Festival celebrates poetry in Modesto

Words gleaned from other poems in a word cloud were considered by one pen-equipped participant in last year’s Modesto Poetry Festival.
Words gleaned from other poems in a word cloud were considered by one pen-equipped participant in last year’s Modesto Poetry Festival. Modesto Bee file

Rhythmic word lovers can express themselves – or just listen as others do – while celebrating a passion for poetry next weekend.

The fifth annual Modesto Poetry Festival will be held Saturday, Feb. 4, sponsored by the Modesto-Stanislaus Poetry Center.

The daylong festival at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church features opportunities to write poetry, share information, participate in workshops and listen to guest poet and author Susan Wooldridge, who will lead participants in writing activities and talk about creating new work, according to MoSt member and former Modesto poet laureate Gillian Wegener.

“Susan will be talking about journal writing and her own writing process, delve into cross-genre writing (the blend of poetry, proses, fiction and nonfiction writings),” Wegener said in an email interview. “Participants will go deeply into imagery and word play using a variety of resources to unlock new ideas and creativity. There will be an emphasis on play, joy and creativity.”

Wooldridge is from Chico, but also previously lived in Turlock. Wegener said she’s probably best known for her book “Poemcrazy” (Three Rivers Press, 1996), as well as her “energetic and inspiring workshops.”

The writer has offered those workshops throughout California, including one at the Modesto library several years ago. “We asked her to return to Stanislaus County because a number of us have really enjoyed and utilized her book over the years and we know that she will bring the energy and inspiration poets are looking for to our community,” Wegener said.

Last year’s poetry festival attracted about 60 people who ranged in age from 16 to 91, she said, adding that while MoSt expects about the same number this year, there is plenty of room for more and everyone in the community is welcome.

The Modesto-Stanislaus Poetry Center currently has 52 members and remains active in the community, hosting Second Tuesday Poetry Readings at Barkin’ Dog Grill in downtown Modesto, a quarterly reading series at the Carnegie Arts Center in Turlock and will sponsor this year’s Poetry Out Loud contest for high school students. The group also holds readings and workshops at local elementary schools and senior centers, runs a contest for young poets and helps spread the work of local poets.

New members who sign up before Saturday’s event can get a discount on the cost of the festival, Wegener said.

MoSt is “growing slowly, but surely,” she said, with the group actively involved in literary activities in the region, both in the lead and in the background. “One of the projects we are very excited about is purchasing poetry books for local schools, and another is publishing the work of younger poets in a chapbook (a short book of poetry).”

Wegener said that poetry in Stanislaus County “has never been more vibrant than it is right now.” While MoSt hosts several events, there’s also a poetry series at the Queen Bean run by Summer Krafft and the annual slam poetry event “The Ill List” organized by another former city poet laureate, Sam Pierstorff.

Three county poets have new books coming out this spring: Dana Koster, Linda Scheller and Wegener; all will be doing readings in the area starting in March.

The festival is open to anyone, no matter their poetic experience, she said.

“It doesn’t matter if you’ve never written a poem before or if you have multiple poems published. It doesn’t matter if you wrote poems 20 years ago or just started this morning. It doesn’t matter what kinds of poetry you like to write, rhyming or free verse or prose poetry, are all welcome,” she said. “You can share if you’d like, but no one will make you. This is a warm and welcoming group of writers, and a good day will be had by all.”

Modesto Poetry Festival

When: 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Feb. 4

Where: St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 1528 Oakdale Road, Modesto

Cost: $35 general, $10 high school students