The Full Dreaming of Asheville Wordfest

The Full Dreaming of Asheville Wordfest, a press release for a paper that might not exist yet.

by Laura Hope-Gill on Thursday, March 3, 2011 at 3:48pm
May 2-8, 2011
All poetry events are free.
Films $10.00 donation.

It’s time for Asheville Wordfest, Asheville’s poetry festival. Between Tuesday May 2 and Sunday May 8, Asheville residences and guests can enjoy poetry events and readings around the city. Asheville Wordfest is the product of a conversation among poets Laura Hope-Gill, Glenis Redmond, Jeff Davis and James Nave in 2007. In 2008, Wordfest launched at UNCA. Director Hope-Gill expected “maybe forty people, but by the end of the weekend, more than ten times that many had come to the events.”

Wordfest is a local festival created to bring the Asheville community together while also connecting it with global voices. Each year, Wordfest explores a theme, using poetry as a form of citizen journalism and not just as a Fine Art. This year’s theme is Resilience as Wordfest fixes the wide lens of poetry on the many ways that poetry acts as an agent of absorbing and moving with change when life changes.

The 2011 festival begins on Tuesday May 3 with a screening of local film-maker Paul Bonesteel’s ten-year project The Day Sandburg Died. Sandburg’s poetry celebrates the resilience of the American people. “He was very much a singer of the American song, a song of work and collaboration,” says Hope-Gill. “Sandburg’s full voice lives on in Bonesteel’s film.” In keeping with Wordfest’s goal of connecting the regional to the global, the presence of Sandburg’s Flat Rock home, Connemara, plays a powerful role in the film, while the poet’s work in the Civil Rights movement, and his highly-regarded biography of Abraham Lincoln resonates with the whole of American, and world, history.  Screenings are at 7 p.m. on Tuesday and 1 p.m. on Saturday at the Fine Arts Theater at Biltmore Avenue.

Further exercising the local-national focus of Wordfest, on Wednesday May 4 at 6 p.m. Biltmore Farms hosts a Wordfest Reception at the Hilton Hotel in Biltmore Park followed by performances by Keith Flynn and the Holy Men and Quincy Troupe. Quincy Troupe penned his memoir of his close friendship with Miles Davis in Miles and Me and has published collections and anthologies (including an anthology of third world writing) that have won him international acclaim. Troupe and Flynn became friends when Troupe first came to Wordfest 2009 to read.  Hope-Gill says of Troupe, “He is the first poet I ever heard who used poetry to reach out as much as to reach in.”  After Quincy came here in 2008, with his wife Margaret Porter Troupe, he published a number of other Wordfest poets in the literary journal he edits. “That’s what Wordfest is about: bringing voices from outside, getting our local poets’ voices even deeper into the world,” says Hope-Gill.
Asheville-area poets Landon Godfrey, Holly Iglesias, Luke Hankins, Rose McLarney, Mendy Knott and Britt Kaufman all have new collections published. They will read at Asheville Wordfest.

Hope-Gill themed Wordfest 2011 “Resilience” upon seeing a trailer for the not-yet-released documentary Poetry of Resilience by Katja Esson at the AWP writers conference in 2009. The film will show at Fine Arts Theater on Thursday May 5 at 7 p.m.  The documentary features poets who have survived the Holocaust, Hiroshima, the Iranian Revolution, Rwandan genocide and exile from their homelands. Each poet has found healing and renewal in poetry.  “I wanted to shape a festival that explores this nexus of creativity and survival.” Film director Katja Esson will be present to introduce and discuss the film.

Readings by local and Asheville-based poets Britt Kauffman, Luke Hankins, Mendy Knott and Rose McLarney take place at 4 p.m. on Friday (Grateful Steps at 159 S. Lexington). The William Matthews Poetry Prize winners will read Saturday at the YMI Drugstore at Eagle and Market Streets at 4 p.m. Local (Landon Godfrey and Holly Iglesias), national and international poets (see schedule), take place at 7 p.m. at the YMI Cultural Center.

The visiting poets each speak from a place of Resilience, as well as hope.

Kwame Dawes, born in Ghana and raised in Jamaica, has published fifteen collections of poem hailed by Elizabeth Alexander as “majestic.” Also a playwright, author and producer, he penned the quintessential study of Bob Marley’s words in Bob Marley: Lyrical Genius. Dawes is Distinguished Poet in Residence, Louis Frye Scudder Professor of Liberal Arts and founder and executive director of the South Carolina Poetry Initiative. He is the director of the University of South Carolina Arts Institute and the programming director of the Calabash International Literary Festival, which takes place in Jamaica in May of each year.

