Arts and Entertainment

Brave New Words, a brand new poetry festival comes to Greenbank Farm

A.K.
A.K. 'Mimi' Allin is a performance poet who will create an installation at Brave New Words poetry festival at Greenbank Farm Saturday, April 18.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Mimi Allin

Be brave. Strike new territory. And don’t forget to write it all down.

It sounds like the modus operandi for a daring explorer.

But it could also describe the motto of Brave New Words, the brand-spanking-new poetry festival at Greenbank Farm that makes its debut Saturday, April 18.

Victory Lee Schouten, a poet herself, is the mastermind behind it all, charting out festival territory against all economic odds and pulling together, by hook or by crook, a one-day event to celebrate the art of stringing words.

The island’s historic Greenbank Farm is the perfect setting for such sensorial entertainment.

“Poetry was, and still is, a life raft for me, and it means a lot to me to serve poetry in return by bringing it, in accessible forms, to a wide range of people,” Schouten said.

Schouten and her noble crew of volunteers, bolstered by the generous support of several island sponsors and the savvy business sense of Moonraker Books (which will create the festival bookstore), have pulled out all the stops to make this a festival to remember and one for perpetuity.

Something for everyone

Brave New Words is an invitation to celebrate life, poetry and community while sustaining the visibility of poetry and keeping it decidedly Whidbeyesque.

In other words, here is a poetry festival for everyone: an unpretentious, down-on-the-farm day of art, fun and friends.

“We will come together on April 18 to celebrate language and its power to move and connect us,” Schouten said.

“Everyone is welcome. Poetry sometimes feels like a closed club to people unfamiliar with it. It is our goal to be inclusive, generous and welcoming to all,” she said.

Features of the event are award-winning local, regional and national poets, youth poets from the community, multilingual poetry, an inspirational workshop, a hosted open mic — come all ye impetuous virtuosic bravehearts — poetry/art installations, music and the creature comforts and the yielding beauty of the farm.

Youthful contigent

Organizers see the youth component of the festival as an important feature that encourages young people toward writing and performance and as future festival supporters.

In that regard, the role of schools, teachers and students is invaluable to the success of Brave New Words.

Faith Wilder is charged with bringing the youth portion of the event together.

“One of our hopes for the Brave New Words festival is that it will sustain as a community-based event,” Wilder said.

“The energy and response of young people participating with their voices encourages me that the spoken word will continue to be part of the rich fabric of art on Whidbey.”

Some of the youth components include the “Youth Voice” poetry performance; “Poetry Doors,” a space for young poets to print poems that will be displayed at the festival; several pre-festival workshops; “Poetry Explosion,” when guest poets connect with young poets to help them deepen their work; and the offer of free admission to students and teachers who take an active part in the youth component of the festival.

Literary crowd pleasers

Although Brave New Words seeks to include the young, the old and the simply- curious-about-poetry, expert poetry buffs will be equally intrigued.

The roster of poets who will be performing that Saturday is as inspired and diverse as any.

Headlining the mainstage are Suheir Hammad and Colleen J. McElroy.

Poet, author, playwright and political activist, Hammad was born in Amman, Jordan to Palestinian refugee parents and at age five immigrated with her family to Brooklyn, N.Y.

Her adolescent years were greatly influenced by Brooklyn’s vibrant hip-hop scene as well as the stories her parents and grandparents told of their lives.

From these disparate influences, Hammad is able to weave into her work a common narrative of dispossession, not only in her capacity as an immigrant, a Palestinian and a Muslim, but as a woman and a poet.

When hip-hop entrepreneur Russell Simmons came across her piece “First Writing Since,” describing her reaction to the Sept. 11 attacks, he offered her a part in his show.

Hammad may be the first Palestinian-American to make it big in the performance poetry scene as she went on to become one of the stars of Simmons’ Tony Award-winning “Def Poetry Jam” on Broadway which later appeared on HBO.

What followed was a two-year international tour reciting her original works.

Hammad recently had a leading role in Annemarie Jacir’s film “Salt of This Sea,” which will appear in the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival, which starts this month in New York City.

A 2005 Hedgebrook alum, she has been published in numerous periodicals and anthologies and has also appeared at universities and prisons throughout the United States.

Her latest book of poetry, “Zaatar Diva” from Cypher Books, is available in bookstores, including the Brave New Words Festival Bookstore.

McElroy, too, is influenced by her ethnicity and her travels to distant places.

She lives in Seattle, where she is a professor emeritus at the University of Washington.

In addition to serving as editor-in-chief of the Seattle Review from 1995-2006, McElroy’s most recent collection of poems, “Sleeping with the Moon,” received a 2008 PEN/Oakland National Literary Award.

Her latest collections of creative non-fiction include: “A Long Way From St. Louie” (travel memoirs), and “Over the Lip of the World: Among the Storytellers of Madagascar,” a finalist in the 2000 PEN USA Research-based Creative Nonfiction category.

By bringing such notable poets to the same festival where both young up-and-coming poets may perform for the first time and listeners might hear something new and tranformative, Schouten is hopeful of its affect.

To send her point home, Schouten quoted poet Naomi Shihab Nye: “‘Poetry is an intimate conversation with the world.’ During challenging times, we need our poets more than ever to speak to and nourish our souls.”

Other poets performing at Brave New Words include A.K. “Mimi” Allin, Matt Gano, David Ossman, Judith Walcutt, Preston Ossman, Molly Cook, Swil Kanim, Arianne Bergman, Terry Martin, Kim-An Lieberman, Whidbey Youth Poets, Michael Daley, John Burgess, Tim McNulty, JT Stewart, Felicia Gonzalez, Jourdan Keith, Pesha Gertler, Stephen Roxborough, Lorraine Healy and Oleh Lysiak.

Brave New Words would not be possible without the support of its sponsors, which include the Whidbey Island Arts Council, Rob Schouten Gallery, Elizabeth George Foundation, Hedgebrook, Lindsay Communications and Walking Woman Productions.

Brave New Words is 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, April 18.

A free poetry workshop with Matt Gano and Jourdan Keith is at 2:30 to 4 p.m. Friday, April 17 at Langley Town Hall meeting room.

All-day tickets for the festival are $15 for adults, $5 for students.

Tickets will be on sale at the gate starting at 8:30 a.m. Visit www.bravenewwords.org for more info.

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