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San Jose's Diverse Muses
Headline Poetry Festival

A collection of word wizards at this weekend's San Jose Poetry Festival
Yesika Salgado joins a collection of word wizards at this weekend's San Jose Poetry Festival at Kelley park.

From day one, San Jose has channeled a diverse set of muses via the written word, which is why History San Jose at Kelley Park seems like a perfect destination for the third annual San Jose Poetry Festival this weekend.

"The diversity of literary traditions [in San Jose] is remarkable," says Robert Pesich, president of Poetry Center San Jose. "You have writers writing in Vietnamese traditions, Chinese, Hindi, people from Mexico, El Salvador, all coming together at times to share their work at various events. There's a tremendous richness and we'd like to see that cultivated and advanced in the context of the festival."

Poetry Center San Jose is headquartered in the Edwin Markham House at Kelley park. The house was Markham's former residence at 432 S. 8th St., back in the late-1800s, when his poetry career was just starting to take off. At its current location, the house contains an exhibit of Markham's possessions, artifacts and 1,000 poetry books donated over the years to the center.

When the festival unfolds this weekend, poets from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds will deliver the goods over two whole days, either via their own words or by giving provocative workshops. The sheer scope of prowess offered is unlike any poetry event in recent years, with academics, local laureates, street-level heroes, Greek myths, video poetry and kuwentuhan (spoken story in the Philippine tradition) all contributing to a brilliant assemblage of events. Saturday features poets on the main stage along with a small press book fair. Workshops will unfold all day Sunday. The variety is impressive.

The main stage will feature an array of opportunities for anyone even slightly interested in poetry: Chicano, Hindi and Middle Eastern poetry. Poetry by veterans, video poetry and haiku. Current Santa Clara County Poet Laureate Arlene Biala will deliver the keynote address. Several indie publications will comprise the small press fair, with San Jose State University commanding a serious presence, further evolving the campus' relationship with the lit community at large. There is so much to choose from that people won't know what to do with themselves.

For example, on Sunday every single workshop offers something curious, creative and exploratory. Barbara Jayne Reyes, whose new book Invocation to Daughters was recently published by City Lights in San Francisco, will lead a workshop on Kuwentuhan, a spontaneous talk-story project where participants explore the origins of story, as a concept, in their families and local venues.

"What I want to hear from folks who attend is, where in their family gatherings, and in their community spaces, they heard story, who told story, and the structure of how the stories are told," says Reyes, adding that tangents are often part of how we experience and relay stories.

Other workshops include a session titled "The Uses of Myth," by SJSU professor emeritus Nils Peterson, who co-founded the Poetry Center almost 40 years ago. In the workshop, Peterson will talk about the myth of Daedalus and Icarus and ways in which poets have used this story to express how they go about viewing the world. The class will then get a chance to explore the myth in their own writings.

Deborah Miranda will lead a workshop titled "Composting Demons: Poetry in the Midst of the Zombie Apocalypse," in which attendees learn how to transform their demons into a form of poetic compost, recycling their trauma into productive creativity. Yowza.

Former Santa Clara County Poet Laureate David Perez will also appear, not once, but twice. On Saturday he teams up with Erica Goss and then on Sunday he delivers a composition workshop based on video poetry.

"No matter how educated you are, no matter how much you like poetry, whether or not you are the kind of person who's going to put on their smoking jacket and sit by the fire, read Shakespeare or whatever—you're capable of writing a poem," says Perez.

As such, the festival gets bigger every year. There is absolutely nowhere to go but up. "It's a young festival," Pesich says. "It'll go through various iterations as it finds its brand. I think it's well on its way. It doesn't take a genius to do the programming."

San Jose Poetry Festival
Oct. 21-22
History Park San Jose
1650 Senter Road, San Jose