Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Poetry Week Continues! The Palm Beach Poetry Festival

Yesterday, I headed up to Delray Beach for an afternoon at the Palm Beach Poetry Festival.  I often like the craft lectures better than anything else, and so when I saw that Tracy K. Smith was paired with Tony Hoagland for yesterday afternoon's craft lecture, that seemed like a great deal.  Even better:  an interview with Billy Collins that happened right afterwards.  So, I bought tickets last week, and yesterday, I headed out.

Each event cost $15, but it was well worth it.  There's plenty of free parking at Delray Beach around Old School Square, so at least I wouldn't have to pay for parking.

Yesterday, I got there early, because I was afraid of running late; it only takes one wreck on the Interstate to destroy the best-made plans.  Happily, I had no problems.  The Crest Theatre is a lovely place, so I didn't mind having 20 extra minutes. 

I looked at the books, but decided to wait on buying them.  I looked in various rooms that were open:  parlours that functioned as art galleries or libraries.  I looked at one woman and thought, she looks like Tracy K. Smith.  I thought about saying something, but she was reading an iPad, and besides, what would I say?  "I love your work."  I'm sure she hears that a lot.  And what if it was someone else?

Later when Tracy K. Smith took the stage, I realized that the woman in the parlour was indeed Tracy K. Smith.  She gave a beautiful presentation where she talked about her own work and the work of Elizabeth Bishop.  She talked about using poems as a way to cross an uncrossable distance.

Then Tony Hoagland took the stage to talk about the use of imagination vs. the use of information.  He talked about "our American cottage industry:  poems of partially digested therapy."

Hoagland was quite funny in his examples of material from real life that he couldn't have made up in his imagination, like a sign in a forest that informed visitors that every tree in the forest had been cut down to make pilings for the Panama Canal.  He worries that poets, particularly American poets, live too much in their imaginations, that we've lost the sense of scale and proportion that tells us how much of ourselves to leave in--and to leave out.

Then we had a brief break, and Billy Collins took the stage to be interviewed by Ginger Murchison, editor of the Cortland Review.  She asked great questions, and he responded warmly and graciously.  He read several of his poems.

What I liked about each of the presentations is that I got to hear each poet read, but I also got to hear their thoughts on other subjects.  I found it much easier to stay alert and present with those formats than I often do during readings.

In the coming days, I will probably write a post or two to say more about what each poet said.  I wrote down too many treasures to keep them to myself.

It was interesting to return to the Festival; I've been there a few times, and I'm always struck by how many of the participants are either quite young (college or MFA students) or much, much older--the far side of midlife to quite elderly but still ambulatory.

Of course, it makes sense in a way.  Middle-aged folks like myself are usually working.  Would I come if I had to use vacation days to do so?  Probably not, since I wouldn't have many of them.  Would I come if I was balancing several jobs to keep my family together?  It wouldn't be possible.

This year, there seemed to be fewer students, but I could be wrong.  Or it could be the function of a Tuesday afternoon.

Each year, I wonder if I should commit to the Festival fully, sign up for the full 4 days of workshops and intense work with the visiting poets.  Each year, I'm deterred by the cost and the time and the driving.  But I'm always impressed by the poets who come, and I'm impressed by the events that I do attend.  For those of you looking for a great poetry experience, put the Palm Beach Poetry Festival, which happens each January, on your radar screen.

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