Poetry the rage during annual festival, Nov. 5-20
33rd annual San Luis Obispo Poetry Festival features laureates, film, readings, workshops and live bluegrass
—Poetry will be all the rage in San Luis Obispo County with numerous events over seven days in November. Founded in 1984 by local poets Kevin Patrick Sullivan and Carl Kempton, the Annual San Luis Obispo Poetry Festival runs in partnership with the San Luis Obispo County Library and receives funding from the library, Poets and Writers Inc., and a grant from the James W. Irvine Foundation, and from Glenna Luschei Horton. Click here for the complete schedule.
Three of the best-selling poets in the world are Khalil Gibran, Rumi and Shakespeare. Poetry around the world remains a beloved art form. Why is poetry essential, why is it relevant for Americans today? California Poet Laureate Dana Gioia, who will be reading in the SLO Poetry Festival on Sat, Nov. 19, 2 p.m. in the library at 995 Palm St., in San Luis Obispo, believes that poetry “will remain relevant” for Americans “as long as people use words to communicate.”
He describes poetry as something almost primal and non-materialistic. “Poetry mostly exists outside the marketplace,” Gioia says. “A mother reads poems to her children from a book she’s treasured since her own childhood. One lover recites a poem to another. A bereaved son recites an old poem at his father’s funeral. These are moments that define lives, but none of them results in money changing hands.”
Dana Gioia was born and raised in a suburb of Los Angeles and went to Stanford where, he says, “I was the only person in history who studied business to become a poet.” He once recalled that his Mexican-American mother, who had no higher education, would read and recite poetry to him at a young age. Formerly head of the National Endowment for the Arts, Gioia was named Poet Laureate of California in 2015. He will read poems from his collection 99 Poems, New and Selected (Graywolf Press 2016) including “California Hills in August,” “The Apple Orchard,” and “Marriage of Many Years.”
Another celebrated bard coming to San Luis Obispo County to perform his poetry is North Carolina’s Poet Laureate, Shelby Stephenson. He says the 33rd SLO Poetry Festival shows that poetry is alive and well on the Central Coast. “Poetry is an art form for all. It exists all around us—the whole landscape is alive with poetry.” Stephenson insists that poetry “is always relevant. It salvages the ‘between’ and the ‘in-between.’ It’s not going away and Americans have loved poetry since the first pilgrim landed and wrote in the sand or on a rock.”
Stephenson grew up in a three-room plank house with a father who hunted and a family at home in the country. He will read from his poem “The Song of the Small Farmer’s Son” among others, on Sat., Nov. 12, 7 p.m. in the SLO library on Palm St. Stephenson will also play live bluegrass in a jam session with Craig Kincaid and friends following a poetry reading on Nov. 11, 7 p.m. in the SLO Library Community Room.
Eugene, Oregon-based poet Willa Schneberg, winner of the Oregon Book Award and author of five poetry collections, will be leading a workshop on how to be inspired by the news and write “political” poems (Nov. 13, 9 a.m.-noon, Santa Rosa Park).
Also featured are Santa Cruz poet Lisa Allen Ortiz and Los Angeles poet Yun Wang (reading together Nov. 6, 3 pm at SLO’s Steynberg Gallery), plus many local poets including the 2015 SLO County Poetry Out Loud Champion, Sarah Mosichuk (Nov. 19, 2 pm in the library) and San Luis Obispo Poet Laureate, Marguerite Costigan (Nov. 20, 7 p.m. at Linnaea’s Café in SLO).
Costigan says, “I have never known another community with such a vigorous poetry scene as this county itself.” Never mind the annual poetry festival, she says, “We have readings in almost every city in the county. Cambria has a poetry venue, so does Los Osos, so does San Luis Obispo, so does the south county, so does Morro Bay and Atascadero. Each has a scheduled poetry reading in which they invite two poets from here and from other counties, or from other states even. We have four regular series that I know of.”
For more info, contact festival cofounder Kevin Patrick Sullivan, (805) 903-3595 or by email.