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The power of words at Sparrows

Article by Lynda La Rocca

Poetry – March 2007 – Colorado Central Magazine

YOU COULD CALL THEM WARRIORS. But their weapons are words, and they’ll be waging poetry at Sparrows, Colorado’s annual performance poetry festival.

When Sparrows takes wing again March 1-4, it will unite poets, musicians, and dancers from throughout Colorado and the West in a series of poetry-related workshops, evening performances, and public “open-mike” sessions sure to appeal to anyone who loves language, both the written and (especially) the spoken varieties.

The idea for this year’s theme, “Wage Poetry,” comes from a poem titled “Wage Peace,” says Salida poet and Sparrows co-founder Laurie James. The poem was written by Judyth Hill in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, DC.

Wage peace with your breath….

Think of chaos as dancing raspberries,

imagine grief

as the outbreath of beauty or the gesture of fish….

Don’t wait another minute.

Celebrate today.

“‘To wage’ means to engage in, to be active in. So we thought, ‘Why not wage poetry?'” explains James, who has helped organize Sparrows each year since its 2001 inception and is coordinating the 2007 festival with local poets Lawton Eddy, Barbara Ford, Rhonda Cleaver-McCormick, and Jude Janett. (Janett is also a Sparrows’ co-founder).

“It’s not a warlike theme,” James continues. “But it does get people’s attention. It feels strong. Waging poetry comes from a position of strength. It requires being actively involved with poetry, and Sparrows is all about action. We’re actively creating, presenting, and performing poetry. We’re not raging,” she adds with a laugh, “we’re waging.”

But you don’t actually have to be a poet to engage in Sparrows and enjoy all that it has to offer. Participants can explore the ancient Chinese meditative exercise systems of tai chi and chi kung with Sparrows’ alumnus Michael Adams, learn about hatha yoga with singer/ dancer/poet/musician Roseanna Frechette, or create visual art in Santa Fe poet Debbi Brody’s workshop “Mixed Media, Wild Mind.”

Wordsmiths, meanwhile, can choose from nearly a dozen additional workshops, including sessions on the Japanese poetic forms of haiku and tanka led by another Sparrows’ alumnus, James Tipton, winner of a 1999 Colorado Book Award for his poetry collection Letters from a Stranger. They can explore “The Alchemy of Words” with John Nizalowski, a creative writing instructor at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, or discover the “rock” anchoring their poetry with Julie Cummings, vice president of Columbine Poets Inc., Colorado’s state poetry society. They can even combine word art and sound art with the Fort Collins-based performance-poetry troupe “TVS and two fingers,” whose members can make music out of the oddest things, from masking tape to chafing dishes.

And everyone can join in the public open-mike and poetry jam on Saturday afternoon at Dakota’s Bistro, hosted by Art Compost & the Word Mechanics, Denver’s best-known improvisational poetry-and-music group.

There’s also plenty to do at Sparrows once the sun goes down. Traditionally, Sparrows kicks off on Thursday evening with the “Troubadours,” roving poets who entertain at downtown restaurants, followed by the Poets’ Party.

Friday and Saturday night performances feature “. . . some old favorites, plus lots of new performers who have been wanting to perform at Sparrows, and so we’re giving them the stage this year,” says James.

RETURNING TALENT such as Stewart S. Warren with Human Earth and the River Tribe Drum & Dance Troupe will be joined by new faces like Don McIver, award-winning New Mexico radio producer and slam poet, plus 2005 Albuquerque City Slam Champ Hakim Bellamy.

Saturday night ends with a second public “late-night open-mike” at the downtown Victoria Hotel & Tavern before Sparrows closes with yet another tradition — the Sunday morning Poets’ Book-Signing and Coffee Circle.

Welcoming “new” talent, namely, poets and performers not previously featured at Sparrows, is part of what keeps this event going.

“We shift the weight around,” James says. “New people come in and ‘old’ performers and organizers stay around to guide them.

“But it’s really love, the love of poetry, that gives Sparrows life,” she declares. “If you’re a poet or you’re at all interested in poetry, who would want to go through a year without Sparrows?”

I wouldn’t, that’s for sure. So if you want to be entertained and energized, to laugh, learn, think, participate, and share “Stories Poems and Relations [that] Raise Our Winter Spirits,” the words that form the Sparrows’ acronym, come to Sparrows. It’ll make what’s left of winter a whole lot brighter.

Lynda La Rocca has been known to compose poetry from her home in Twin Lakes.