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Promoting the art of poetry: Nevada County Arts Council to host 5th Sierra Poetry Festival

Hollie Grimaldi Flores
Special to the Sierra Sun
Tanaya Winders
Aimee Nezhukumatathil
Anthony Cody
Lee Herick
Maw Shein Win
Maxima Kahn
Patricia Spears Jones
Sharon Olds
Siaara Freeman

In celebration of National Poetry Month, Nevada County Arts Council proudly hosts the 5th Sierra Poetry Festival April 10 and 11 online via Zoom and through social media. Founding member and President of the Nevada County Arts Council Board of Directors, Jon Blinder, said the festival was created as a signature event, unique to this area.

“Poetry is not for everyone, but it’s an art form that has received more attention and interest than we ever expected that we might know. We went forward with this to try to create a signature event for our Arts Council locally, but also to promote the art of poetry. We have so many fabulous local people. We felt we could make it high profile.”

Those people include renowned author Gary Snyder and Nevada County’s first poet laureate Molly Fisk.



KNOW & GO

WHO: Nevada County Arts Council

WHAT: 5th Sierra Poetry Festival

WHEN: April 10 and 11, with many pop-up events leading up to the weekend event

WHERE: Online via Zoom, register at http://www.sierrapoetryfestival.org

MORE INFO: Visit http://www.sierrapoetryfestival.org for more info, a list of speakers and events

Blinder continued, “Poetry was an area that was not being served in an organized way and it was an area the Arts Council could promote. We didn’t want to do performance art, where other organizations have specialties in that from 25-45 years, so we picked an area, poetry, which was not being utilized and not being done by anybody (locally). We felt it was totally appropriate to bring it. Our literary arts committee and stakeholders are very active and a big part of what we do at the Arts Council.”

The festival had to pivot quickly last year to move from an in-person to an online event. Blinder said, “Last year we scrambled at the very last minute. We had all these plans set to go and had to change things on a dime. Eliza Tudor and our literary arts committee did an amazing job of creating an online experience out of nothing.”



While the first three years of the event averaged between 150 to 200 tickets sold, along with performers and guests attending the festival, moving the event online had some unexpected benefits.

“All of a sudden we had something like 10,000 people signing up for the event (which was offered for the first time at no cost),” explained Blinder. “The exposure was extraordinary. Zoom has expanded our collective universe.”

The New York Times picked the Sierra Poetry Festival out as one of three online poetry festivals of note.

“That is the kind of thing that puts Nevada County as well as the Nevada County Arts Council on the map,” said Blinder.

He added, “It feels really incredible to be able to attract that number of people, world-wide, to be able to experience our festival. We’ve had poet laureates. We’ve had Pulitzer Prize winners. We’ve had a really illustrious cast of characters and poets to come be with us. We had high school and middle school poets, who get to read their poetry for the world. It’s pretty cool.”

Poets from all over the world will be expressing their take on the theme, “Re-membering,” including several Canadian poets. The Keynote Speaker is Tanaya Winders who comes from intertribal lineage and is co-founder of as/Us: A Space for Women of the World. Other speakers include co-editor of “Orange Country: A Literary Field Guides,” Lisa Alvarez; and a host of Nevada County poets including Kirsten Casey; and Nevada City Rancheria Nisenan Tribe spokesperson Shelly Covert.

Literary and Festival Committee Chairperson JoAnn Marie said, “Poetry is a valued literary format, and we have a lot of poets in this area and a lot of general interest. We decided a festival celebrating said poetry would be an ideal situation and it has just grown by leaps and bounds.”

She said while the festival takes place April 10 and 11, there are also a number of pop up events scheduled including “I’m Not a Poet But…” an invitation to send poems that will be posted to the festival Facebook page, a reading from five Nevada County female poets on April 7, a poetry workshop April 8 with Susan Wooldridge and on April 14 a range of featured poets will read their work from “California Fire & Water: A Climate Crisis Anthology.” Readers will include current Nevada County Poet Laureate Chris Olander; Charter Nevada County Poet Laureate Molly Fisk; Maxima Kahn; Kirsten Casey; and many others.

At a previous event, charter Nevada County Poet Laureate Molly Fisk reads from “California Fire & Water: A Climate Crisis Anthology.”
Provided photo

By holding the festival online, Marie said, it’s expanded the possibilities for poets and viewers alike.

“It’s been a real challenge putting this on remotely,” said Marie. “We did it for the first time last year and it turned out to be a real plus. We had an international audience. We had people from all over the world tuning in and that just thrills me to death. Along with the writeup from the New York Times, that really put us on the map.”

Pre-registration is required at sierrapoetryfestival.org. The two-part process is free but necessary for attending.

“The reason we choose April is because it is California Arts, Culture & Creativity Month and it brings attention to the fact that we are also one of two California Cultural Districts (Nevada City, Grass Valley and Truckee), and it’s National Poetry month, so all of those frames what we do,” Blinder said.

“It’s a real focus for us on some of the things we have been trying to do for the community for a long, long time and very recently, have been very successful in drawing attention to the arts and to the Nevada County Arts Council in particular and we are just going to keep on going.” Blinder went on to give Festival and Executive Director Eliza Tudor and the board of directors’ limitless kudos.

Blinder said bringing the festival to the world for free is due in part to longtime supporters including Briar Patch Food Co-op, The Entrekin Foundation, The Robertson Family Foundation, Coldwell Banker Commercial Real Estate and Volz Brothers, among others.

For more information, to become a member or to find out more about the festival go to Sierra poetryfestival.org or nevadacountyarts.org.

Hollie Grimaldi Flores is a Nevada County resident and freelance writer for hire, as well as a podcaster at HollieGrams. You can hear her episodes at https://www.buzzsprout.com/1332253. She can be reached at holliesallwrite@ gmail.com.


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