Firing up the visual
Belfast — It’s a year of redefinition for the Belfast Poetry Festival, which turns eight in 2012. Produced by a revitalized festival steering committee and Belfast Poet Laureate Jacob Fricke, this year’s fest is both condensed and expanded in approach.
“It’s an ambitious program, all new for us — we’re really testing the possibilities,” Fricke said.
While previous years have seen the festival begin with a Friday night reading and continue with a spread-out, geographically and temporally, Saturday including workshops, the downtown Art & Poetry Gallery Walk and a concluding gathering, the 2012 Belfast Poetry Festival will concentrate its collaborative energies into several late afternoon/early evening hours Saturday, Oct. 20 at the University of Maine’s Hutchinson Center, 80 Belmont Ave./Route 3.
“In some ways, it’s an inversion of years past where people reacted to the work and then socialized at the end,” said Fricke.
Indeed, the festival will begin at 4 p.m. with what is likely to be a very lively Mix & Mingle of food, drink, strolling through the center’s halls, which are hung with some of the poet/artist teams’ work all month, meeting the artists and poets and raising questions about what is seen and expected. At 5 p.m., the festival crowd will move into the large conference room for a fast-paced multimedia program of presentations dubbed “A Poem to Behold.”
The program, utilizing three screens hung across the back wall of the large room, takes its cue from the popular PechaKucha approach of recent years. In “A Poem to Behold,” a total of 12 collaborative teams of poets and artists will get six minutes each to make their festival mark. The term “team” is somewhat redefined this year as well, as there are three that consist of a single person — poet/artists Margaret Weston, president of Maine Media Workshops + College; Alicia Fisher, whose recent book “Tenants” has been creating a stir around the state; and Carol W. Bachofner, named the Rockland Poet Laureate in April.
Teamwork has been a part of the festival for years, featured in the afternoon Art & Poetry Gallery Walk.
“The downtown art walk was a well-worn path and we will return to that. But we wanted to try to open things up. This year’s event is rather ambitious,” said Fricke, sounding both excited and perhaps a little nervous.
The three-screens-of-multimedia approach was inspired not just by PechaKucha but also by the smaller-scale presentations that have proved very popular at Belfast Free Library, a longtime sponsor and participant of the annual festival. Fricke credits the library’s Brenda Harrington, a member of the festival steering committee, with helping work out the technical logistics.
“It’s a gigantic version of the same principal,” Fricke said.
Another change to festival practice this year is how the collaborative pairings were created. In the past, the committee has tapped artists and poets and paired them. This year, there was an open call, with festival co-sponsor Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance helping get out the word. Fricke said there was a healthy response, from all around the state — southern Maine, Farmington, Downeast and the Midcoast — and couple of unexpected consequences.
“The first is that people came to the table with well-developed and interesting ideas for collaborative projects,” he said, offering Michael Brown and Valerie Lawson’s desire to make poetry that is visual as an example; their “The Great Bear”/”Brown Bear” is the signature image for the 2012 fest.
“The other unexpected benefit was a very enthusiastic energy to dive into the collaborative art for the day,” he said.
Prospective attendees are showing enthusiasm for this year’s rejiggered approach, as well.
“It’s been interesting and gratifying; a number of people have said they are planning to attend for the first time,” said Fricke.
Given the nature of the “A Poem to Behold” presentation format, attendees should not be surprised to find this year’s festival has theatrical flair. Some of the poets come out of the slam poetry movement, and “there are a number of really great readers,” said Fricke.
The program will open with poets and artists of the Poet Rising Collective, performance poets, artists and musicians based in Portland who offer poetry and safe-space community workshops, as well as performance collaborations; a weekly avant garde poetry open mic with musical accompaniment; and weekly Healing Poetry workshops. A few of them have the idea of a visual presentation fast enough to approximate video projection, said Fricke.
“A Poem to Behold” will continue with presentations by poet Carolyn Gelland with artist Julieanne Reed; poet/artist Carol W. Bachofner; poet Jefferson Navicky with artist Carrie Scanga; poet/artist Margaret Weston; and poet/artist Alicia Fisher. After an intermission, “A Poem to Behold” will feature poet Lee Sharkey with artist Joan Braun; poet Elizabeth Garber, a former Belfast Poet Laureate, with artist Maryjean Vieno Crowe; poet Rachel Contreni Flynn with artist Lucy Ellen Smith; poets/artists Kathryn Robyn and Barbaria Maria; poets/artists Valerie Lawson and Michael Brown; and poet Elizabeth Tibbetts with artist Robert Shetterly.
Fricke used the word “ambitious” several times when discussing “A Poem to Behold,” and said both the festival’s steering committee, which also includes Ellen Goldsmith, Karin Spitfire, Tom Maycock and Arielle Greenberg; and presenters really are rising to the challenge. He expects the attendees will too, opening up to new ways of celebrating poetry in Belfast.
“Free food and drink help too,” he said.
All aspects of the 2012 Belfast Poetry Festival are free, open to the public and have no reservations. For more information, including bios of the presenters, visit belfastpoetry.com.
Courier Publications’ A&E Editor Dagney C. Ernest can be reached at (207) 594-4401, ext. 115 or firstname.lastname@example.org.