Festival to foster love affair with verse

`A Day of Poetry' to show joy of words

Columbia

June 07, 2000|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

Poetry lovers are in for a treat.

For the first time, Columbia Festival of the Arts will present "A Day of Poetry: In Love With Words." The event - organized in partnership with the Howard County Poetry & Literature Society (HoCoPoLitSo) - will be a minifestival within the festival. It will feature several activities, including a poetry breakfast, readings by acclaimed poets, a panel discussion and a workshop led by Edward Hirsch, author of "How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love With Poetry."

Katherine Knowles, executive director of Columbia Festival of the Arts, said organizers have long planned to incorporate more literary activities into the 10-day festival, which begins June 15.

"This really is a major step forward," Knowles said. "I think it is a very diverse day which will have activities for everyone."

Knowles credits Jean Moon with making the poetry day a reality. Moon, one of the founders of HoCoPoLitSo and a former festival board member, drew her inspiration from the annual Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival held in Village of Waterloo, N.J.

"During a long weekend in September, they convert the area into a poetry camp," said Moon, curator of the Day of Poetry event. "My husband, Bob, and I went, and we fell in love with it."

Drawing on her desire to make poetry accessible to everyone, Moon has created an event that features readings by past winners of HoCoPoLitSo's student writing awards, an interactive performance for children and a program for teens ages 13 to 18 with award-winning poet Sekou Sundiata.

"Poetry, for a lot of people, is way too intimidating, and it doesn't need to be," Moon said. "It's the language of our past, it's the language of our religion and of our children's lullabies. Poetry is our voice."

Sundiata, a performance and recording poet based in New York, said he believes the way poetry has been presented may contribute to people being leery of it.

"For most of us, our first exposure to poetry is in school," said Sundiata, who has released two compact discs of his poetry set to rhythm and has a book, "Dance and Be Still," scheduled for publication in August. "The way it is presented is in such an elitist way, and oftentimes people meet with the most difficult poetry."

Ellen Kennedy, president of HoCoPoLitSo, said organizers hope to demystify poetry with Hirsch's workshop, which is based on "How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love With Poetry." The book seeks to explain poetry and help the reader develop a greater appreciation for the art form.

Kennedy said Hirsch's workshop will join other programs aimed at all age groups.

"I think a whole range of people will come, from the most sophisticated to the beginners," Kennedy said. "We will have everything from published poets to middle schoolers reading their work."

Poet Lucille Clifton said the poetry day will help to put a spotlight on Columbia, which is rich with poets and those interested in the arts.

"Poetry itself feeds the community," Clifton said. "It's one of those things that, without it, the soul starves."

Roland Flint, Maryland's poet laureate, said he hopes the event will attract and educate people.

"Some people are still wary of poetry," Flint said. "I hope people attend in enough numbers that they come away with a better understanding of poetry and find it more user-friendly, more accessible and more enjoyable."

"A Day of Poetry: In Love With Words" will begin at 8 a.m. June 24. Tickets for Hirsch's workshop, which will run from 10 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. at Slayton House, are $10. Tickets for a performance by Sundiata and a poetry quintet from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Slayton House will be $15. All other events are free. Information: HoCoPoLitSo at 410-730-7524

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