Valley International Poetry Festival Reflections, 2013

Another whirlwind of a year comes to a close!

And I'm just catching my breath from it all. I'd venture to say this was the best VIPF yet. Sure, we had our ups and downs, and sure, I'm really, really exhausted, but this year, I had the opportunity to take an active role in organizing, editing, and participating in the festival. And wow, what a rewarding experience it was! A super big thanks to all the other organizers: Brenda Riojas, Edward Vidaurre, Ileana Garcia-Spitz, and most especially, the head honcho of the whole shebang, Daniel Garcia Ordaz.

I'll detail the experience day by day, Thursday - Saturday. I skipped out on Sunday's events because, well, I'm lazy.

Thursday, April  25: The Kick-off

Yes, that's my name on the byline!
So in real VIPF tradition, Thursday is the night we celebrate the release of our anthology, Boundless. This event was really wonderful -- I felt really honored to be a part of it this year, not as a poet, but as an editor. Daniel, Ileana and I worked together to sift through submissions, select poems for inclusion, and even decide on awards. It was a fun process -- I'd always wondered what went on behind the scenes! Anyway, want to check out our anthology? It's available on Amazon! 

That night, I made it to the Edinburg Auditorium at about 7pm. It was rainy, cold, and gross. I brought wine and my bad self :-P The evening started off with some chit-chatting, mingling, and such. Daniel and Edward corralled us into the auditorium for the anthology reading to begin, so I reluctantly chugged what was left of my wine, and stuffed a cupcake into my face (yes, I'm glamorous).

My mom, Susan Hoerth, was the featured artist of VIPF this year, so she had her lovely books displayed. I helped her put the finishing touches on her set up, then made my way over to the poet check in to help out there, too.

The anthology reading itself was really delightful. I sat with my parents towards the back of the huge, historical auditorium. I got to go up on stage and take a bow alongside the other two editors. And of course, we posed for a group picture:

Anthologized poets and editors kicking off VIPF 2013
Each poet in attendance got to read their anthologized poem. I think the highlight of the event was when James Griswald, aka Grizzy, read Joanne Uppendal's award-winning poem in her place. She's from Washington state, and due to health reasons, couldn't make it to the reading, but she was on Grizzy's cell phone as he went up to the mic to share her piece. It was a really special moment, and an equally special poem.

As the night closed out, I helped pack all the stuff away and chit-chatted with the lingering poets, most interestingly, Lupe Mendez! He told me all about the This is What Diversity Looks Like rally protesting a senate bill that restricts ethnic studies courses. The rally was going to happen at my university, UTPA, in addition to other schools across the state. I agreed to be there!

Tired, I headed home knowing that the next day, Friday, would be even more wild and busy than Thursday. But no worries, I was ready for it.

Friday, April 26th

So on Friday, of course, I had to work. I had my classes with my kiddos, but once those finished, I joined a group of VIPF poets in the student union for lunch! And then, we were headed off to the reading I organized on campus, An Afternoon of Poetry, VIPF Comes to UTPA!

And it WAS a pretty awesome event, featuring Lupe Mendez, Emmy Perez, Diana Dominguez, Oscar Pena, and Cesar De Leon. We also had a student open mic, which... one of my students participated in! And even better, it was her first time reading! She was so nervous, but she did such a great job. I got all teary-eyed and proud.

The Poetry Slam/College readings were scheduled to happen at Schneider's Beergarden, which happens to be my favorite venue in the valley. I headed home for a quick nap, then made my way over to the reading with my wonderful BruBru. It turned out I came just in time! The place was PACKED! I got on the open mic list, sat down, ordered a beer, and chatted up a poet, Grizzy, whom I learned was from Chicago! Hey, we were kind of neighbors.

The college readings were really upbeat and cool. I got to share the stage with a lot of my colleagues, professors from STC, and students. I think the poem that took the cake was Mario Leal's about Ru Paul. LoL. I read my particularly appropriate poem about beer, How A Goddess Drinks a Shiner Bock :)

The restaurant got so packed and overwhelmed they had to close the kitchen! Imagine the crowd? It was insane. I've never seen it that busy and rowdy. Bruno and I had to leave a bit early, once the college readings wrapped up, because, well, we're old and stuff (and I had an uber busy day planned for Saturday). But rumor has it, the reading went to midnight! Imagine? Tammy Melody Gomez was crowned the slam champion. I wish I'd have been there to see it!

