Poetry lovers of the world, unite: not only is April National Poetry Month, but this weekend is the first annual New Orleans Poetry Festival (April 15-17), organized by Lavender Ink Press. While the Crescent City is no stranger to poetry events, reading series, and poetry-themed programming at its many festivals, the New Orleans Poetry Festival (NOPF) is New Orleans’ first festival specifically dedicated to the art.
NOPF, which will be held in multiple locations (mostly in and around the Marigny), includes readings, panels, discussions, workshops, manuscript critiques, a book fair for independent and small presses and walking tours of literary haunts led by Nancy Dixon that will take attendees to see Paul Morphy’s house, Faulkner and Sherwood Anderson’s Pontalba apartment, Truman Capote’s house, the house where Loujon Press got started, and the house where John Steinbeck got married, among others.
Opening the festival on Friday, April 15, is a unique cross-discipline event, a concert at Siberia featuring poets with rock bands, and closing the festival on Sunday afternoon, April 17, is a large-scale open-mic at the Maple Leaf Bar. Area poetry aficionados know that the Maple Leaf series is named in honor of the late New Orleans poet Everette Maddox; undoubtedly, the bard would be proud.
Festival organizer Bill Lavender, poet and publisher of Lavender Ink Press, says the idea for the festival arose last year during a conversation with fellow poet and collaborator Megan Burns, organizer of the Blood Jet reading series recently profiled in the New Orleans Advocate. Other major cities—New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Philadelphia—all have poetry festivals, Lavender says, and he and Burns began to wonder why New Orleans didn’t have one, too. With no suitable answer to that question, the two decided to start one themselves.
“I’ve always been a fan of diversity,” Lavender explained, “and have always wanted to feel a little out-of-town blood commingling with our local blood. I’m glad to say we’ve achieved that—after receiving over 30 proposals for panels and readings, we have about half locals and half out-of-towners presenting.”
On Saturday, the main day of the festival, the majority of events take place either at the Arts Estuary (1024 Elysian Fields) or Mag’s (940 Elysian Fields). The evening will see the festival’s flagship event, featuring nationally- and internationally-acclaimed poets Laura Mullen, Pierre Joris, Nicole Peyrafitte, Niyi Osundare, and Adeena Karasick reading from their work, with a reception and happy hour beforehand, and a dance party to follow.
With so many events on hand, organizers note, it would be a challenge to attend them all—which is why registration is available either on an all-inclusive basis for the full weekend ($150 general admission, $60 for students) or on an a-la-carte basis, with individual events priced around $25. More information, a full schedule, and registration details are available on the festival’s website.
The main hope, Lavender notes, is that the festival takes off, and that it inspires more people to get involved so that it can become a truly annual event. Burns echoed the point: “My hope,” she recently wrote, “is to create a saturation experience for writers to be completely immersed in their craft for a few days, surrounded by people who do what they do. And of course, I expect new collaborations and conjunctions of artists as well as an opportunity to share with people how amazingly talented and supportive our New Orleans poetry community is.”
“And dancing. Lots of poets dancing probably leads to good things for the universe.”
The New Orleans Poetry Festival runs April 15-17 at multiple locations in the French Quarter, the Marigny, and Bywater. More information is available here.