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Poets wanted! Bread Loaf invites local writers to share what matters to them

RIPTON — The Bread Loaf School of English and friends are inviting local people to be a part of group reading that looks to define and build community.
Anyone who writes is invited to submit a poem that they could be selected to read, alongside professional poets, at the inaugural Poetry Free for All event later this month.
“It’s a celebration of our collective poetry and a chance to hear a rare thing, which is a medley of voices, very different voices, pulled together in one event,” said Gwyneth Lewis, one of the event’s key organizers. “So it’s a way for the community to see itself.
“We wanted to bring some of the spirit of Bread Loaf and reach out to the wider community,” added Lewis, a returning faculty member at Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English.
Lewis is an author of numerous books of poetry, plays and nonfiction, and was the first writer to be honored as National Poet of Wales (2005-2006).
Lewis is also a writer who believes deeply that language “is what brings us together.”
That shared conviction is shaping this first-time event.
The Poetry Free for All will bring guest poets and local writers together for an evening of poetry designed to “celebrate the power of poetry to shape our communities.”
Here’s how it works:
•  Anyone can submit a poem (see box at right for details).
•  Send in one original poem and one by another writer.
•  Choose poems on “issues that matter to you.”
•  Organizers will choose a variety of poems to be read at the event, and will respond to all entrants by email.
•  Poets and audience will gather at the Kirk Alumni Center in Middlebury on July 14 to listen and read aloud together.
The event is cosponsored by Middlebury’s Bread Loaf School of English, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conferences, the Middlebury Language Schools and the New England Review.
“This is very much in the spirit that anybody can have a go. We’re aiming for varied works of every level of accomplishment,” said Lewis.
Guest poets will include Martín Espada and Lauren Marie Schmidt.
The Poetry Free for All, said Lewis, offers “a way we can collectively dream about the values that we want to live by.”
The idea of bringing a second poem by another poet, said Lewis, is “to make the event generous, so that as we celebrate our own points of view we also bring attention to somebody else’s, so it’s not self-obsessed, and so we add to the rich mix of voices.”
Lewis emphasized that there is no one agenda for the evening’s readings and that interested poets should choose submissions straight from the heart.
“It’s a chance to name the things that are most troubling or to celebrate the things that are most pleasurable. Whatever’s at the forefront of your mind with no program attached.”
For Lewis, the power of poetry is that it’s both ordinary and extraordinary.
Ordinary because it’s about “people doing what people do. It’s nothing out of ordinary life.”
Yet extraordinary because of how it concentrates language and experience.
“Poetry is concentrated and language is under pressure because of the shortness of it. So it’s constantly surprising us, and that’s one of the things that delights me about poetry all the time.”
Lewis also sees poetry as a place where language can be shared, in an exchange free from ulterior motives.
“It’s not a predictable advertising slogan. It doesn’t want to raise money. It doesn’t want to force you to do something that you don’t want to do. It just wants you to enjoy yourself thinking about language and hearing it in your body.”
Literally bringing people together through poetry has been a signature accomplishment for Lewis. One of her poems is emblazoned in six-foot-high stained glass letters across the front of the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff, Wales. The words read: “Creating truth like glass from inspiration’s furnace.”
For Lewis, that same spirit animates the Poetry Free for All Event.
“I think of words in the same way that these massive six-foot-high words are on the front of a theater. They are a meeting place. People (looking for a rendezvous spot in Cardiff) say, ‘Oh, I’ll meet you under the words.’ Well, in the same way our language is what brings us together. It’s a joint endeavor. I don’t speak my own personal language. We create that language together.”
Ultimately, organizers see the Poetry Free for All as a way to celebrate community.
“Bread Loaf is about spending time face to face with people you don’t normally see,” said Lewis. “And our sense is that this new event is a natural extension of that — to come down off the mountain and be with other people and to make it a wider circle.”
Reporter Gaen Murphree is at [email protected].

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