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Carrboro's first poetry festival rests on its own laureate

Just after Patrick Herron began his term as Carrboro's poet laureate, the committee that appointed him asked what he wanted to do for the town. "Put on a poetry festival," he responded. That way, Herron felt he could help push poetry to the forefront, make it a part of the community, as well as provide a gathering place and expose townspeople to well-known and obscure poets (not that most poets don't toil in obscurity).

"It was also a good chance to 'get local'," he says. Though Herron has met poets from all over through Internet discussion groups, he wanted to connect with Triangle writers in a meaningful way.

Last February, Herron sent invitations to some 60 poets in and out of the area. They were told they wouldn't be compensated for their time if they attended the festival, they would likely have to pay their own hotel bills and they'd only get to read for 15 minutes apiece. Nonetheless, 40 of the writers expressed interest in attending the festival, enough to fill every time slot for the event, which will be held Saturday and Sunday, June 5 and 6 at the Carrboro Century Center. "We have people coming from all over the spectrum," he says.

"There's a good mix of academically trained and what I'd call 'outsider poets'," says Herron, 32, who considers himself an outsider. (He's never taken a poetry class, his undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina is in philosophy, and he attended N.C. State for a while in biochemistry. Currently, he's working on his master's in information science at UNC.)

Before he became a festival organizer, Herron says, "I really didn't know anyone here who had the same sort of tastes [in poetry] or lack thereof. This was my way of trying to connect the dots with the groups of writers I knew, and finding out who would come out of the woodwork, locally."

With the early acceptances, Herron didn't have room to invite any other poets, though people continue to point out more and more of them in and around Carrboro. Jay Bryan, the attorney who first suggested Carrboro find a poet laureate, hopes the festival will continue on some scale in future years.

Bryan said he proposed that the town establish the laureate position after reading an article about poet laureates in the News & Observer. "I thought it was a wonderful way to have community access to poetry--a symbolic way," says Bryan, a town alderman from 1987 to 1997. "The board didn't blink when we came to this idea, though I suppose some people might've thought it was a little flaky."

But both Bryan and Herron agree that Carrboro has always been supportive of the arts. It is currently the only town in North Carolina that has a poet laureate. Even the state has been without a laureate since December 2002, when Fred Chappell's term ended, though that could soon change. A North Carolina Arts Council committee has narrowed down a list of nominees to three names and passed them on to the governor, who will make the final appointment for a new laureate.

"Now we're waiting," says Debbie McGill, literature director for the arts council. "[The governer's] got a full plate--it's an election year."

In addition to the festival, Herron's civic duties have included penning a poem for the town's July 4th celebration and another for the town mural. "They also asked me to write a poem for the ceremony when they opened the dog park," he says. His boxer, Hooch, was at his side when he read it at the opening.

Herron says he doesn't know how many people to anticipate at the festival this weekend, but he expects that those who do come will find it revelatory. Among those attending are Jaki Shelton Green, the Mebane writer who won the 2003 North Carolina Award in Literature, and Hillsborough's Jeffery Beam, author of 17 books and poetry editor for the Oyster Boy Review. Out-of-town draws include Philadelphia's Linh Dinh, who has been anthologized in Scribner's Best American Poetry, and Brian Henry, director of creative writing at University of Georgia.

Of the festival attendees, Herron hopes they'll say, "I didn't know poetry wasn't boring." EndBlock

Carrboro Poetry Festival
The festival will be held Saturday and Sunday, June 5 and 6, at the Carrboro Century Center. Admission is free. For more information, visit www.carrboropoetryfestival.org

Saturday, June 5
10:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

10:30 Welcome & Introduction
10:45 Dave Manning
11:00 Mitchell Lyman
11:15 Doug Stuber
11:30 E.V. Noechel
11:45 Daniel Wideman
12:00 Judy Hogan
12:15 Jeffery Beam
12:30 Lunch Break
1:30 Introduction
1:35 Chris Vitiello
1:50 Clayton Couch
2:05 olufunke moses
2:20 Tony Tost
2:35 15 min Break
2:50 Introduction
2:55 Brian Blanchfield
3:10 Gerald Barrax
3:25 Mark DuCharme
3:40 Heidi Peppermint
3:55 John Balaban

Sunday, June 6
12:30-9:00 p.m.

12:30 Welcome & Introduction
12:35 Randall Williams
12:50 Jay Bryan
1:05 Renee Alexander
1:20 Michael Ivey
1:35 Hassen
1:50 Paul Jones
2:05 Steve Katz
2:20 shirlette ammons
2:35 15 min Break
2:50 Introduction
2:55 Carl Martin
3:10 Lou Lipsitz
3:25 Ken Rumble
3:40 Andrea Selch
3:55 Ravi Shankar
4:10 15 min Break
4:25 Introduction
4:30 Chris Murray
4:45 Jaki Shelton Green
5:00 Joseph Donahue
5:15 Murat Nemet-Nejat
5:30 Standard Schaefer
5:45 1 1/2 Hour Dinner Break
7:15 Introduction
7:20 Linh Dinh
7:35 Patrick Herron
7:50 Lee Ann Brown
8:05 K. Silem Mohammad
8:20 Brian Henry

  • Carrboro's first poetry festival rests on its own laureate

More by Madelyn Rosenberg

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