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Last month I wrote of the poetic "embarrassment of riches" coming to Texas during National Poetry Month.
I've revised my thinking. I should have known: I've never been one to shun abundance, be it in shoes or desserts. After the last few weeks, I've learned there is no such thing as an overplus of great poetry. In fact, bring on the plethora!
My mind is still buzzing with words and images from the lately lush poetic landscape. No longer can I refer to the home of Baylor University as "Wacky Wacko Waco," after attending an evening of the Beall Poetry Festival. An absolutely incredible four days of top poets, the Beall Poetry Festival is supported by the John A. and DeLouise McClelland Beall Endowed Fund, which Virginia B. Ball of Muncie, Indiana, established in 1994 to honor her parents and to encourage the writing and appreciation of poetry. What a fine and noble gift… I am humbled by it, and so grateful.
Fellow poet and friend Tommie Ortega and I made the trek up Interstate 35 to Waco… not that long a drive, especially with the promise of Marge Piercy at journey's end. And there we were, second row, listening to a poet I've loved for years. She is small; she is her own woman; she is a prolific poet, novelist and essayist; and, according to Tommie, "She has the most perfect mouth for reading poetry." As she read of women, of zucchini, of cats, I remembered how many times I've turned to Piercy's words, how I've lovingly copied them into journals, sent them to friends. She was all poetry that night, no idle chit-chat. And when she finished, I wanted her perfect mouth to go on and on.
My favorites by Marge Piercy:
Unfortunately, I was unable to return to Waco to hear Jane Hirshfield or Billy Collins read. I felt guilty, like I'd missed a great opportunity. Hirshfield is a favorite of mine…I had the privilege of interviewing her in Port Townsend, Washington, at the Centrum Literary Festival a few years ago. She did mention that she will be at Southwest Texas State University in November for a mini-residency, so perhaps I can make that jaunt.
My favorites by Jane Hirshfield:
But to miss the Poet Laureate of the United States! I alternately felt like a naughty child skipping school and like someone who forgot to gas up the car and missed the wedding. Sometimes, though, real life and those close to us must take precedence over the images and dreams and sounds of poetry. And, of course, I knew there was more to come...
And at the Austin International Poetry Festival, poetry there was: poetry spouting from angry young men, from elderly ladies, from housewives and students and state workers and doctors, from Australia and Singapore and France and England, from California to Florida, from gay and straight and in-between, from political diatribe to greeting-card paean, from the sublime to the stolid.
It was grand; it was tedious; it was inspiring; it was irritating; it was moving and boring and transcendant and huge and intimate.
And as someone who loves poetry, I was enraptured.
AIPF, in its tenth year, is the largest open-registration poetry festival in the country. The four-day event in Austin, Texas, is a remarkable collaboration bringing together diverse peoples and poetry united with a single commonality: the love of the poem and the belief in its power. As an example of the festival's far-reaching borders, look at the name of the anthology: DiVerseCity, this year a collection of 89 poems from 89 poets.
The frustrating aspect of AIPF is its sheer breadth: simultaneous multiple venues (and the human requirement for sleep) make it impossible to see every poet, even every guest poet. Unfortunately, I never did hear the acclaimed Michael Mack. Still, I feel lucky indeed to have experienced the uniqueness of Lyn Lifshin's verse and performance, and the highly skilled and well-crafted work of Australian Ted Reilly. One of the most outstanding group of poets visited from Singapore, including Cyril Wong, featured here in C/Oasis last month. If you read his poems here, you know he's good… but if you had heard him in person, you'd know, without a doubt, that he is one damned fine poet (to use my colloquial Texas drawl). And of course, other fine poets not yet known to the public read or crooned or sang or erupted poetry… even me!
The overall experience of the 2002 Austin International Poetry Festival made me feel lucky to have participated, honored to be published in the anthology, and proud to be a board member.
And now, National Poetry Month has ended. The party's over.
Instead, let's not say goodbye. (I'm not good at that.) Let's keep going, keep writing, learning, loving. Let's make plans for next year, and let's live some poetry!
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The newest poets at C/Oasis are Christopher Raley and Cyril Wong. Click the links to read their poems.
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