Event Review: The West End Poetry Festival

West End Poetry Festival

This past weekend, TSHS went on a society outing to the West End Poetry Festival. One could not have bribed a higher power for a brighter and more pleasant October weekend.

Date: October 17-18, 2014
Cost: Free!
Location: Carrboro and Chapel Hill, NC
Participating Poets: Cathy Smith Bowers, James Applewhite, Laurence Avery, Pam Baggett, Charmaine Cadeau, Steve Cushman, Tyree Daye, Ann Deagon, Terri Kirby Erickson, Dave Manning, Joseph Mills, Sarah Rose Nordgren, Gary Phillips, David Roderick, Sacrificial Poets, Starr Seward, Alana Sherrill, Susan Spalt, Celisa Steele, Chris Tonelli, Kamaya Truitt-Martin, Ross White, and Sharon Nyree Williams.

Flyleaf Books

Friday night featured a welcome reception with hors d’oeuvres and wine at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill (stay tuned for an upcoming Bookstore Spotlight). Roughly eighty audience members filled the seats in the reading room, and we were delighted to hear five poets read over the course of an hour. Carborro’s Poet Laureate, Celisa Steele deftly introduced each poet with the generosity and simplicity that moved each reading forward.

Dear Suburb,

Dear Suburb…

David Roderick, author of Blue Colonial (winner of APR’s first book prize, selected by former US Poet Laureate, Robert Pinsky), read selections from his second recently published book, The Americans. He acknowledged the risk of suburban poems as perhaps a “trap” that the contemporary poet must be wary of, yet guided us through three epistolary poems titled “Dear Suburb,” and proved that at least these poems can speak to what it means to be alive to “bright possibility/born again in drywall” in the “slinking empire twenty feet above/sea level”.

In contrast, Charmaine Cadeau confessed that “a great portion” of the poems in her book were written on Toni Morrisons’s former desk. Cadeau’s poetry resonated with her line “if only the heart had antennae.”

Bull City Press Executive Director, Ross White, said as he introduced his poem “Junk Drawer,” “I like to collect images and see if I can find new resonances for them,” which were apparent in his humor and acumen for litany.

Sarah Rose Nordgren, a Durham, NC native, read from her collection, Best Bones, and made us all fall in love with “Black Fly,” the tiny eponymous protagonist who is infatuated with something much larger—the famer in her field.

Finally, James Applewhite closed the reading with selections from Cosmos, from which a “crenulated” love of words, the natural world, abounded.

On Saturday at the Carrboro Century Center, Celisa Steele again opened the ceremonies—most graciously, and more importantly, on time (the entire weekend was punctual). Steele introduced Gary Phillips, who read a poem to open the day for the upcoming workshop.

In “Writing with the Net Up” former North Carolina Poet Laureate Cathy Smith Bowers focused on the generative power of writing in traditional forms. Author of five books, Bowers confessed to not even considering form for the first twenty years of writing. She asked the workshop to “think of a phrase that haunts you” – and encouraged a use of form as a means for exploring the most uncomfortable content. While writing free verse—one can often shut down or clam up.   She encouraged the writers to share their “haunting phrases,” and relayed each one again on the microphone as it was contributed.

What was most valuable from the workshop was Bowers’s implication that forms can give the writing process energy and direction; a pantoum, once started, compels itself to replicate. A sestina revolves around how to get to the end of the line and back. A little distraction from the content can help loosen the brain to explore more interesting imagery, more “time to lose track of time,” as Bowers said.

Notable Features of the West End Poetry Festival:

  • Intergenerational: On Saturday they feature a workshop specifically geared towards middle school and high school writers. What a great way to develop community and encourage young poets!
  • Lots of readings: In just two days, over 20 established poets read their work or give craft talks.
  • Welcoming: There is an open mic (limit 1 poem ~3min per person), free coffee, and a dinner reception open for all participants.
  • It’s free! As a project connected to the Town of Carrboro, this event encourages all people from different socioeconomic, age, and cultural backgrounds to join in to learn about poetry.

In its ninth year, this small festival packs a strong punch.

Join the conversation in the comments below, meet with us on twitter @TSHighsociety, or subscribe to the blog to be come a High Society Member. You’ll notified on great posts like upcoming Bookstore Spotlight: Flyleaf Books and interviews with Carrboro Poet Laureate, Celisa Steele, and Bull City Press Executive Director and poet, Ross White!


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  1. Celisa Steele Interview Part I: Carrboro Poet Laureate | Tate Street High Society

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