2015 Poetry Festival Features Dorianne Laux

Poetry Festival Features Dorianne Laux

The annual poetry festival, sponsored and hosted by Poetry Virginia, May 15-16 in Williamsburg, featured award-winning poet Dorianne Laux.  The two-day event was filled with entertaining and educational programs for Virginia poets and poetry-lovers.

In the opening program, Laux, director of the MFA Creative Writing Program at North Carolina State, teamed with her husband, Joseph Millar, also an award-winning poet, in a workshop on developing ideas for poems.  Aptly titled, How to Grow a Tree from an Acorn, she demonstrated methods for taking a single object and expanding on it.  “Every object has power,” she said.  “This is a game – like math – solve the problem – start anywhere, then go deeper.”  Eleven participants shared the results of their 25 minutes of writing about saliva, grandmother’s quilt, a buckle, a horseshoe, canes, and more.  Creative juices were flowing.

Later, Laux returned for a session of poetry reading.  She presented ten selections of her published poems, delivered in her distinctively throaty, beguiling style.  Following the advice of her mentor, Phil Levine, she writes in her own “voice.”  He had said: “Be yourself in your own time.”  Her presentation was received with enthusiastic response.

Passing the Poetry Hat was the title of the workshop offered by Derek Kannemeyer, a teacher of Creative Writing and French at St. Catherine’s School in Richmond.  He demonstrated how one can take a “remembered moment” or an “observed moment” and develop it into a poem.  In an exercise, participants were encouraged to write a phrase about someone doing something uncharacteristic, like “a woman in a bathtub, smoking a cigar” on paper, then dropping the paper in a Dr. Seuss-style hat.  The hat was passed and participants drew from it; the task was to write a poem using the situation that someone else wrote as a prompt. The results were surprising and loaded with good humor.

The festival’s welcoming banquet was held Friday evening at Ford’s Colony Country Club.  Although the dinner was excellent, the main event of the evening was the open microphone reading.  Unlike the work-shopped poems of the day, these were polished pieces, often especially prepared for the occasion.  They represented heart-felt emotions and thoughts, openly shared and warmly received.

William and Mary professor Henry Hart, author of a number of acclaimed books of poetry and literary biographies, conducted a program entitled, The Poet’s Source of Inspiration.  Using works of Wordsworth, Heaney, and Frost, he explored their varied sources of material that led to significant poetry.  In an exercise, he had participants poetically suggest a problem, describe the “journey back,” and indicate a solution.  Some participants presented poems that ranged from poignant to quite humorous.

Luisa Igloria, Director of the MFA Creative Writing Program at Old Dominion University, led the final workshop of the festival.  With the title: Salty, Savory, Bitter, Sweet: A Workshop of Poetry and Food, Igloria read and discussed a short selection of poems on hunger and food from different perspectives.  Many participants, who had never written this type of poetry, produced and shared  interesting and thoughtful poems on the topic.

In recognition of Armed Forces Day, the final event of the festival was a reading by two military veterans.  Although their backgrounds are different: Bill Glose, an Army paratrooper in the Gulf War; Ed Lull, a Navy submariner in the Cold War and Viet-Nam, both reflected patriotism and respect for their comrades-in-arms.  It was a fitting conclusion to the two-days of celebrating the art of creating poetry.

Ed Lull
May 19, 2014