Worlds of Words

Skagit River Poetry Festival

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

When Daemond Arrindell leads a “Found Poetry” workshop at the tail end of the Skagit River Poetry Festival, it’ll be with an emphasis on finding creative wordplay where you least expect it—whether it’s in a science textbook, on billboards, in pop music, Yelp reviews, or in the form on graffiti on an alley wall.

Arrindell’s subject matter is fitting, as the ninth biennial extravaganza taking place May 19-22 at various venues throughout La Conner makes it easier than usual to uncover word-related wisdom. From one-on-one consultations with writers to workshops, poetry readings, mixers and more, those who visit the picturesque locale will soon discover that if it’s vivacious verse they’re after, they’ve come to the right place.

“The festival turns La Conner into a town filled with poetry—from its churches to its museums, its community center, and its bed and breakfasts,” poet Susan Rich says. “Where else can a person sleep, eat, live and breathe poetry for a spring weekend?”

If you choose to immerse yourself in the entirety of the Skagit River Poetry Festival—which is the capstone of the Skagit River Poetry Foundation’s lofty goal to bring poets to classrooms more than 120 days each year—you’ll want to arrive by 5:30pm Thursday and make your way to Maple Hall for a Poet’s Soiree, where you can mix and mingle with festival poets, sip wine and enjoy locally sourced hors d’oeuvres.

From there, zip over to the La Conner Elementary School auditorium for a “Wake Up! Speak Out” program. At the energizing event, a handful of celebrated spoken word poets such as World Poetry Slam alum Jeanann Verlee, Detroit-based poet and filmmaker Jamaal May, American-Bangladeshi poet and educator Tarfia Faizullah, Seattle Poetry Slam curator Daemond Arrindell, and Seattle Grand Slam champion Matt Gano will challenge and provoke audiences with new poetic ideas and forms.

On Friday and Saturday, the fun continues with poetry samplers, panel discussions, student events and “A Gathering of Voices,” which will see all of the festival poets be given two minutes to read one of their poems.

While Pacific Northwest wordsmiths such as Tim McNulty, Kevin Craft, Lorraine Ferra, Norman Fischer, Paul Hansen (who actually lives in La Conner), Washington State Poet Laureate Tod Marshall, Kevin Craft, and Martha Silano will be represented, the lineup also includes some of the most diverse names in poetry.

Among those visiting from afar are four-time Pushcart Prize winner Naomi Shibab Nye, Chicana poet Lorna Dee Cervantes, former pro basketball player and Mojave Indian tribal member Natalie Diaz, aforementioned scribes Tarfia Faizullah and Jamaal May, Japanese-American poet Garrett Hongo, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, and Canadian writer and philospher Jan Zwicky.

By the time Sunday rolls around, you may be tempted to sleep in late and skip the final day of the festival. That would be a mistake, as it’s a chance for writers of all abilities to hone their own talents by learning from those who’ve achieved success in the field.

Whether you sign up for Arrindell’s previously mentioned “Found Poetry” primer, Kasey Jueds’ “Poetry and Silence” workshop, McNulty’s “Coaxing Poems from Nature” or one of the other classes offered, it’s a time to ponder the particulars of how words work—and what you need to do to make them work. If you’re up to the challenge, then hie thee to La Conner.

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