The San Luis Obispo Poetry Festival enters its 30th year this weekend, featuring a series of poetry readings, a film screening and two open mic events. San Luis Obispo Poetry Festival co-founder and curator Kevin Sullivan is pictured above at the 26th Annual San Luis Obispo Poetry Festival.
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The 30th Annual San Luis Obispo Poetry Festival kicks off this weekend, bringing in talented poets to share their work. The festival, taking place during three weekends, will feature a series of poetry readings, one film screening and two open mic events.
San Luis Obispo Poetry Festival co-founder and curator Kevin Sullivan has watched it grow from the very beginning, he said.
The festival began in 1984 as a fringe event of the Mozart Festival, Sullivan said. Its first event took place downtown at Linnaea’s Cafe.
The festival’s debut was such a huge hit that Linnaea, the cafe founder and owner, asked Sullivan to host regular poetry readings at her cafe, Sullivan said. The resulting poetry-reading event, called “Corners of the Mouth,” has occurred monthly at Linnaea’s since then.
Since its birth 30 years ago, the San Luis Obispo Poetry Festival has split off from the Mozart Festival and become its own entity.
Sullivan chose poets to read at this year’s festival. He picked writers based on their body of work and the quality of their poems, he said.
“I like them, I like their work and I want to share it with the community,” Sullivan said.
The festival is comprised of “featured readers” and “selected readers,” Sullivan said. Featured readers, who tend to be more well-known, read for 20 to 30 minutes. Selected readers are usually younger and newer to poetry, he said. They perform in 10-minute slots. All poets read their own original works.
Local poet Sylvia Alcon will perform at the festival’s Nov. 9 poetry reading as a featured reader. Alcon said she looks forward to sharing her work in the festival’s social atmosphere.
“I enjoy being able to read and meet other poets,” Alcon said. “It’s a wonderful community event because writing can be solitary, and it’s a time to come together.”
Alcon published a book of poetry, titled “Caught in Flight,” earlier this month. She will read exclusively from her book at the festival, and she appreciates the opportunity to read it out loud, she said.
“Because poetry was an oral tradition, it can be quite different from having it sit on the page,” she said. “Being able to read your work aloud keeps that oral tradition alive, and that’s important to me.”
English senior Michelle Finck said she hopes to attend the San Luis Obispo Poetry Festival. She also values the oral tradition of poetry, she said.
“You can read as much poetry as you want, but hearing it out loud is a visceral experience,” Finck said. “It’s freeing the words off the page. It makes you appreciate it on an auditory and not just a visual and conceptual level.”
The festival will also host open mic events on Nov. 3 at Linnaea’s and Nov. 17 at the Steynberg Gallery. Anyone who wants to read their original poetry can sign up for a five-minute slot. Sign-ups are first-come, first-serve.
To start off this year’s events, the festival will screen “The Signature of All Things” on Nov. 2 at the Phillips Recital Hall. The film, an ode to late poet Kenneth Rexroth, will commemorate the artist’s 100th birthday. Following the film screening, local poet and Cal Poly lecturer James Cushing will read from one of Rexroth’s essays.
Sullivan is proud of the event’s growth and looks forward to this year’s festival, he said.
“We’ve got three weekends of wonderful literature,” he said.
General tickets for festival events are $8 and $6 for students and seniors. Tickets are available at the door.