Poetry festival brings out the verse in people

September 04, 2008|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. -- Andrea Hollander Budy, two-time recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, said she's still an apprentice to poetry.

And it's an apprenticeship she hopes to inspire other writers to take.

Budy will lead workshops and will read her poetry as part of the Sotto Voce Poetry Festival, Friday, Sept. 5, through Sunday, Sept. 7, in Shepherdstown.

Sotto Voce is a free yearly festival of workshops and poetry readings led by prominent national poets and regional writers. Budy will be joined by Grace Cavalieri, Terrance Hayes and Sarah Maclay, who will also share their poems and lead workshops during the festival.

Budy, writer-in-residence at Lyon College in Arkansas, was the poetry recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 2007 and 1991. She has three published books of poetry and most recently edited a poetry anthology, "When She Named Fire: An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry by American Women" (Autumn House Press 2008).


At Sotto Voce, Budy said she will lead a workshop on how line and stanza give poems shape and will discuss how rhythm and meter can be used to form a poem's underpinnings.

Budy approaches writing in the same way as her son, a visual artist, would approach art. He carries around a sketch pad, generating sketches here and there when the feels the urge.

"He never expected those sketches to be worthy of being in a gallery." Budy said. The sketches are practice.

On a trip to England, Budy said she wrote a sonnet every day for three and a half months -- she was in the land of Shakespeare, after all. She said of all the sonnets she wrote, only one of them was "good." But creating something good wasn't the point.

She said she learned the music of the sonnet and that, when she writes them, she must learn to let go. It's about practicing the craft.

Budy said she decided to become an apprentice to poetry when she was in her 20s, when she was mourning the death of her mother. The poems she read at the time expressed her grief in ways she couldn't articulate.

"I wanted to do that in the way the other poets did," Budy said.

She pored over poems, studying their inner-workings, all the while submitting her own poems to literary journals, building up a reputation as a poet.

"The poems themselves were tricks performed by master magicians and I was an aspiring magician," she said. "I understood the masters would never give up their tricks, but they'd be happy to repeat the performance."

Today, she continues to hone her skills. When she's at home in Arkansas, she'll give herself a writing challenge for the morning. She finds a cozy space on the couch and, to get started, asks herself a question: "What have you not done lately?"

"I'll say, 'OK, this isn't a real poem, just a way to practice,'" she said.

If you go ...

WHAT: Sotto Voce Poetry Festival, poetry readings and workshops led by poets Andrea Hollander Budy, Grace Cavalieri, Terrance Hayes and Sarah Maclay

WHEN: Friday Sept. 5, to Sunday Sept. 7.

WHERE: Various locations throughout Shepherdstown, W.Va.

COST: Poetry readings are free; some workshops have an admission fee and require prior registration.

MORE: See the schedule and sign up for workshops at

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