Bringing Science and Art Together in One Conversation
Last summer I went to Scotland. I have been corresponding with members of the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics for about seven years, and when I saw they were hosting a conference entitled Expressing the Earth, I submitted a proposal and flew over on the Solstice. Due to some silly travel thinking, I spent my first night in the Inner Hebrides in someone’s potting shed, and the rest of the trip went more smoothly. Geopoetics is world-making, connecting with poiesis (a gathering together) rather than analysis (a breaking apart). At the conference I listened to ethnographers and geologists, composers and ocean scientists speak of their work in terms that unify the disciplines. This is how this Wordfest was made. I am working with Dr. Keith McDade, coordinator of the Sustainability Studies M.S. Program at Lenoir-Rhyne (where I coordinate the M.A. in Writing) to build a conversation among our scientists and our poets and storytellers, drawing us together in the shadow of the text that binds us, the earth. So it is with great delight that I welcome the Executive Director of the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics, Norman Bissell, and Spiritual Activist and Human Ecologist, Alastair McIntosh to Asheville Wordfest in this continued conversation.
May we all experience this weekend as a unifying, defragmenting illumination. May we together discover new ground.
Thank you for being here.
The festival’s history:
Asheville Wordfest began with a wish to reawaken the Asheville Poetry Scene. I was part of that madness that filled The Green Door on Friday and Saturday nights back when the city had only one espresso machine. I started the women’s reading, Cafe of Our Own, at Malaprops in 1992, a reading that I believe went on to become the longest running reading series in Asheville. It started out with just one person in the audience, a man too drunk to leave. I read him a poem. That was the beginning of my life as producer of poetry events. Within months it was a standing-room only phenomenon. The Asheville Poetry Slam was another part of our heyday, packing people into The Green Door and even filling the alley. Asheville and Poetry were synonyms. We’re back in that swing again. Wordfest wasn’t the only force; many jumped in to develop spaces for poems. It is gratifying to see poetry alive and well again in town.
Asheville Wordfest turns ten this year, going from the date of its first stirrings. Asheville Wordfest started in 2007. I launched the festival with funding from NCArts and North Carolina Humanities Council, both of which have provided generous and much-needed support through the first decade. Devoted at the outset to promoting community conversation, Wordfest has presented poets from more than 30 cultural contexts, global and regional. Galway Kinnell, LeAnne Howe, Allison Adele Hedge Coke, Li-Young Lee, Quincy Troupe, Valzhyna Mort, Cornelius Eady, Raul Zurita, Ross Gay, Elizabeth Bradfield, Frank X Walker, and David Whyte, along with many others, have spoken their work. You can view some of these here: Asheville Wordfest on Vimeo, and here’s a sampling of what you’ll find.
I was raised on poetry. With a grandmother who quoted the “Salutation to the Dawn” from the Rig Veda just to enrich a moment, with a grandfather who taught English in high schools on the Ontario, Canada, prairie, and with a mother for whom beautiful music and kindness are the core of being, as well as a father who was a beloved physician, creating a poetry festival for community development, healing, and expression answers all my calls. This is Asheville Wordfest’s tenth year. Not its tenth festival, because the first year was spent dreaming and planning and last year was spent observing whether the festival was the right path for me to spend my steps, but it is ten years old as an idea brought into being with the help and wish of many.
Truthfully, I am in awe of what it has become. I launched it with the mission of “multiculturalism at the mic.” I wanted to learn how a poetry festival can embody bell hooks’ call for Representation, something I saw (and see) much too little of in literary events. Active engagement is the key to building a festival where the actual demographic of a city appears on the poster. Without this engagement, it is just another subtly (and not so subtly) racist and exclusionary and cruel event. Multiculturalism isn’t a concept. It is a consciousness which leads a person to see events as complete or not complete based on who is participating. Participation defines invitation. Ten years of devotion and community-building have brought us the Wordfest we see here on the homepage. It is not completely complete, and more poets might join, yet look at the faces for what they tell us about our community. The world is everywhere. There is no denying that. And I am delighted that together we will hear the world at Asheville Wordfest 2017.
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