Reporting by Jenni Nicole Ciesielski, UNC Chapel Hill.
Two years ago, Abigail Browning went to Carrboro’s West End Poetry Festival to interview then Carrboro Poet Laureate Celisa Steele for her literary blog, Tate Street. This weekend, she’ll be an integral part of presenting the festival, which is now in its 11th year. “It’s something that I believe in, and I feel very thankful that we can provide a free festival for all residents to enjoy and also bring their own poetry to,” Browning said.
The two-day festival will include workshops, readings and an open mic session that will allow any attendee to read their own poems. Steele, who is a part of the Carrboro Poets Council, said
she thinks allowing everybody to perform their own poems helps connect poetry to the community.
“I believe there’s a place for poetry in the broader community,” Steele said. “The West End Poetry Festival helps to put poetry out there in a way that may not be there and
noticeable by non-poets.”
Steele said the council tries to select a diverse group of primarily local poets like UNC professors Michael McFee and Calvin Olsen as well as current Carrboro Poet Laureate Gary Phillips. She also said they try to make each festival different from those before it so everybody can experience something new whether it’s a participant’s first or 11th time coming.
The council presents a panel with a new theme each year. The theme of this year’s is healing, which Browning said was inspired by events going on in the world today. “This year, we thought a lot about the emotional, environmental, and political climate and how there seems to be such a need for healing,” she said. “The arts is an excellent outlet for different types of people to heal themselves.” The panel will include six poets who have written about both the medical act of healing as well as the metaphorical aspect of healing.
While events like the panel provide emotional outlets for presenters and attendees to deal with hardships, council member Susan Spalt said she hopes people will see the lighthearted aspects of poetry as well:
“Sometimes people are afraid of poetry — if you say you have a poem for them, they kind of back up like you’re gonna shoot ‘em or something,” she said. “But poetry is really a lot more fun than you think.”
The festival aims to get everybody in the community involved with poetry, even those who can’t attend. Advertisements on the Chapel Hill Transit system have popular poems on them to go along with the festival’s information. “Little things like that get poetry out from books that maybe only poets or would-be poets would pick up and put them out in public,” Steele said.
Ultimately, Browning said she hopes the festival will help people express themselves and find the emotional outlet she has found in poetry. “I think most people, if they’re honest with themselves, have explored creative writing at some point in their life,” she said. “I think that knowing there’s a place that’s safe and supportive to go to where you can explore that part of who you are is valuable.”
The festival will run from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Friday, October 14 at Flyleaf Books, 752 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, and continue on Saturday from noon to 8:30 p.m at Century Hall in the Century Center, 100 N. Greensboro St. Because the town of Carrboro funds the West End Poetry Festival, all of its events are free to the public. Steele said she believes the town’s dedication to the arts is what makes it such a welcoming community for so many people.
“The support for the arts really is a celebration of diversity,” Steele said. “Even as there are all these different approaches to the arts and different takes on it, it also does give me a sense of shared connection with others in the town of Carrboro in that we appreciate arts and are willing to celebrate them and come out for them.”