The year was 1979. A lone high school student walked the halls of her school muttering to herself. Nervous and clammy, she repeated the same words over and over: I must go down to the seas again ... . She was suffering from Sea Fever, induced by a man named Mr. Holland.
Mr. Holland was my ninth-grade English teacher, and Sea Fever, by John Masefield, was a poem I was required to recite in front of the class. Mr. Holland required all of his students to memorize a poem each week. Back then, I disliked that homework. But today, during National Poetry Month, I remember Mr. Holland fondly. He instilled in me an appreciation for poetry: It paints a picture of life with words.
Sometimes, poetry and paint come together, as they do in the 23rd annual Tucson Poetry Festival, held from Friday, April 8, through Sunday, April 10. The theme of poetry and painting is the third in a series of festivals combining poetry with other art forms such as film (in 2003) and music (in 2004). For a full schedule of events, visit tucsonpoetryfestival.org or call 620-2045.
Teresa Driver, the executive director of the festival, says poetry and painting are valuable forms of expression. "They speak to the soul of society. ... We learn about ourselves on a deeper level by seeing what speaks to us in these words and pigments," she says.
Some of the festival's guests are both poets and visual artists: Anita Endrezze is a Native America poet and painter, with poems translated into seven languages and paintings exhibited in England, Sweden, Denmark and the United States. Willa Schneberg is a poet and clay sculptor, with poems in the American Poetry Review and other publications. Gloria Vando is a poet and artist and founder of Helicon Nine Editions literary press.
Other guests have focused on the written word: Charles Alexander is a poet and director of Tucson's Chax Press. Lilvia Soto is a poet with publications on Latino and Latin American literature appearing in Mexico, Chile, Venezuela, Spain and the United States. Van Brock has published eight collections of poetry and is the founder of Anhinga Press and International Quarterly. Gary Mex Glazner is a poet and editor of the anthology Poetry Slam: The Competitive Art of Performance Poetry. Sam Hamill is the author of 14 volumes of original poetry, founding editor of Copper Canyon Press and recipient of the Washington Poets Association Lifetime Achievement Award for poetry. Hamill also founded the Poets Against the War movement and has compiled a large anthology of anti-war poetry.
"We invite poets who reflect the diverse and eclectic voices of contemporary poetry," says Driver. "We try not to have 10 poets who are all the same. We strive for a gender and ethnicity balance. The festival needs to reflect the community and not just one person's voice of what poetry is."
Driver says the festival has had more than 150 visiting poets and is the longest-running literary-arts event of its kind in the Southwest. "We began in 1981 with the mission of celebrating and expanding the audience for contemporary poetry," she says.
This year's festival features a variety of events including workshops, a poetry slam, a round-table discussion and a high school bilingual poetry contest.
Charles Alexander leads a two-hour workshop at 1 p.m. Sunday, April 10, entitled "Poems on Paint; Paint on Metal." (Workshop price is $15.) Driver says the workshop begins at the Tucson Museum of Art, where students will view the Paint on Metal exhibition. Afterward, students will create a new work based on the TMA exhibition.
For those looking for a fast-paced event, Gary Mex Glazner's Poetry Paint Ball Slam takes place at 7 p.m. Sunday, April 10, at The Screening Room, 127 E. Congress St. Tickets are $5. "The slam appeals more to a younger generation. It emerged out of hip-hop poetry and is more performance poetry," says Driver.
Glazner has his own spin and writes that it is an event "where words replace paint and flying spit replaces splattering pigments, where the thwap of the ball becomes the twang of rhyme, where the rhythm of the paint gun becomes the don't stop of hip hop."
Earlier on Sunday, at 1 p.m., the public is welcome to hear the winners of the Tenth Annual Bilingual High School Poetry contest recite their poems. This free event will be held at Bookman's, 1930 E. Grant Road.
"The free contest is open to all high school students in the city of Tucson and the surrounding region," says Driver. "We get 120 to 150 entries. High school students submit poems in English or Spanish. For a lot of (the winners), it's the first opportunity for them to read in public. They receive gift certificates to local bookstores," she says.
But perhaps the best gifts at the poetry festival are the opportunities it provides. "It's an opportunity for people to come and create new work, enjoy work of established poets and revel in the sense of community with other artists," Driver says.