The Sierra Poetry Festival highlights our booming arts and culture scene

Locals and visitors from “all walks of life, of different ages and varied interests” gathered at the Nevada County campus of Sierra College in Grass Valley on Saturday for the 2nd annual Sierra Poetry Festival, hosted by the Nevada County Arts Council.

Poets flew in from “all parts of California, America, and even the world” for the festival, which coincided with National Poetry Month, said Eliza Tudor, the executive director of the Nevada County Arts Council. The festival — which drew over 200 people — featured formal readings on stage, keynote speakers, and workshops.

The festival comes amid a boom in arts and culture in our region, underscored by Grass Valley-Nevada City and Truckee recently being named state Cultural Districts. Our magazine was proud to promote the festival and receive an acknowledgment in the program.

The festival’s keynote speaker Robin Coste Lewis, Los Angeles poet laureate, kept the audience engaged as she read from her 2015 National Book Award-winning collection “The Voyage of the Sable Venus” as part of her talk.

This included “Second Line,” a poignant poem about her father; “Plantation,” in which two lovers awake “embracing on the bare floor of a large cage”; and “Félicité,” which is dedicated to Lewis’s mother, “and her mother, and hers, ad infinitum.” In the latter two poems, Lewis attempts to reckon with the fact that “the black side of my family owned slaves.”

She also read from a poem that honored the 1978 classic film “The Wiz,” which she applauded as containing significant cultural meaning.

Other speakers and readers included Kim Shuck, San Francisco poet laureate; Indigo Moor, Sacramento poet laureate; and Molly Fisk, Nevada County poet laureate.

“The first poem I read that made me want to be a poet was Mary Oliver’s poem ‘Wild Geese,'” Fisk told Elisa Henderson Parker of KVMR-FM during a reception at the Nevada City Winery. “The first line has been my mantra: You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees. For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

Workshops included “Video Poetics: A Film Screening” with Daniel Reeves and E. Luanne McKinnon; “What is Poetry?” with Neeli Cherkovski; and “Igniting Your Poetic Fire” with Maxima Kahn.

We enjoyed visiting with the poets and presenters, including award-winning poet Marcello Hernandez Castillo, who praised the area and its surroundings, including the South Yuba River. Castillo appeared on Capital Public Radio with host Beth Ruyak this week to discuss the festival.

Afterward, a wrap party was held at The Stone House, where attendees were able to meet the poets, enjoy a no-host bar and small bites menu.

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