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Poetry to fill the air at weekend festival

April is National Poetry Month and that means it’s time for the Tucson Poetry Festival. This weekend's event will include readings, workshops, a youth poetry competition, a panel discussion, and even a chance to dine with the guest poets.

Tucson has long been a literary town. Since the University of Arizona Poetry Center opened in 1960, the city has become home to one of the nation's most comprehensive collections of contemporary poetry, and the annual Poetry Festival dates back to the early '80s. This year marks the 33rd year for the festival.

This year's theme is "Poetry and Purpose" and organizers hope that this will inspire people to consider the role and intent of poetry in modern society.

“Where does poetry fit in with the current crises that are happening in our country and what does poetry have to do with doing something about it? Why does poetry exist still?” asks Teré Fowler-Chapman, Executive Director of the poetry festival.

“Poetry is another way of encouraging people to think and feel deeply about their own lives and their relationships to other people and other communities,” said Hannah Ensor, Reading and Lecture Series Coordinator at the UA Poetry Center. “There is no day that is not improved by having some sort of arts experience.”

The poetry festival will provide three days where members of the community can enrich their lives through the celebration of poetry.

The festival begins Friday night with the Kick Off Party at Playground Bar and Lounge featuring Tucson Poet Laureate Rebecca Seiferle and performances by Key Ingredients of African Soul, Flight School Acrobatics and Combine Vibes.

On Saturday, the UA Poetry Center that will host a panel discussion with poets Tanya Winder, Ken Babcock, Emi Mahmoud, Patrick Rosal, Ariana Brown and Bryan Sanders.

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Readings at the UA Poetry Center are popular among students and community members alike.

“Its amazing and astounding to me how many people come out for these readings and it's part of why I love living in Tucson,” said Ensor. “We see a lot of community members and students. The poetry center is a really good example of a university-community partnership.”

Tucson Youth Poetry Slam, an organization that holds monthly poetry competitions for youth under 19, will hold its 6th All-City Championship at the Gallagher Theater on Saturday afternoon.The event will feature last year's champion Eva S. and poet Tanya Winder.

Giving young people a place to be heard is "hands down, one of the most important collaborations this year.” said Fowler-Chapman.

On Saturday evening there will be a reading featuring local poets at Casa Libre. Though many poets are coming the festival from around the country, one even coming from Canada, this Locals Only Reading will showcase the new work of Tucson's wordsmiths.

“We will have a series of people who live here, who breath this city, this is where they call home, and this is a reading for them to come and share,” said Fowler-Chapman.

Sunday will also be filled with poetry-centered events, starting with workshops at La Pilita from 10 a.m. to 2p.m. and followed by the Sonnet Shindig Poet's Luncheon at 3 p.m. This is the only event of the festival that requires a ticket purchase. For the first time the poet’s lunch has been opened up to the public giving attendees a chance to talk with visiting poets over a meal at the Coronet.

The closing event of this year’s festival will be Sunday at 6p.m. at Merci Gallery. A group of poets will share their work at this reading at the new gallery.

“They have such a stunning space and it’s really nice that they can open up that space for us this year,” said Fowler-Chapman.

Appreciation for poetry and literature is well-rooted in the local Tucson community and the festival is hoping to see between 200 and 300 people. Many people attend readings all over town throughout the year, as well.

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“The one thing that I love the most about Tucson is that there is this never ending appetite for literary programs and it grows every year,” said Ensor. “We get 100 sometimes 200 people out on a Thursday night to hear poetry.”

The UA Poetry Center holds a lecture and reading series where poets read every Thursday throughout the semester. The next reading at the Poetry Center will be the Hannelore Quander-Rattee Works in Translation Reading featuring Marilyn Hacker, on April 14 at 7p.m.

Ensor explained her excitement about the upcoming reader, “She’s a poet, she's a translator, she's kind of an icon, she's wonderful. She'll be presenting some of her works in translation as well as some of her original works.”

There are many literary organizations and poetry groups around Tucson that hold events throughout the year. Some of those include Casa Libre en la Solana, Words on the Avenue, Intermezzo Reading Series, Antigone Bookstore Readings, and many more. The UA Poetry Center works with many of these local organizations to help support and promote them.

“I think Tucson might be kind of a hot spot for poetry,” said Ensor, “and I’m not sure people are talking about that enough.”

This year’s festival aims to get poetry on people’s minds and aid in the growth of poetry appreciation in the local community.

“Our goal overall is that we want people to leave wanting to write poetry,” said Fowler-Chapman. “We want people that may have not been fans of poetry to fall in love with it.”

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The Poetry Festival

Last year's poetry festival was a great success. This year's is hoped to be even better.