-solving. We have to take care of words. When we do, they can accomplish wonderful things.”
— Stephanie Guinan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
what: Wordfest 2011
what: Poetry festival
where: Venues around downtown Asheville. Check out ashevillewordfest.org for the complete schedule and more information. (Sunday’s Slam is $5 and films are a $10 donation. All other events are free. Donations to support Wordfest can be made through their website.)
when: Wednesday, May 4 to Sunday, May 8