“Carrboro has this culture and community that likes to celebrate the arts,” said Celisa Steele, the new Poet Laureate of Carrboro. As Poet Laureate, Steele is head of the Carrboro Poets Council. Founded in 2011, the Council organizes the West End Poetry Festival as well as the poetry component of the Carrboro Day event in May. The Council is representative of the spirit behind the West End Poetry Festival and the Carrboro arts community.
“Instead of just relying on one person—the Poet Laureate—you have a group of poets who are trying to foster poetry and the enjoyment of poetry in the community,” Steele explained. In a teamwork-oriented community like this, Steele acknowledges that the “pairing of the local with the national” is extremely important. In past years, nationally renowned poets have read on the same day as college students.
“It’s exciting to have a town commit a day and a half to poetry,” said Poets Council member Susan Spalt. On top of bringing together known and emerging poets, the Carrboro festival celebrates the casual poet as well as the lover of poetry.
“It’s about the…presentations from the poets to the public and that exchange back and forth,” said Gary Phillips, another member of the Poets Council. While there are certainly poets that are “entrenched in the academic community,” as Steele described, the festival is also filled with “people who are doing other things to pay their bills.” The hope of this festival is to appeal to a diverse group.
The festival will kick off on Friday, October 18 with an opening celebration at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill. From 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., there will be time to meet writers, socialize with other readers and listen to readings by five poets, all at different stages of their careers. There will also be some more academic authors and even some “performance poetry,” similar to spoken word.
The real “meat of the festival,” as Steele calls it, will occur on Saturday. From noon to 8:30 p.m., various readings, events and activities will take place in Century Center in downtown Carrboro. While last year’s festival was “overtly political,” according to Phillips, this year is more “covertly political,” hiding deeper messages inside themes such as the interplay of nature and poetry and the interaction between music and poetry. These themes will have several readings and discussions that delve into the subject matter while remaining accessible to the casual poetry reader.
“Last year, we talked about poetry and social change,” Spalt explained. “This year, we thought it would be really interesting to go into how poets express their views on nature and the relationship with music.”
The West End Poetry Festival is incorporating many more spoken word and performance poets this year, including international poet Kiran Singh Sirah, who has delivered his slam poems worldwide.
To appeal to the authors in the audience, acclaimed poet Gabrielle Calvocoressi will be leading a workshop to help writers hone their craft. An open mic event and a short dinner reception will precede the closing event, an intersection of the local and national art communities where Steele and Calvocoressi will perform the final readings.
“There are a variety of voices and a variety of ways to experience poetry,” Steele said about the event. The hope is that everyone will be able to find something that appeals to them and speaks to them and that, as a community, North Carolina can come together around a shared love of poetry.
Said Spalt of the goal of this year’s festival: “There are some people who are afraid of poetry. We hope that they will come and find out what fun it is!”
The West End Poetry Festival will be held on October 18 and 19 in Chapel Hill and Carrboro. For more information, including a full schedule, visit http://www.westendpoetryfestival.org.
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