Poetry Society of Virginia’s Annual Poetry Festival

If you’ve ever been to Richmond, Virginia, then you already know: We are a party city. We are the third most-tattoed city in the United States, just behind Miami and Las Vegas. We are fast becoming the craft beer capital of the world. And we throw a festival (or ten) almost every single weekend. This weekend alone, I attended Dominion Riverrock, an outdoor

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The skyline of Richmond, Virginia, on the shores of the James River, as seen from the suspension bridge to Belle Isle during a group hike organized as part of Dominion Riverrock.

festival celebrating Richmond’s active river life; Play Day at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond, an open house with various arts and crafts workshops, from wood and metal working, to glass blowing, to pottery; and the Poetry Society of Virginia‘s Annual Poetry Festival and Conference. If you are reading this blog, you are likely a writer or a reader (or, most likely, both!), so this post will focus on the latter.

 

During my time at the festival, I was privileged to hear readings and lectures from Robert Arthur, the current Poetry Society of Virginia President; Nathan Richardson, a performance poet and workshop teacher for Hampton Roads Youth Poets; Gabriele Glang, a bilingual poet who teaches creative writing in Germany; and Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda, who was the Virginia Poet Laureate from 2006-2008. This post will provide take-aways from the lectures and workshops led by Mr. Richardson, as well as by Ms. Glang and Ms. Kreiter-Foronda.

The Oral Tradition of Poetry, Nathan Richardson

The first lecture I heard focused on performance poetry, and was led by Nathan Richardson, himself a performance poet. One thing he said that struck me was this:

“Memory proved over the history of mankind to be the only fullproof [sic] method of safeguarding the thoughts, history, culture, literature, and law of the human race.”

How right he is, though it’s frightening, given how feeble our memories sometimes seem.

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Performance poet and writing teacher, Nathan Richardson, gives a lecture on the oral tradition of poetry at the Virginia Poetry Society’s Annual Poetry Festival and Conference on Friday, May 20.

But even more fallible are hard drives that can crash, flash drives that can break or become lost, papers that can tear or burn, ink that can smudge, lead that can be erased. Even pictures carved into rock will someday erode, smoothed out by the work of wind and water. For me, this was something of a wakeup call. I always feel like my creations are far more secure once written down on paper or typed up on the screen. But if I lose that paper, or if that flash drive fails me, I will wish I had committed my own lines to memory.

 

An additional lesson I took away from Mr. Richardson’s lecture was a definition of the musical genre of rap. I was unaware, as were, it seemed, all the other poets in attendance, that the term “rap” was born of the combination of “rhythm and poetry.” It’s essentially an acronym. I also learned that one “bar” of a “rap” piece is equivalent to one couplet in a poem.

His advice for poets was simple: “In poetry, leave space for the reader’s imagination.”

He also provided guidelines for poets who need to cultivate a poetic voice for poetry readings and slams. While the ratio does not necessarily need to follow this exact formula, Mr. Richardson advises that the poetic voice consists of 33.3% experience, 33.3% vocabulary, 33.3% passion, and .1% divine intervention. What does this imply for you if you want to become involved in performance poetry? It means first, that you must perform poetry–as much and as often as you can. Attend and perform at poetry slams and readings. Get the experience. It implies second that you must increase the number of words with which you are proficient–you must become more fluent in your own first language. Improve your vocabulary. It means also that you must love what you are doing–love what you are creating, love what you are saying. Be dedicated and passionate. Lastly, though, it means that a small percentage of what you are doing as a performance poet is out of your control. The words, the ideas, the rhymes will just come to you through some sort of divine intervention. You just have to do the leg work–the other 99.9%–first.

Ekphrastic and Collaborative Poetry, Gabriele Glang and Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda

One of the foci of Ms. Glang and Ms. Kreiter-Foronda’s workshop was the haiku. Before we began writing, Ms. Glang gave a few guidelines.

Haiku Guidelines

  • Do not mention the season about which you are writing. The image you convey with your words should make clear the season.
  • Always title your piece, and title it well. Think of a title as a free line with no syllabic restrictions.
  • Save syllables in the following ways:
    • avoid articles; use plural nouns instead
    • replace conjunctions with punctuation
      • the em dash can communicate change, epiphany, turning points
      • “ah!” can signify epiphany or surprise
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Gabriele Glang’s painting, “A Touch of Spring (Pink-Green),” served as inspiration for festival attendees to write haiku.

After providing us with these guidelines, Ms. Glang displayed a painting of her own creation, called “A Touch of Spring (Pink-Green),” pictured left, and we were given a few minutes to compose a haiku using the traditional three-line, 5-7-5 structure.

 

Ligne Donnee

The second exercise we completed in this workshop was writing a Ligne Donnee, or “given line” poem. We were paired up with another poet in the room and provided an art card that displayed one of Ms. Glang’s paintings. The art card my partner and I received is pictured below. Each of us then wrote just the first line of a poem, inspired by the art card. Then, we traded first lines with our partner. From there, we read our partner’s first line, and wrote a poem

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For the Ligne Donnee (“given line”) poem, participants were paired up and given an art card to inspire their collaborative poems.

based on that initial line.

 

My first line was:

Quicksilver cold stealing sunlight from the sky, icy, metallic sheen

The first line my partner composed was:

More light than water, the lake

I followed with:

lapping up sunlight spilled

between clouds,

poured over black foliage,

dripping down leaflet, branch, and bud,

saturating the bibulous bank,

infusing the gray-turning,

pale-turning glass,

impersonal, thirsty,

with borrowed warmth.

At least until dark.

Kasen Renku Form

The final exercise we completed in Ms. Glang and Ms. Kreiter-Foronda’s workshop was another type of collaborative poem, kasen renku. Within this form, the first poet composes a haiku (three lines in the traditional 5-7-5 format). The second poet reads it, and then composes two lines of seven syllables each. A third poet (or the first poet) reads the first five lines, and adds his or her own haiku. A fourth poet (or the second poet) reads what has so far been accomplished, and adds to it another two lines of seven syllables each. This process is repeated until the poem consists of thirty-six stanzas. This, along with the Ligne Donnee form, would make an excellent classroom activity for an English or creative writing class.

Conclusion

I so thoroughly enjoyed the Poetry Society of Virginia’s Poetry Festival and Conference, that I plan to attend future conferences, and am contemplating membership. Attendance allowed me to meet like-minded people, as well as produce a few new pieces of poetry. I also gained exposure to some very creative and productive poets. I learned about resources in my community, and came away with a few new lessons plans for my English classroom.

 

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3 thoughts on “Poetry Society of Virginia’s Annual Poetry Festival

  1. I had no idea poetry conventions existed nor did I know Richmond was such a happening place. (I like the stat about being the third-most tattoed city in the US.) This seems like a cool, unique, and enlightening way to spend your free time, and it is easy to understand why you enjoyed yourself enough to write about the experience. This has me thinking I might have to make a trip at some point.

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    1. You definitely should. We have so many friends who have come to visit us here and now want to live here! There’s such an active river life, night life, outdoor life. So much art, history, and culture–all in a manageable city, not too big or bustling. It’s just right. You should check out jamesriverwriters.org. James River Writers is probably the largest writing organization in the area, and they host an annual writing conference for three days every October. That would be a great time to visit!

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