E. Luanne McKinnon: Sierra Poetry Festival, a Nevada County and international success | TheUnion.com

E. Luanne McKinnon: Sierra Poetry Festival, a Nevada County and international success

Other Voices
E. Luanne McKinnon

Nearly 10,000 people worldwide experienced the Nevada County-based Sierra Poetry Festival on April 18. Streaming live on Facebook with 800 pre-registered listeners via Zoom, the virtual festival was a cultural triumph.

Coinciding with National Poetry Month, our community’s poetry day attracted local, statewide and national participation in addition to those in Ireland, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France, Mexico, Jamaica, Japan, India, Syria, Thailand and Kenya and streaming to other many others, including Russia.

The New York Times highlighted the Sierra Poetry Festival on April 10, drawing national attention for its programming excellence; stature of poets; and opportunities offered to young writers and the public alike through free workshops. Boris Dralyuk, executive editor of the Los Angeles Review of Books claimed, “Right now, Sierra Poetry Festival is pioneering something I am sure will be at the forefront of festivals to come.”

Eliza Tudor, executive director of Nevada County Arts Council and festival director, invited an introduction by Shelly Covert, spokesperson for California’s Nisenan Tribe. She reflected on the practice of honoring land acknowledgment at public events across the nation; and, this anchored Sierra Poetry Festival, not just as a virtual space, but bound to lands occupied by local Tribal peoples for over 13,000 years. As Ms. Covert said, “Land is our poetry.”

The morning opened with young poets speaking in self-isolation from Amsterdam. Ellen Bass, the keynote speaker reminded the audiences that to explore poetry is to be fully rooted in place:

“By observing, we see more. By describing what we see, we understand more, we feel more. We discover something we didn’t know before. And that process of seeing, understanding, feeling and epiphany then takes place …”

Dana Gioia, California’s most recent poet-laureate, summed the day up, “This is a gift and the energy drives a healthy culture.”

E. Luanne McKinnon, PhD is a member of the Board of the Nevada County Arts Council.

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