Asheville Wordfest – a reflection and a video

Asheville Wordfest – Reading at The Altamont Theatre, May 4, 2012

It was truly an honor to be invited to read a few poems at this year’s Asheville Wordfest. When I received the invitation I thought it was a mistake. So, I direct messaged the director using Twitter saying: “my twitter acct is wonky today. i received something from you re: wordfest… how can i help?” Previously, I had helped with audio during a previous Wordfest featuring the poet Li-young Lee. She direct messaged me on Twitter with a note of confirmation. So, I began selecting poems for the event.

Since I haven’t read my poetry publicly in more than a year, I was a bit anxious about the invitation to read at this year’s Wordfest. Last year was a busy year of readings at bookstores, [1] a literary salon, [2] and a featured guest at the Mountain Xpress poetry show. [3] Then employment for me became tricky and I endured the challenges of a transition to a new job, lay off, unemployment, and another job transition with a three-hour round trip commute. I kept writing new poems, but the new out-of-state job prevented me from participating in the active literary scene here in Asheville.

There were more than a hundred new poems I wrote last year to consider for the Asheville Wordfest poetry reading. I selected four or five new poems, but I didn’t feel confident enough in their craftsmanship to read publicly. One manuscript I have been developing for awhile had the strongest work that best fit this year’s Wordfest theme, “HOME: Place and Planet.” I started it when I took a writing workshop taught by Ashveille Wordfest Director, Laura Hope-Gill, a few years ago.

Two practices help me decide what poems to read. First, it is my practice to put a poetry manuscript in a presentation book with sheet protectors. That way pages don’t fall to the floor during a reading. You can usually purchase presentation books of that nature at office supply stores. I select a variety of poems on various subjects or themes. Further, it is my practice at an actual poetry reading featuring multiple poets to listen closely to the other poets. While the reading takes place, I select poems that speak to other poets’ work as a way to have a literary conversation. So, I brought four working manuscripts hoping that I might find a poem that might play off a poem read by Ronald Reginald King, DeWayne Barton, and Katherine Soniat.

As I walked to the podium after a very generous introduction by Laura Hope-Gill, I still hadn’t decided what poem would complete my reading. I knew the poem I would lead off with and I knew the one to follow, but the third and final poems I hadn’t quite decided. Improvisation is something I am developing in public readings, because each night the audience is different, with individual needs, interests and mood. A bar room poem might work in one setting and audience, but not work another night with a different audience. So, after I clumsily introduced myself, I knew by the time I finished reading the second poem where the narrative of the poem selection would lead. For better or worse, the reading was videocast and a recording is available. Here’s a link to the video [link here].

When I sat down next to my wife after completing my reading, I noticed a couple mentions on Twitter regarding the live videocast. One person [4] tweeted, “Goosebumps: poem dedicated to Jenny.”

NOTES: [1] As a member of the Rooftop Poets, I read with Barbara Gravelle and Brian Sneeden at Accent on Books in February. Barbara Gravelle and I read at the May 2011 Poetrio at Malaprop’s Bookstore & Café. That was my last public reading until last Friday night, May 4, 2012. [2] After a very successful book launch and poetry event, the Rooftop Poets presented Poet’s on the Roof: A Literary Salon. [3] The Mountain Xpress invited Brian Sneeden and myself to read on behalf of the Rooftop poets as featured poets at the 2011 Mountain Xpress Poetry Show [4] @anorawrites

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Asheville Wordfest 2012 – poems that open conversations

It’s true. There is only one article I read from the pages of O: The Oprah Magazine. It is the interview between Maria Shriver and the poet Mary Oliver. [1] “I consider myself kind of a reporter. . .” Mary Oliver says. I think that’s the same sentiment Wordfest director Laura Hope-Gill expresses in this week’s Mountain Xpress article where she describes poetry as “citizens’ journalism.” [2]

“Poetry is a short line between different cultures,” says Laura Hope-Gill. “It can heal the cultural divides that still plague our city. It opens conversations that we need to have.”

The invitation to read my poems at this year’s poetry festival is something I don’t take lightly. I spent the last few nights reviewing poems I’ve written during the last year as well as poems composed during the last decade. The PR/marketing side of me wants to chose poems to read that promote a certain manuscript I’m developing or maybe only read published poems. It’s a promotional game poets play when they read their work publicly. They casually mention that “the next poem I’m going to read was published in the Atlantic Monthly…” or the American Poetry Review or some other notable journal as away to promote their ascendancy of poet extraordinaire.

But my thoughts returned to the idea Laura mentioned in the Mountain Xpress article. I looked through pages of my poems last night searching for material that addresses the idea of healing cultural divides or opening conversations. Selecting poems that fit the general theme presented a bit of a challenge, but there are subtle threads of those ideas in several of the poems I’ve written during the last few years.

Tonight, however, I’ll put aside the task of poem selection and venture to the Vanuatu Kava Bar for Poem-ing the 28801 [3] featuring Barbie Angell, Ten Cent Poetry, Jonathan Santos and Jadwiga McKay.

NOTES: [1] Dear Oprah, you stole my idea, but I’m not filing charges [2] A short line between different cultures [3] Wordfest 2012: Poem-ing the 28801

And the Winner of the 2011 Mountain Xpress Poetry Prize is…

MtnX 04 06 11 cover

The Poetry Show featured in the Mountain Xpress Apr. 6-12, 2011 issue

Selected from ten finalists by Keith Flynn, founder and managing editor of Asheville Poetry Review, Brian Sneeden’s “The Temple” won the 2011 Mountain Xpress Poetry Prize. Congratulations Brian!

Brian shared double duty Friday night at the 2011 Mountain Xpress Poetry Show as he and I were invited as members of the Rooftop Poets to read at the event as part of “the next generation” of Asheville poets.

The Poetry Show provided an excellent environment to read and hear local poetry. Each one of the finalists read well-crafted verse; from laundry to bath tubs. Laura Hope-Gill kicked off the evening with a wonderful collection of poems. It was also a special delight for me to hear Matt Owens and Mesha Maren of the Juniper Bends reading series present their work. I’ll spare you an event review. But I will mention that Jaye Bartell was the evening’s host and I would like to thank the person whose cell phone rang incessantly during the reading of my poem “The Last Chestnut Tree.” Without you I wouldn’t have been able to pull off that performance.

A wonderful and full evening provided by the Mountain Xpress team and talented local poets!