Poetry in motion: Sierra Poetry Festival commemorates National Poetry Month | TheUnion.com

Poetry in motion: Sierra Poetry Festival commemorates National Poetry Month

Hollie Grimaldi Flores
Special to Prospector


WHAT: Third annual Sierra Poetry Festival

WHERE: Sierra College Nevada County Campus, 250 Sierra College Drive, Grass Valley

WHEN: Main stage event Saturday, April 27, 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Free pop-ups multiple dates. Visit sierrapoetryfestival.org

TICKETS: Students 18 and under free, general admission $20-$45 available at http://www.sierrapoetryfestival.org/tickets

Did you know poetry is the fastest growing artform in the United States? The Nevada County Arts Council is working to make certain you do. In fact it is, in part, their mission.

According to the council’s website, they are a nonprofit formed to “facilitate collaborative efforts that promote and sustain the visual, literary and performing arts of Nevada County to advance the cultural, social and economic life of our community.”

To that end, in 2016, the council applied for and received a grant focused on making a local impact on the underserved population, marrying it with the county’s rich literary history, which includes the likes of esteemed Pulitzer Prize winning poet Gary Snyder.

Funds from that grant became the Sierra Poetry Festival.

“When we first wrote the proposal it was because even though we felt we had a rich tradition of poetry within Nevada County, that tradition was not translating to the ordinary person, to you and me, and poetry was still something that was inaccessible,” Nevada County Arts Council Executive Director Eliza Tudor said. “We wanted to bring poetry in from the margins and make it an inclusive art form, so we created a model for a festival that would draw people in.”

Now in its third year, the festival has expanded to offer events throughout April and includes a poet laureate program. The Nevada County Arts Council website states, in part, “A poet laureate is someone chosen—originally by kings, now by governments and civic groups—to represent a region by composing poems for special occasions, reading in public, and helping to focus attention on poetry as an art form … Our program involves writing poems to commemorate county events (the opening of the Madelyn Helling Library’s new amphitheater, for instance), reading (at the Sierra Poetry Festival, the Yuba Lit readings, etc.), and developing one or more projects to boost community involvement in poetry.”

The “Passing of the Laurels” takes place Saturday with inaugural poet laureate, Molly Fisk, and Nevada County Supervisor Richard Anderson.

“It adds to the celebratory feel and it is just fun,” said Tudor. “It gives us something to anchor our calendar year around the literary arts and it’s good fun.”

The main stage event on Saturday, April 27 is a culmination of workshops, readings, and other opportunities, organized by the arts council that includes nearly a dozen free “pop-ups” which have been running throughout the month of April — which is also National Poetry Month. John Deaderick will serve as Master of Ceremonies. The Nevada County resident is an actor, director and playwright who has been in over 200 plays, films and commercials.

“The main stage event is a long day and because of that we try to create variety throughout the day,” Tudor said. “We have main stage readings with important, celebrated, published poets that come from basically across the world, across America and California especially, with workshops where any member of the public — whether you’ve ever picked up a pen before or not — can come and learn how easy it is to write a poem; to put pen to paper.

“Some of our workshops are vocational where an aspiring poet can learn how to get the word out through social media or audio tools. Others are really fabulously deep, slightly more academic workshops … but always in a way where everyone can attend, and no one will feel left out.”

The day includes workshops, readings, music and an open mic. Food and beverages will be available throughout the day from one of the festivals major sponsors, BriarPatch Food Co-op, so patrons can take breaks and enjoy the beauty of the campus between events.

Poetry Slam champion Russell Reza-Khaliq Gonzaga will lead the open mic.

Of Gonzaga, Tudor said, “He is a slam champion and open mic maestro. He is great fun and very inclusive. That is popular. Anyone can come up whether you are a child, whether you are an emerging poet, or established. It’s fun.”

Festival poets are selected by submitted proposals and by referral from other poets.

“For us there are certain things that are important when we decide who we wish to come,” explained Tudor. “One of the most important things is diversity. It’s cultural equity. We try to make this very meaningful so we love the fact that our poets represent different cultures and different perspectives, different styles. A mix of gender, a mix of everything. This is really important to us. What is also important is that they are writing now — that they are active in the poetry world.”

This year’s keynote poet is Forrest Gander who in 2018 was longlisted for The National Book Award for Poetry for his anthology, “Be With.” Earlier this week, Gander was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

“It speaks to the love of his wife who he lost in 2016 unexpectedly,” Tudor said, “so his poetry deals a lot with loss and transformation. He clearly uses poetry as a way to heal. It is very beautiful. He is also one of the nation’s most important translators of poetry.”

Gander has received several awards and has written numerous books that have been translated into multiple languages.

Other poets of note include Fresno poet Sara Borjas, whose debut collection of poetry is forthcoming from Noemi Press this year, and who is being broadly lauded by the poetry community. Dancer, poet and playwright Lucinda Jarrett will be coming from England.

Also presenting will be Matthew Zapruder, the author of five collections of poetry, including “Come On All You Ghosts,” a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, as well as “Why Poetry,” a book of prose.

“Anyone who is interested in learning more about why poetry is so important and how to make it accessible and how to enjoy it should come to the festival strictly to hear him,” Tudor said. “He’s pretty amazing.”

The complete list of poets is available, along with the complete schedule of activities, on the website http://www.nevadacountyarts.org.

“It’s not a remote art form,” said Tudor. “It is not esoteric. It’s something that is easy to grasp and can be held in the hand. So, we really encourage people to come along and join the fun.”

Hollie Grimaldi Flores is a Nevada County resident and freelance writer for hire. She can be reached at holliesallwrite@gmail.com.

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