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February 26, 2007

It probably happens every year, when I hear birds along the startlingly clear river, that I think, “It’s too early for that.” But Midwinter Spring is its own season.

I don’t know what kind of bird was chirping at me, but I know what kind will be singing later this week — Sparrows. The 7th Sparrows Performance Poetry Festival begins Thursday night and ends Sunday morning.

The schedule is packed from start to finish. You can attend a la carte or go with the prix fixe “Good Deal,” which is mighty good … for $65, you get into both the Friday and Saturday night performances at the Steam Plant, plus four of the Friday/Saturday workshops, plus the Poet’s Party Thursday night and the Poet’s Reception Sunday morning.

Sparrows begins Thursday evening with an hour of poet Troubadours traveling downtown restaurants and taverns from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. Then, the Poet’s Party begins at 7:30 p.m. at Bongo Billy’s Salida Cafe (cash bar, $5 donation).

The main performances are Friday and Saturday nights at the Steam Plant Theatre. Dakota’s Bistro will host an “open mic” from noon to 3:30 p.m. Saturday, and then late-night open mic begins around 10 p.m. at the Vic.

An appealing variety of workshops are scheduled throughout the day Friday and Saturday. Some are writing-intensive. In describing her workshop “Anger and Ecstasy,” Rosemary Wahtola Trommer said, “Are you livid? Thrilled? Of course you are. Bring both fluencies, a pen and lots of paper.”

Another, “Sneak up and surprise yourself,” will be led by Aaron Anstett, who’s name I remember from about ten years ago when I preferred his book “Sustenance” for the Colorado Book Award for poetry.

As a committee of judges, we chose someone else, but I’d been impressed by Anstett’s poetry. Not only that, but the cover art on his book was … you guessed it … scratchboard art. It’s getting to be a theme here; I’m sure there’s a metaphor we could explore.

Other workshops are less about writing yet still about poetry. “Between Heaven and Earth: Tai Chi and Chi Kung.” “The Poetry of Yoga: Finding the Words from Within.” “Mixed Media – Wild Mind,” from which participants will emerge with a piece of artwork and a poem therein.

“That’s a W.R.A.P.P.!” will touch on all aspects of becoming a performance poet. “Spoken Word – Literary Movement or Literary Fad?” will be led by Don McIver, an award-winning Slam poet and radio producer. I’m guessing the conclusion with not be “Fad.” The “spoken word” history to be covered includes Hip Hop, Slam, Cowboy poetry, African-American oratory, Native American storytelling, the Beat Movement.

This workshop looks appealing: “An Appreciation of Robinson Jeffers.” Anthropologist Loren Eiseley said of him, “I felt … almost as if I stood before another and nobler species of man … someone out of time … an oracle.”

There are plenty, sixteen in all. Well, fifteen. James Tipton will lead a workshop on “Haiku and Tanka” twice — Friday afternoon and Saturday morning — to “explore the internal dynamics of these short forms of poetry.” I’ll be attending one of those.

Tipton asks, “No syllable counters please.” The 5-7-5 syllabic structure of haiku is not the heart of the form. It is one of several rules freely broken in service to the spirit of haiku.

awakened by thunder –
the mountains where I must go
are covered by clouds

a butterfly wing
among leaves at my door –
autumn wind

What would you take from the first poem or add to the second to conform to the rule?

When I look at the festival schedule, I see nothing about poetry and rules but rather poetry and spirit, poetry and joy. I may not be the one to judge, but Sparrows seems to be getting better and better. And it’s coming to your town … it couldn’t be easier to enjoy.


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