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Poetry Festival draws leading regional voices

Posted on October 6th, 2022 By:

Poets and poetry lovers, rejoice. The Greater Gig Harbor Poetry Festival returns Sunday, Oct. 9, at Ocean5.

This year’s gathering features workshops led by leading regional poets, small group poetry-writing sessions and open mic poetry readings.

Tacoma publisher and poet Christina Vega is the host for this second annual event. Vega is a Queer Chicana poet from New Mexico and a U.S. Army veteran who served six years as a Chinese-Mandarin linguist after earning a degree in anthropology.

Vega is publisher at Blue Cactus Press, a hybrid publishing house that describes its mission as to “center Queer and BIPOC voices in our authorship, staff, and collaborations.”

Christine Vega will serve as host of the Greater Gig Harbor Poetry Festival on Sunday, Oct. 9.

Keynote speaker Nicole McCarthy is an experimental writer, poet and artist with a master of fine arts degree in creative writing and poetics from the University of Washington-Bothell.

According to festival organizer Larry Fowler, McCarthy likes to combine poetry and other mediums such as music and art. She was the managing editor for “The James Franco Review,” an online literary journal that promotes visibility for underrepresented writers & topics.

Nicole McCarthy will be the keynote speaker at the Greater Gig Harbor Poetry Festival on Sunday, Oct. 9.

Workshop leader Lydia K. Valentine is Tacoma’s Poet Laureate. She’s a playwright, poet, director and dramaturge editor and a faculty member of NW Indian College and Seattle Girls’ School. But, she says, her proudest accomplishment “… is being a mom to two creative, intelligent and caring individuals and activists.”

As part of the event, participants will form small groups and create poems to share in the open mic session.

The festival’s roots

The Poetry Festival has its roots in a series of readings presented by a four-woman group of poetry lovers who founded the Gig Harbor Poetry Collective in 2020.

The women had been regular attendees at a twice-yearly poetry series presented for many years by the Friends of the Gig Harbor Library.

When the library’s poetry series was discontinued, the women felt that Gig Harbor still needed poetry – and that it was up to them to make something poetic happen.

With a grant from the city’s arts commission, they scheduled a series of Sunday afternoon readings by well-known Northwest poets. They had all the pieces in place for the in-person events when the pandemic shut down life as we knew it.

The women switched to online readings. When it came time to resume the series in 2021, personal issues prevented them from organizing another series.

Last year’s festival

Enter local author Fowler, himself poetry-lover and sometime poet. Fowler is best known for his historical novels about Abraham Lincoln, but, he said, he writes poetry “to hone my skills at creating imagery.”

On short notice, Fowler was able to put together an event that included readings by nearly a dozen local poets, plus a “community poem-writing session” last November.

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“If you think of your favorite songs, or the greatest speeches – think of the Gettysburg Address and Lincoln’s inaugural addresses – or the power of prose to influence culture, you find poetry is what carries messages to our hearts,” he said.

Gig Harbor resident Jo Simms, one of the founders of the Poetry Collective, especially appreciated last year’s small group writing process. “We had so much fun,” Simms said.  “I really enjoyed the back and forth with others in creating a single poem.”

Wendy Givan, another Collective member, agreed. “It seems to me a poetry workshop can be akin to participating in joyful choir rehearsal because it’s the sort of collaboration that allows many disparate voices to refine and blend sound, add ideas and then adjust a range of tonalities into a harmonious whole.

“It can be a thing of beauty – and often is. Or a hard hitting protest piece. But at its best, it can give you chills or knock you out – in a good way. So what’s not fun and inspiring about that? And it’s a wonderful way to spend an afternoon engaged in the creative process.”

Festival facts

The 2022 Poetry Festival takes place from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 9, at Ocean5, 5268 Point Fosdick Dr.

The Greater Gig Harbor Literary Society sponsors the free event with support from the city of Gig Harbor’s Arts Commission. Seating is limited; register here.