Monday, January 24, 2011

Friday Outing: The Palm Beach Poetry Festival

One event that takes place nearby, and an event that I don't take as much advantage of as I should, is the Palm Beach Poetry Festival. I'm often tempted to participate in the whole thing: 5 days of intense workshops with an individual poet, afternoon craft workshops, and evening readings. The poets always have national reputations; for example, this year's poets included C. D. Wright and Jane Hirshfield.

Why don't I sign up for the whole thing? Part of it is the expense, and part of it is the time. I'm resistant to the whole idea of workshopping poems, and perhaps I should push through that resistance. Since I have a house less than an hour a way, I wouldn't want to afford to stay in a hotel in the area, and so part of the time issue is the driving issue.

But I usually try to go for part of it. The afternoon craft workshops and the evening readings are open to the public, for the low price of $12 an event. On Friday, I braved the billowing thunderclouds and headed to Delray Beach.

This time of year, I give myself extra driving time, because the traffic, which is likely to be bad at any hour down here, is impacted in multiple ways by the tourists and the snowbirds. On Friday, I got to Delray Beach early and once I bought my ticket, I had 45 minutes to fill. Happily, I had anticipated this possibility, so I headed to a natural food restaurant, ordered a smoothie (coconut, pineapple, and papaya), and settled in to read the books of poetry I brought by poets who were not part of the Festival. I spent most of my time reading Terence Hayes' Lighthead ("Fish Head for Katrina"--amazing! one amazing poem amongst many) and Timothy Donnelly's The Cloud Corporation--two poets playing interesting games with language, creating interesting experiments.

In many ways, that time was the highlight of the day: reading poetry, sipping a cool smoothie on a surprisingly hot day (85 degrees or so), and looking forward to the afternoon.

The craft lectures weren't what I expected, but still enjoyable. Stuart Dischell spent most of his time explicating Chaucer's "To Rosamunde." What a delight to have a poem fully explicated. I'm usually the one doing the explicating to blank faces and dull eyes. I tried to keep my face bright, to show how engaged I was.

Here's a Dischell quote for you: "Without unrequited love, there's no poetry--at least not in England, where it would be immodest to write of requited love."

C. D. Wright was going to talk about the documentary impulse in contemporary poetry. She began by talking about the plight of 4 Chinese poets who had to decide what to do with the Tiananmen Square uprising. She talked about the "rivers of gore that course through the poetic record."

Here's a Mongol poem from many centuries ago:

"Empires rise.
People suffer.
Empires fall.
People suffer."

Here's a quote from C. D. Wright to inspire your writing this week: "Poets must go to a place where listening is possible and violence is not inevitable."

The craft lectures were supposed to last until 4:00, but we were done by 3:15. Part of me felt cheated, but part of me was happy to head home before the rush hour set in, while I could still zip down I95 in the outside lanes, before they transformed into HOV lanes, as they do every afternoon at 4.

I thought about driving back for the Jane Hirshfield and Thomas Lux reading, but I just couldn't face the trip back and the various closures of I95 that were scheduled. Is this how I know I am old, or worn out from a week of work, or simply practical?

The Palm Beach Poetry Festival takes place every January, so you might put it on your radar screen for future years, especially if you're one of the seven academics left in America who enjoys a travel budget.


Kathleen said...

I always get a brochure about it in the mail...and yearn. So extra thanks for going and reporting!!

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks for the notes. I also struggle with the night events and being worn out. Adding traffic and lane closures to that and I'd stay home in a heartbeat. :)

Can't wait until all of this is available on live feeds. I'd pay to be an audience member in my own home.