‘Flavor of unity’: Poetry Festival features Kim Stafford, other free events

February 2019 Posted in Other

Oregon Poet Laureate Kim Stafford is the featured poet at this year’s Silverton Poetry Festival, seen here at a recent, packed poetry event in Mount Angel. Submitted Photos

By Brenna Wiegand

The Silverton Poetry Festival has grown in scope and popularity over the past two decades, a reflection of the growth of the art form throughout the region.

“If they’re not in the scene, people don’t realize how much poetry is happening in the area,” Silverton poet and festival co-founder Steve Slemenda said. “The Willamette Valley is rich with poetry; it’s going on all over the place all the time.”

Which makes his new radio show all the more fun. The retired English professor hosts Poetry on the Air the second and fourth Fridays of the month, 10 – 10:30 a.m. on listener-supported Salem station KMUZ 100.7. The show may also be live-streamed from the station’s website.

In a recent show Slemenda sang the praises of the 19th annual Silverton Poetry Festival, Feb. 15-17.

“Every year we start the festival at the Gordon House, a landmark architecture built by Frank Lloyd Wright, and end at the Mount Angel Abbey Library auditorium, the architecture of Alvar Aalto,” Slemenda said. “These are nice bookends to the festival because poetry is a thing constructed, not unlike a building.”

Silverton Poetry Association member Kelley Morehouse said SPA is built on a dedicated volunteer board and many small contributions from the community.

“They have sustained us year after year in our endeavor to provide poetry to the community,” Morehouse said. “There are two main parts to a festival: the poets and the audience. The audience at these festivals have been very supportive as listeners, and fully engaged participants with the readings, so much so that poets often remark how wonderful the audience has been.”

The festival opens Friday evening with a reading by Oregon Poetry Laureate Kim Stafford who will be accompanied by one of his Lewis & Clark College students who’ll play the harp. Stafford is the son of William Stafford, probably the most highly profiled and familiar Oregon
Poet Laureate.

“Kim has published many books of poetry himself and writes a lot of prose,” Slemenda said. “He’ll be reading his work and likes to be interactive with the audience; you never know what will happen at his readings.” Slemenda said the Gordon House usually fills up for the event and recommends arriving early to get a seat.

Saturday brings a day packed with poetry related doings, beginning with two events at Silver Falls Library starting with the Favorite Poem Project.

“It may be a well-known poem or not as popular,” Slemenda said. “Last year the place was filled for the favorite poem event, in which people read an already published poem and briefly share how it is significant to them.”

Most of these people stay for the Open Mic session that follows, an opportunity for them to share their original poetry, but everybody’s invited to enjoy and
be inspired.

That afternoon Slemenda will share his writing process in a free workshop at
the library.

“Every morning I sit down with a legal pad and just free write; it’s exploratory writing,” Slemenda said. “It’s unguided written meditation; you write a couple, three pages and try not to censor yourself or stop writing and after a while it takes on its own energy.

“The analogy is looking for gold in gravel, like sifting through silt in a pan looking for those little nuggets of potential,” he said. “I’ll go back through and circle something – a word or image or idea – and extract it and often that becomes the basis for a new poem.”

That evening, Main St. Bistro is the venue for a two-part workshop addressing the daunting task of translating poetry from one language to another. First, an English language poem translated into Arabic and Spanish is presented, followed by a discussion on the choices and challenges of translation. Next, students from the Oregon School for the Deaf present poetry translated into American Sign Language, accompanied by oral interpretation.

Sunday the festival features three highly accomplished and recognized poets, two of whom are former Oregon Poet Laureates.

“I consider them the wise elders of Oregon poetry and I look forward to hearing them talk about their life and work,” Slemenda said. “Lawson Inada is a poet who has written much about the internment of Japanese Americans, including his family and himself,
during WWII.

“Paulette Peterson is an Oregon treasure; one of the brightest and richest poets in Oregon,” Slemenda said. “Clement spent his life in construction and carpentry and

was a merchant marine; his poems often celebrate the workingman and he talks about constructing his poems as though framing a house.”

This “Feast of Poets” is followed by a culinary feast for attendees.

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