Paul Guest of Tennessee was paralyzed in a bicycle accident at the age of twelve. His collections have gained acclaim for their “puckish cheek and utter sincerity” as he shares his journey. His debut collection of poems, The Resurrection of the Body and the Ruin of the World, explores the body and disability, familial history, and the author's childhood in the South, which was "oppressive as wool and cartoon tonnage" in one poem, and, in another, "home ... a wordless idea." The book was selected by poet and MacArthur Fellow Campbell McGrath as winner of the 2002 New Issues Poetry Prize. His second collection, Notes for My Body Double, Winner of the 2006 Prairie Schooner Prize in Poetry, explore the loss of love, the pleasures of language, and the fascinations of pop culture. His third collection, My Index of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge (Ecco Press 2008) toys with biography and truth—and our expectations of them.

Brian Turner is a soldier-poet whose debut book of poems, Here, Bullet, won the 2005 Beatrice Hawley Award, the New York Times “Editor's Choice” selection, the 2006 Pen Center USA "Best in the West" award, and the 2007 Poets Prize, among others. Turner served seven years in the US Army, to include one year as an infantry team leader in Iraq with the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. Prior to that, he was deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1999-2000 with the 10th Mountain Division.

Allison Adelle Hedge Coke, of Wendat, Huron, Metis, Tsalagi, Creek, French-Canadian and Scotch-Irish descent, has served as a panelist for United Nations‘ Indigenous Peoples Human Rights Forum and has published more than a dozen collections and anthologies drawing light to contemporary indigenous voices. Hedge Coke is a board member of the Mountain Multicultural Literary Society, the non-profit Hope-Gill is forming to house Wordfest and other multicultural events.

Linda Hogan, a Chickasaw poet, novelist, essayist, playwright, and activist, is widely considered to be one of the most influential and provocative Native American figures in the contemporary American literary landscape, and is an internationally recognized public speaker addressing environmental issues. Hogan has received a prestigious Lannan Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, a Guggenheim, and has received the Lifetime Achievement Award from both the Native Writers Circle of the Americas and Wordcraft Circle. She has also received the Mountains and Plains Lifetime Achievement award and has been inducted into the Chickasaw Hall of Fame. A Professor Emerita from the University of Colorado, she is now the Writer in Residence for The Chickasaw Nation and lives in Oklahoma.

The line-up of poets, says Hope-Gill, “aims to inspire all of us to apply our creativity to our own healing and to the healing of the world we live in. Creative imagination is medicine. It staves off despair and also offers a vision of what comes next. Without it, we stop dreaming.”

To bring the city's youth into this dreaming fold, Wordfest will feature young poets at all the readings and include a highlights reading from the WORDslam, a poetry slam that will take place during the months leading up to Wordfest in Buncombe County schools.

Wordfest’s new partnership with the YMI Multicultural Center enables Wordfest to take place in the nation’s first non-university, non-church-related community center for African Americans. For Hope-Gill, this means the festival takes place in one of the most powerful symbolic architectures in America. She says, “I have realized it isn’t enough to just have a multicultural poetry festival if it’s taking place in a part of the city with a history of hostility toward minorities.  There are deep scars, scars we all need to heal. Wordfest is about welcoming everybody. The YMI only has a history of safety and welcome to everybody. It is a true multicultural center, and I’m honored to be working with Ronald King and Dan Johnson on a number of new projects.”

For Hope-Gill, Resilience, poetry and multiculturalism are all closely related. “Multiculturalism is about so much more than surface demographics. It is a way of thinking from multiple perspectives at once and being able to hold a space for complexity. In poems, complexity thrives without threat to the integrity of each of the many ideas present. Poetry has always been a system for accommodating multiple systems of thought. That’s its gift. And for today’s world, where a dominant way of thinking no longer holds, it offers itself as a guide."

“In order to be resilient, we have to be able to accommodate the full complexity of life. This is what Wordfest 2011 is about.”

Wordfest 2011 features a family event that aims to share the role nature and imagination play in developing resilience in children and adults alike, IMAGINATURE. This event features with local children’s authors Cindy Bowen, Lisa Alcorn, Hal Mahan and puppeteer Hobey Ford on Saturday morning. (Check website for location.) Late night events include a reading by The Rooftop Poets atop the Battery Park Hotel on Friday at 10 p.m. and The Mountain Xpress Poetry Bash on Saturday night. 
Visit the website at (.org will still reach the site, for people who are used to using that url) for more information. Asheville Wordfest is made possible by a grant from the NC Arts Council and local support.
Info: or through the website


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