It may be in a new location, but the seventh annual Taos Poetry Festival: Conversing in Verse is back with some of the finest purveyors of performance poetry on the planet.
The community-based arts program featuring a full schedule of poetry readings, performances, conversations, events and workshops will take place today through Saturday (June 5-7) at Taos Mesa Brewing, 20 ABC Mesa Road, off U.S. 64 west. The only event not at that location is the final session which will take place at Moby Dickens Bookshop, 124 Bent. St. in Taos.
Original founder, David Behrstock, along with his family, moved back to New England two years ago and he asked Taos poet and emcee James Navé to take over the directorship last year. Navé has been producing events in Taos since 1995 and hosted his first Poetry Slam in Taos at the Taos Poetry Circus in 1996.
Of his new role as director, Navé said, “Thanks to much help from many corners of the Taos community, directing the festival is a pleasure and a joy. Two years ago, one of the student poets at the festival gave me a bumper sticker which said, Poetry Is Necessary. I believe that’s true, that’s why I’m happy to help.”
The theme for this year’s festival is “From Page to Stage: Conversing in Verse with Imagination and Form.” Professional poets participating in the event include Rich Boucher, Nickole Brown, Christy Ferrato, local poet Savannah Rodríguez, Damien Flores, Jessica Jacobs, Albuquerque Poet Laureate Jessica Helen Lopez and Suzi Q. Smith.
Supporting young poets is an essential part of The Taos Poetry Festival, so all events are free for anyone age 18 and under. Each year, the festival includes a series of events for youth only, where they are given an opportunity to be mentored by professional poets.
“Like with all art forms, mature poets have a responsibility to reach out to the younger poets,” Navé said. “It’s essential to our craft, it’s important for our country, and it is necessary for our future. These young poets have something to say and I can think of a million good reasons why we should give them a platform to say it from, loud and clear.”
This year’s festival will kick off today (June 5) at 1 p.m., with youth poets from local and regional schools. The professional poets will mentor youth poets in writing and performance workshops, individual creative conversations, and open readings. At 7 p.m., youth poets will present their grand finale with a youth poetry slam.
The team poetry slam will be replaced with individual poetry slams so that student poets, beginning or advanced, who are not on poetry slam teams have a chance to enter the competition. The winner of the Youth Slam will compete in the Friday night poetry slam.
Friday morning will begin with a poetry salon where participants will discuss how imagination and form relate to poetry, politics, activism, and witness. After lunch, there will be a poetry writing workshop taught by Lopez and Smith that will expand on the ideas considered in the salon.
According to their bios, Lopez is a nationally recognized award-winning slam poet and holds the title of 2012 and 2014 Women of the World city of Albuquerque champion — while Smith is said to be among the highest-ranked and most well-known performing poets in the country; she has been a champion at the Taos Poetry Festival three times since 2009. Navé and Ferrato will also be in attendance at the workshop. Navé said, “It’s difficult to teach someone how to write; it’s much easier to support each other in a mentor situation that encourages the writing process to unfold. That’s what we plan to do during our workshops.”
The Poet’s Living Room, which is open for any poets interested in reading, will begin at 4 p.m. on Friday. Then, at 7 p.m., the evening activities will begin with the “Page to Stage” poets, which include Ferrato, Brown, Jacobs and Rodríguez. Ferrato will be the featured poet. Ferrato’s bio says that her work has been published in several literary journals and has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes. She has performed all over the country and writes poetry about her family history in the southwest, politics, and how poetry informs legacy.
Ferrato said we can expect, “a folksy narrative-driven performance that explores my experiences as a young girl growing up in a military family in Albuquerque. I’ll be performing several poems from my new book, ‘Drift.’ My work really blurs the lines between conversation and verse, and I will be walking the audience through a poetic narrative that weaves in and out of conversation and will challenge the audience to know where the conversation stops and the poetry begins.”
The annual Slam Poetry Invitational Competition will follow the reading. Stage poets will compete for the $1,000 prize. The after party will start at 10 p.m. with music and socializing.
Having all of today’s and Friday’s events in one location is new to the Taos Poetry Festival. “We are experimenting with the one location idea,” Navé said, “Change in location allows us to experiment with various ways of doing things. Taos Mesa Brewing has so much to offer, the location offers room to expand, the stage is professional, and the setting is inspirational. Moreover, since we are in one location, we will be able to create a more intensive deeper workshop experience for the students. They will have the chance to interact all day with poets who have been around the block more than once.”
On Saturday, from 1-4 p.m., the festival will come to a close at Moby Dickens Bookshop with readings, spontaneous conversations, and poetic fellowship.
“This poetry festival is unique because we are creating an organic experience for the poets that allows them to influence the event as it goes along. We are following a fluid schedule. We also have room to revise as we go, plus even pull people into the show if they show up at the door with their book in hand. In jazz, musicians create unusual forms out of structure. Like with jazz, conversing in verse allows us to go in directions no one could anticipate,” Navé said of the event.
Admission is $8 to $15, depending on event, free to students (see sidebar).
For for more information, call (919) 949-2113, email Navé@JamesNavé.com or visit TaosPoetry.com.