The first warm weather of spring provided the perfect ambience for the first Sarah Lawrence Poetry Festival. Over the course of a mid-April weekend, members of the Sarah Lawrence and greater Westchester communities scampered between Titsworth and the Library Pillow Room to hear readings by favorite writers and to discover new voices.
Readings showcased emerging SLC student writers alongside established poets such as Ellen Bryant Voigt, Edward Hirsch, Tony Hoagland and James Tate. The two-day festival was a major undertaking in organization: It included 14 readings in concurrent sessions, two featured readings, a panel discussion and an open-mike session, as well as fundraising, publicity and reviewing portfolios of student readers.
Produced entirely by Sarah Lawrence students, the event was envisioned and spearheaded by Liz Irmiter MFA ’04. Working with classmate Alexandra Grace, undergraduates Kit Frick ’04 and Sarah Janczak ’04 and faculty advisers Kurt Brown and Jeffrey McDaniel ’90, Irmiter selected writers who represent different poetic voices ranging from free verse and New Formalism, to experimental and spoken word. The organizers, said Irmiter, “believe that poetry can appeal to everyone. The most important thing about poetry today is that there are so many voices, so many writers taking risks, whether in a new use of a traditional form or in the expression of language itself.”
The diversity of poetic styles and aesthetics was apparent throughout the event. A panel discussion, “On the Art of Revision,” comprised guest poets Bryant Voigt, Charles Martin and Tate, and faculty poets Laure-Anne Bosselaar, Vijay Seshadri and Mark Wunderlich, presented the broad spectrum of revision techniques.
And it was during this discussion that another theme emerged, when Tate insisted, “I never give up on a poem. … I’d rather see it through till the end than give up on it.” Following her reading, poet Kim Addonizio echoed Tate’s emphasis on tenacity, encouraging young writers to “persist, persist, persist” in the study of their craft. As the festival came to an end, it was clear that the persistence of Irmiter and her committee had inspired the Sarah Lawrence community, as students left the final reading determined to continue the celebration of poetry the following year.
—Christa Setteducati MFA ’05