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A festival celebrates the power of poetry
A vibrant world of verse will leap off the page and onto the stage when the Vashon Poetry Fest takes place this weekend at locations all over Vashon.
A plethora of events, including readings, open mics, workshops and even a raucous night of performances by spoken word artists, are all part of the eclectic and ambitious festival, which was founded in 2009 and is put on every other year on the Island.
This year, the festival is dubbed “Passport to Poetry” — a moniker organizers say is meant to emphasize poetry’s capacity to cross borders and boundaries and appeal to everyone who is interested in the power of the ancient art form.
“The name ‘Passport to Poetry’ is serious,” said Cal Kinnear, a poet and recent transplant to Vashon who has helped orchestrate the festival. “It’s about using the kind of self-awareness that poetry brings to help people understand each other better. That’s something everyone can stand to do.”
Kinnear is part of a small organizing committee, led by Vashon Winery owner Ron Irvine, that has been working since last September to put all of the festival’s pieces into place. Another committee member, Merna Ann Hecht, a poet, story teller and teacher, said she joined the group because she wanted to be a part of an event that reached the largest possible audience.
“I really wanted to help create a diverse, energetic festival that had a wide audience appeal and wide age appeal,” she said.
The daunting work of arranging the festival was accomplished by all the committee members reaching out, through friends, acquaintances and colleagues, to some of the region’s most celebrated poetry icons. The result is a festival headlined by a constellation of acclaimed writers, including Tess Gallagher, Sam Hamill and Larry Matsuda.
Gallagher, who is perhaps the most well-known of the invited poets, was asked by Hecht to be a part of the festival.
“I don’t know Tess,” Hecht said. “But I know a really good friend of hers, and that poet, Holly Hughes, is coming to the festival as well. I just wrote Tess a really nice letter and told her how much I loved her poetry and how I’ve read her my entire adult life. It’s thrilling that she’s coming.”
“Passport to Poetry” also has a local slant, with workshops, readings and appearances by a number of Island poets and storytellers, including Hecht, Kinnear, Tom Pruiskma, Kaj Wyn Berry, Ann Spiers, Terry Hershey and David Whited.
Another notable component of this year’s festival is its emphasis on including young people — outreach that will entail classroom visits and workshops with Vashon High School students led by Gallagher and Matsuda.
In fact, the festival will kick off on Thursday evening at Café Luna, with a free open mic reading aimed at poets age 30 and younger. Islander Annie Brulé will emcee the festivities.
Another open mic will take place Saturday afternoon at Red Bicycle Bistro, followed by a free, all-ages poetry slam designed to display the raw energy of a new generation of Northwest poets.
Hecht is responsible for luring some other big-name Seattle writers to that event.
Daemond Arrindell, producer of the Seattle Poetry Slam, will perform and be joined onstage by Storme Webber, who is the founder and director of Voices Rising: LGBTQ of Color Arts & Culture. Jourdan Imani Keith, an award-winning poet, storyteller and naturalist, will also perform that evening, as will Karen Finneyfrock, a slam poet and novelist who recently performed and taught poetry in Nepal under the auspices of the U.S. State Department.
“They are all teaching poets who work with youth, and they are active in Seattle’s spoken word scene,” Hecht said of the group. “They are also very well-known outside of Seattle.”
The slam will be emceed by Island teacher Anders Blomgren, and the evening will also feature readings by teenage Island poets and music by the 204th Street Trio — a jazz ensemble comprised of high-schoolers.
Other readings, workshops and festival events aimed at a different crowd will spotlight more meditative, traditional poetry.
On Friday night, at the Ober Park performance space, there will be an evening of poetry with Matsuda and Gallagher that Kinnear described as a “presentation that will be as much about culture and politics as it is about art.”
Japanese and Celtic music, performed by Mako Willett, Kat Eggleston, Wally Bell and John Dally, will augment the evening and pay homage to the cultural heritages of the poets.
Gallagher, who lives in Port Angeles, is a poet, essayist, author and playwright. Her honors include a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation and two National Endowment for the Arts awards. She is also remembered by many as the wife of short story writer Raymond Carver. Gallagher has also written short stories that were published in the collections “The Lover of Horses” (1987) and “At the Owl Woman Saloon” (1996).
Matsuda, a Seattle poet, was born in the Minidoka, Idaho, War Relocation Center during World War II. He and his family, along with 120,000 Japanese and Japanese-American people, were held in 10 concentration camps, despite committing no crimes and without due process, for approximately three years. His poetry in “A Cold Wind from Idaho” is about that experience.
Hamill, another noted poet, will close the festival with a free reading, “The Poet’s Way in Wartime,” on Monday afternoon at Ober Park.
Hamill, a former Marine, is the author of 14 volumes of poetry and has published three collections of essays. He is the founding editor of Copper Canyon Press and director of Poets Against War. He has taught in prisons, worked extensively with battered women and children and been the recipient of a long and impressive list of fellowships and honors.
In addition to a reading, he will offer a talk on the relation of poetry to war and cultural memory — a fitting Memorial Day tribute to end a festival filled with a diverse chorus of artistic voices.
“It’s a sampling and celebration of poetry for all tastes,” Hecht said. “It’s a way for people who love poetry to love it more, and a way for people for people who think they don’t like it to befriend it.”
A complete listing of workshops and events taking place during “Passport to Poetry,” along with registration information and ticket prices to various events, can be found at www.vashonpoetryfest.com. The festival includes an archival exhibition, “Poetry Broadsides: Poems on Paper,” at the Center for Sustainable Book Arts, at 22100 Vashon Hwy. There will also be a community dinner from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Sunday, May 29, at The Hardware Store Restaurant, with Sam Hamill as the guest of honor. Reservations are required.