Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The First Annual Belfast Poetry Festival, October 7, 8 & 9, 2005

by Sheila Holtz

The First Annual Belfast Poetry Festival got off to a rousing start Friday Night, October 7, at the Hutchinson Center. Of special note to Bern Porter aficionados was the display of a selection of artworks from the Bern Porter International Memorial Mail Art Show, which remained hanging at The Hutchinson Center for the duration of the three-day event.

After many thanks and self-congratulatory remarks (well-deserved!) by the organizers (“Festivo” and its steering committee) we heard poems by three readers. The first was Maine’s poet laureate, Baron Wormser. He read from older and newer works, including his most recent book, Carthage. “Carthage” is, as he said, “a fictional character, a president of the United States.” It is a timely, scathingly funny work and was very well received.

The second reader, Matthew Thorburn, selected as the winner of “The Festivo Prize,” read his winning poem, “Loneliness in Jersey City,” named after the Wallace Stephens poem of the same title.

The third and final featured reader was 1990 Pulitzer prize winner, the Yugoslavian poet, Charles Simic. As I told a friend later, “He is really good … in a bleak, existential way.” Don’t get me wrong, I love bleak existential poets. In fact, the bleaker, the better. And Europeans, in my opinion, have mastered the art of bleakness in a way that Americans never will. Yet, along with that, his poems expressed tenderness and an appreciation of the broad range of human experience that only such mature and worldly writers can convey.

Saturday, the Festival continued during the day with a workshop, and numerous other readers in the Hutchinson Center auditorium, as well as on-going displays featuring local Maine publishers, booksellers and literary organizations. I myself missed these events, but I did have the good fortune to catch the Open Mic and featured poet Robert Duffy that evening at the “Dreamland” cinema in the downtown Colonial Theatre. This event also included a delightful and heartfelt rendering of a selection from Allen Ginsberg’s monumental ouvre, HOWL, presented by Weslea Sidon. Another highlight was Mayor Mike Hurley’s naming of Belfast’s new “Poet Laureate,” Elizabeth Garber. She succeeds Bob Ryan in that position, and also, of course, succeeds Belfast’s first poet laureate— a position instituted by executive proclamation … and under much pressure from the recipient—Bern Porter!

Sunday afternoon, the three-day event culminated with a “Poetry Walk.” Ten downtown galleries hosted readings wherein twenty selected poets, collaborated thematically with twenty selected visual artists. Both the pictures and the words were displayed on the walls, and the poets read to packed rooms, despite three days of almost continual downpour! I was impressed by the turnout! I had the opportunity to attend three of the Poetry Walk events, all excellent and inspiring.

The First Annual Belfast Poetry Festival—whatta DO! As Bern always used to say, “You’re in Belfast now, Dear! Nothing but big time operations!!”