By Amy Childress
Assistant Editor, The Selective Echo
When Melissa Bond became the literary coordinator for the Utah Arts Festival in 1995, the literary arts activities were being represented as what they called ‘literary sandwiches,’ where perhaps one or two poets would read on one of the prominent performing stages between band sets. Their voices often would compete with far too noisy nearby distractions and commotion as bands disassembled and others prepare for their sets.
Desiring a distinctive venue for the festival’s literary arts activities, Bond introduced the concept for what is today the Big Mouth stage, an increasingly popular feature as the festival has expanded over the years. The literary arts program has matured from ‘making the best of a fragmentary, fleeting, in-between presence at the arts festival to having its own stage,’ she says, adding that this year’s venue will be among the strongest in the festival’s history.
In 1996, Bond, one of Utah’s best known leaders in bringing slam and performance poetry to the local scene, hosted one of the first poetry slams in the state at the Lazy Moon Pub, a beer and pizza joint. At the Utah Arts Festival, the genre has become an exciting competition.
The preliminary competing rounds for individual poetry slams will be held Thursday, June 21, and Friday, June 22, beginning at 7:30 p.m. at the Big Mouth stage, with finals on Sunday, June 24, at 7:30 p.m. Every member of Salt City Slam will compete in the preliminary rounds.
Last August, Salt City Slam took eighth place at the National Poetry Slam in Boston/ Brain Gray, a Salt City Slam member and the 2012 Utah representative for the Individual World Poetry Slam, will compete in the Thursday preliminaries. This is Gray’s fourth year appearance at the festival competition. Rebecca Mae, the newest member of Salt City Slam and second time Utah representative for the Women of the World Poetry Slam, will compete on Friday, along with fellow team members DeAnn Emett and Brian Frandsen.
The festival also will host five teams in one of Big Mouth’s most popular events – the third annual team slam, which will be held Saturday, June 23, at 7:30 p.m. Teams from Phoenix, Boise, Las Vegas, and Utah will compete with Salt City Slam and Riverton Slam representing the state. In addition to its festival appearance, Salt City Slam is looking to the public to support its effort to attend this year’s national poetry slam competition in Charlotte. For more information, see here. (See video below.)
The Big Mouth stage also features some of Utah’s best known literary figures including Alex Caldiero, more comfortable with the title of sonosopher (also the subject of a major documentary by Utah filmmakers Torben Bernhard and Travis Low) as opposed to the more traditional tag of poet and author, Caldiero takes an idea and process (and not particularly a “literary” one) to the extreme. Sometimes, the words become progressively indistinct amid a palette of sounds – some musical, some natural, others synthesized – and then they’re reconstructed as the process reverses. Or, perhaps a simple phrase or sentence is deconstructed with emotionally charged rhythmic loops that build the tension and then release it. He will perform Saturday, June 23, at 5:30 p.m.
Jesse Parent, the slam master for Salt City Slam, will perform Sunday, June 24, at 4:30 p.m. and compete in the individual preliminaries on Thursday. Parent has been a member of the team since 2007 and slam master since 2008. In 2010 and 2011, he placed second at the Individual World Poetry Slam.
Literary arts performances also will be part of other festival venues, including The Round amphitheatre, where on Saturday at 8 p.m., Blue Distance, a multimedia interactive performance group, will present. The collective is composed of Ami Hana from Raw Xtract, who will be Vjing and DJing for the performance, and local writers Amie Tullius, Rachel Marston and Melissa Bond.
Bond says that during their performance they will ‘create a sacred and ritual space’ where she, Tullius and Marston will establish a ‘continual flow of interaction with the audience’ by walking through the audience and asking questions. As they weave their way through the audience, the women will pick up the audience’s responses to their questions, which they will have typed out on manual typewriters. These responses will then be read by one of the three women throughout the duration of the show and will be projected live by Raw Xtract, who is doing live audio and visual mixing with text that will be projected onto a screen.
Tullius, Marston and Bond also will have individual readings at Big Mouth Stage: Tullius and Marston will perform Friday, June 22, at 3 p.m., and Marston follows at 4:30 p.m. Bond will read on Thursday and Saturday at 5 p.m. For her appearances, Bond will read a combination of poems, short essays, and monologues that focus on motherhood, the female body, and the ideal of identity. The writings deal with ‘everything about motherhood that begins to shift inside of a woman and what my cultural experience of that has been,’ says Bond. To see more of Bond’s writing, see here.
Raw Xtract also will perform a hip-hop set with DJ Electronic Battleship at the Big Mouth Stage on Friday and Sunday at 5:30 p.m. To read more in The Selective Echo about Raw Xtract click here.
Other local writers appearing at the festival include Sara Caldiero, Joel Long, Lynn Kilpatrick, Michael McLane, Adam Love and others.
Michael McLane, the new literature program officer for the Utah Humanities Council and a contributing review editor for the Sugar House Review, will present excerpts from a pair of work-in-progress manuscripts. One focuses on nuclear technology and nuclear testing in the West while the other, an older collection of his work, is focused on Centralia, a Pennsylvania town that has had a mine fire burning below its surface for the last 50 years. McLane has been published in a number of journals, most recently in Laurel Review, Sidebrow, Interim, Tuesday: An Art Project, and Colorado Review. He will read on the Big Mouth stage Friday at 3:30 p.m.
Adam Love’s writing has appeared in publications including SCALE Journal, and Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley. A student at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, Love will share the stage with guitarist Patrick Kenny on Saturday at 4 p.m. The duo will perform pieces from a collaboration entitled ‘The Red Summer.’ ‘It’s like a syncopation between verse and improvised guitar. It’s not really jazz; not really poetry. It’s just what we do,’ says Love.
Last year the SLCC Community Writing Center had 70 participants for the Wasatch Iron Pen competitions. In these two 24-hour literary competitions, writers can enter in one of three categories that include fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, or can register for all three as part of the Ultra Pen Challenge. Prizes will be given to the winning authors, who also will present selections from their works on Sunday at 2 p.m. Participants must register by June 21 online here.
The SLCC Community Writing Center also will host an array of free workshops, and community and storytelling readings throughout the festival, including two readings presented by Timpanogos Storytelling, featuring Sam Payne and Debi Richin. The center also will present workshops in creating comic books, featuring the artist-author husband-and-wife team of Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett, the creators behind the science fiction comic book Heartbreakers, as well as the illustrated hard cover publications ‘Boilerplate: History’s Mechanical Marvel,’ which is being adapted into a film, and ‘Frank Reade: Adventures in the Age of Invention.’ The workshops will be held at the center’s Library Square location Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 2 p.m. (See tomorrow’s Selective Echo for a feature about the workshops.)
Bond says the literary events at the festival ‘expose people to things that they may not choose otherwise,’ she says, adding that people will be ‘drawn into it by ways that often are unexpected.’
For more information about all Literary Arts activities and the festival in general, see here.
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