The Sparrows will alight in Salida

Article by Lynda La Rocca

Poetry – March 2006 – Colorado Central Magazine

In the immortal words of the Beach Boys, Central Colorado will be “pickin’ up good vibrations,” both auditory and emotional, when Sparrows, Colorado’s annual performance poetry festival, takes wing again March 2- 5, 2006.

Since 2001, Sparrows has been bringing poets and musicians from throughout Colorado and the West to Salida for a series of poetry- related workshops, evening performances, and public “open- mike” sessions designed to appeal to everyone who loves words — both the written and (especially) the spoken variety.

This year’s “Voices of the Land” will rock and resonate with a mix of poetic and philosophical visions and styles exemplified by both returning and debuting members of the Sparrows’ “family.”

“[Sparrows] is inclusive and eclectic,” says festival co- coordinator Michael Adams. “Everyone is welcome and we don’t try to force any particular ‘school’ on anyone. It’s just a real hoot, a lot of fun, and the best performance- poetry venue in the West.”

“It’s truly an energizing weekend,” adds Laurie James, who organizes Sparrows with fellow poet- performers Adams and Craig Nielson, plus a handful of volunteers. “Sparrows will make you see the land, the world, and your entire life differently.”

And you don’t even have to be a poet — or a grown- up — to enjoy what Sparrows has to offer. That includes a workshop on the ancient Chinese meditative exercise systems of tai chi and chi kung presented by Adams, and a poetry and musical- performance workshop for children and teens ages 9- 18 hosted by singer- songwriter and musician Pamela Robinson.

Wordsmiths can choose from 13 additional workshops (all held from 10 a.m.- 4:50 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 3 and 4) on such diverse topics as motherhood and creativity; the ancient tradition of bardic poetry; the language of the unconscious; and mountains as a poetic symbol of the sacred. And everyone can join in the newest addition to the Sparrows’ lineup: a free, 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 Thursday evening with the “Troubadours,” roving poets who entertain at downtown restaurants, followed by the Poets’ Party. Friday and Saturday night performances feature such groups and individuals as New Mexico’s Piñon Poets; the San Luis Valley’s Stewart S. Warren & Human Earth Spoken Word Ensemble; EAR with noted Colorado poets and long- time Sparrows’ participants Art Goodtimes, Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, and Ellen Marie Metrick; Salida’s own River City Nomads; Chris Ransick, winner of a 2003 Colorado Book Award for his first poetry collection, Never Summer: Poems from Thin Air; and Aaron Abeyta, an Adams State College professor and 2002 American Book Award winner for his poetry book Colcha.

Saturday night is topped off by a second public open- mike event before Sparrows closes with yet another tradition — the Sunday morning Poets’ Reception.

Sparrows is the brainchild of Laurie James and former Salida resident Jude Janett who joined forces “to imagine a festival dedicated to exciting performance poetry.”

But what, exactly, is “performance poetry”?

Janett, who now lives out- of- state but returns to Sparrows this year as a poet- performer and workshop presenter, has described it as “… poetry with the intent of entertaining. It makes you smile, think, and participate. It reaches you.”

“Performance poetry is a genre that’s in opposition to the academic style,” adds Goodtimes, who is presenting a workshop titled, “Talking Gourds: A Traveling Tribal Poetry Feast.”

It’s not slam poetry because Sparrows’ participants “… are not into competition,” Goodtimes continues. “We prefer to work with and support each other, and to listen to and learn from each poet’s different outlook. If you’re a poet and you want to find out how to share your work and put it out into the atmosphere, you can really learn from Sparrows.”

The performance aspect of Sparrows is particularly appealing to James. “It’s so special to share something that you’ve written, something that comes through you and goes to [the audience],” she enthuses. “It’s like you’re opening your heart.”

It was James who came up with the name Sparrows, which has been transformed into an acronym for “Stories Poems and Relations Raise Our Winter Spirits.”

“I got the idea because there were these sparrows hanging out on a vine in my backyard, and they were the only things that were vibrant and full of life in the middle of the winter,” she recalls.

But now that Sparrows is something of a Salida institution, those little birds aren’t the only ones bursting with energy. Come to Sparrows to listen, speak, sing, dance, or shake a tambourine — and you’ll infuse yourself with a poetic pick- me- up that’s sure to make your spirits soar.

Lynda La Rocca writes prose and poetry from Twin Lakes, where any sign of spring is more than welcome.

If You Go . . .

Per- person ticket prices for Sparrows are $10 for each evening performance (Friday and Saturday, March 3 and 4); $15 per individual workshop; $5, Poets’ Party; $5, Poets’ Reception.

Purchase a “Good Deal” ticket for $65 (a $90 value), and attend four workshops of your choice, both nights of performances, and the Poets’ Party and Poets’ Reception.

Tickets can be purchased locally at Bongo Billy’s Salida Café and the Heart of the Rockies Chamber of Commerce office, at the Salida Steamplant ticket office on March 3 and 4, and at the door for evening performances.

Workshop tickets can also be purchased from 8:30 a.m.- 3 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Salida Steamplant. Everyone must sign up for workshops then; there is no advance sign- up. Locations of workshops will be posted during sign- up times.

For a complete festival schedule and additional information, visit

If You Can’t Go, But Want to Help . . .

You could send a “chirp” to Sparrows. Festival organizers have arranged with local hotels, motels, and inns for discounted lodging for out- of- town poet- performers and workshop presenters. Just $25 will “put up a poet” for one night’s worth of lodging.

But to help assure the future of this outstanding event, any amount is welcome — and very much appreciated. Send donations to Sparrows, P.O. Box 231, Salida, CO 81201.

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