Monday, January 25, 2010
Looking back: Belfast Poetry Festival 2009
Here is the first in a short series of posts to make up for my complete lack of posting this fall! A few really cool things happened this fall that I want to make sure to capture, for myself and anyone reading this. The event I want to write about here is the Belfast Poetry Festival, an incredible small town event that's been going on here for a few years now.
I had the honor of serving on the festival's committee this year, which was put together by our beloved poet laureate, Linda Buckmaster and gave me the chance to work with some wonderful other poets from the area. The Belfast Poetry Festival is, as far as I know, unlike any other, in that it pairs Maine poets with Maine visual artists in all mediums to create original collaborations which are then highlighted at the festival. The poets and artists can do whatever they want: sometimes the poets write about existing art; sometimes the artists make work about existing poems; sometimes they just create alongside one another; and sometimes they make something wholly new together. It's pretty incredible. This year the teams included a poet who read while accompanied by choreographed modern dancers, a poet who read with a jazz drummer, a calligrapher/book artist & poet pairing, etc.
Because I was on the committee, I got a little bit of an insider's advantage and had a hand in choosing the artist with whom I was matched. I got the painter/sculptor/installation artist Paul Oberst, and we immediately fell in love. We'd never met before, but when I visited his studio in Freedom, we had all these instant connections that I found in his work: grids, the idea of spirit and soul, quilts, folk art, tabernacle imagery, text/image juxtapositions, gold-leafing, and on and on. We had a long talk, and I took notes, and the result was a poem in which I tried to speak through Paul's work back at him. Much to my delight, he was thrilled with the poem, and used it to mirror my words back at me through new letterpress sheets and sculptures in response to my response! It was this incredible, trance-like loop of our shared inspirations. (Paul also reminded me a lot of one of my dear friends and mentors, the poet Michael Burkard.)
Paul also got hugely inspired to turn our collab into a public art work, and petitioned the town to allow him to post professionally fabricated lamp post signs of words from my poem all over the town, as if my poem was some sort of local marketing campaign. It was so cool. He also made "picketing signs" of my words and these were carried all over town during the festival, and cryptically put signs in the store windows of the downtown as well.
And then Paul had the brilliant suggestion of bringing in another element of collaboration: a local musician named Dan Beckman. So then Dan and I did this sound performance of my poem together, complete with samples and sound effects, live at both the festival and one "rehearsal" run. This was also a match made in heaven, and Dan and I had a great time (and later I became the childbirth education teacher for Dan and his partner and fellow artist Amy!). Maybe I'll figure out how to upload the sound file here sometimes.
You've got to come to this festival sometime if you can. This year also featured a jazz improv poetry brunch, where anyone could get up and try their hand at a Beat tradition; an "old home" night for poets from across Waldo County, and other fantastic events. Oh, and did I mention most events were PACKED?! With audience for poetry?! On a Saturday in a small town?!
I'm so grateful to all my fellow organizers, especially for putting me in touch with Paul and Dan. I love collaborative art-making, and am hoping to work with both of them again in the future.