Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Nobody backs poetry in the corner

This is not a criticism of any of the artists who will be appearing on the stage during the weekend. They have all deservedly earned their place. Nor is it a call to not attend the festival.

The Columbus Arts Festival has announced its schedule for the 2015 event which includes that of the Word is Art stage.

Readers, publishing panels and storytellers have multiple readings this year.

Notice I said readers, publishing panels, storytellers and not poets.

Poetry seems to have been given seriously short shrift this year, with poets scheduled to begin during a poorly attended period when the festival starts, at noon on Friday. There do not appear to be any half hour slots for the top three poets from the juried competition, as there has been in previous years. No mention of any poets appearing on the main stage, which was an innovation introduced last year that was a success. No poets doing multiple appearances.

As an organizer/poet who was a former committee chair of the Word is Art Stage, participated in and been more than a casual observer of this festival for nearly a decade it has to be said that poetry has been locked away in the attic this year. Friday afternoon is a horrible time to gather an audience for anything, let alone poetry. People are busy on at that time, they have jobs and other commitments during the day and cannot get downtown. It is embarrassing to see that the executive committee and those running the Word is Art stage have given poets, who have brought the crowds in and kept them in previous years, wastelands of time slots.

The focus away from poetry to prose and print has happened very quickly, with the direction of programming not necessarily going in the right direction for an outdoor event. Previous committees have worked very hard curating and enhancing the role of poetry while bringing in authors and storytellers to assemble remarkable weekends of art and performance on the Word is Art Stage. Works that engaged and entertained audiences of festival goers.

I believe the accomplishments achieved by the hard work members of the Word is Art Stage committee over the past ten years have been erased by this uneven and poorly assembled schedule. Poetry gave the Word is Art Stage a well known positive reputation for Columbus poets, authors, and storytellers to perform, many for the first time. Poetry did the main work in building that esteem. Now that foundation is being dismantled.

For unknown reasons the audience gets double doses of authors, publishing panels, and storytellers, who may be fine and engaging on their own, but they’re not poets. No poet seems to have been allotted two appearances on the stage. No poet gets more than a fifteen minute time slot. It is a step backward for the Columbus poetry community who have supported, had incredible involvement and investment with the event over the past few years that the festival has taken them out of the limelight and placed them in poorly attended time slots. Times in which nothing was ever scheduled in previous years because of low crowds.

The committee once again had a number of missed opportunities in marketing the activities on the stage. I only saw one mention of applying for the stage on the festival’s social media feeds. This in contrast to numerous mentions of the 5k run and pictures of a toy shark in various places. To my knowledge there was no committee outreach to any of the open mic nights in this city to invite poets to apply for the event. I once again have to question if the executive committee is serious about poetry’s involvement in the festival.

Columbus poetry is thriving, it does not need the Columbus Arts Festival to succeed. It already is through the open mics and readings that anyone can attend nearly every night of the week. The Columbus Arts Festival and the Word is Art Stage needs Columbus poetry to further connect with its audience, not two prime time publishing panels during an outdoor festival! Perhaps next year the Arts Festival executive committee will be capable of meaningful change and reassess the role of poetry on the Word is Art Stage by bringing it back to the rightful places on the stage that it has earned.

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