Saturday, April 27th

Photo by Minerva Vasquez
The big day! In the past, I haven't been able to participate in the big day much because I used to have to work Saturdays. But now that I'm teaching full time, well, I have the weekends off :)

So! My morning started with a workshop at the Weslaco Museum. We talked about SeXy poetry, and it was for GIRLS ONLY. LOL. It was really amazing. Imagine this: a table of women talking about their sensuality, crafting poems, laughing, supporting each other -- awesomeness. I couldn't have asked for a better workshop experience. It was intimate enough, yet I had a good group of girls. There were I think a total of seven enough. We read and discussed Kim Addonizio's What Women Want then wrote our own lusty poems to an OBJECT of our affection (reverse objectification, booyah!). My instructions were to pick something from your purse if you needed inspiration. We read our poems to each other. We laughed :)

I think what made this workshop particularly successful was the participants. Most of them I knew (Mary Ann, a colleague from UTPA, Minnie, an old MFA buddy, Rachel, a regular at the valley poetry scene), but then a couple of new faces, too! Most notable was Tammy Gomez! OMG. I got so nervous when I saw her walk in. What could I teach her? But our workshop was a conversation more than anything else, and we all learned from each other.

Anyway, following the workshop, we had a women's poetry reading at the museum. The staff was super fantastic -- they transformed our space from workshop to reading venue in lickity split! So cool. In keeping with sexiness, I read sexy Bible inspired poems (Delilah and Eve! of course). I think the most memorable poem of the morning was Rachel's poem about a pomegranate. Also sexy.

After Weslaco, we headed off to Harlingen. Our next reading was going to be a lunch time reading at Rio Grande Grill. What a hoot! I enjoyed some shrimp tacos, read some more poems, and got a chance to hear some awesome poets, both familiar and new. I'm not sure who was my favorite here; I mean, I always really admire Edward Vidaurre's work, and hearing Mona Sizer read was a real treat... anyway, nothing but good. We enjoyed ourselves and finished with a bit of time to spare. Woot.

Our next stop was the island, Paragraphs on Padre. This bookstore is, in one word, awesome. It's connected to the owner's house, and is super cozy! But it's packed with books! I learned it was the ONLY bookstore in Cameron county. Independent bookstores are so, so important for our community. We're lucky to have Paragraphs.

The chicks at Paragraphs on Padre
I had a workshop to give, and at this point, I was starting to feel the exhaustion set in. Ugh! Why did I do this to myself???? I soldiered on! I was greeted at the bookstore by an incredibly friendly Joni, the owner, and her pooch! There was fresh coffee, which was super, super welcomed by me.

My afternoon workshop was about publishing, but again, because I knew my participants would have a lot of experience and expertise, I wanted to make it more of a conversation than anything else. Some island locals came in to join the workshop, which was really cool. They were retired ladies, one of which was a former chiropractor! So interesting. We talked about the importance of community, of support, and how that's probably the most oft missing ingredient to someone who writes poetry. Anyway, it was enlightening to me, and hopefully to my participants, too.

After the workshop we had a reading, which was an outdoor thing on their patio. Again, it was fantastic. We were largely the same poets from the Harlingen reading. Joni was kind enough to set us up with refreshments, which, at this point, were welcomed beyond belief! I rolled out my latest poem, Housewife at HEB, and I think I need to trim it down to size.

Once the reading finished, we actually had a little time before the pachanga, which was super surprising. I was thinking we were going to be in a rush the entire day, but in reality, everything worked out just fine. Instead of racing somewhere new, the Chicks (Linda Mary Ann and myself) stuck around Paragraphs, had a cup of coffee, chatted up the owner and a handful of patrons. Joni asked me about my book (how'd she know!?!?!), and said she would buy whatever I had brought with me. At that moment, I regretted only toting three copies along in my book bag :-P But then, throughout the rest of the day, I could tell people I'd essentially "sold out" of my books. So long story short, if you'd like a copy of my book, there's a few at Paragraphs.

Narcisso Martinez in San Benito, the venue for our pachanga
The ride to San Benito was long, but eh, I didn't notice because I nodded off to sleep (no, I wasn't driving!). We arrived a little early; dinner would be on soon, but we had some time to mingle. And what do you know? My parents were just arriving, too! I helped my mom set up her altered books, then sat down and enjoyed a glass of wine with the other early arrivals. Dinner began maybe around 7. I had the pleasure of sitting with featured poet Diana Dominguez! 

After dinner, we filed over to the auditorium to begin the readings and such. But before we could begin the readings, in real Valley poet fashion, we had to pose for a zillion group pictures. This gives you an idea as to just how large an event this entire festival was:

 There were a total of forty registered poets this year (maybe more!). And here are most of us on the stage together. It's just amazing the community this festival has built and fostered over the past seven years. I'm happy and honored to have been apart of it for five of those seven.
Photo courtesy of Cesar Riojas

At this point, as you can probably guess, I was uber exhausted, but vowed to solider on at least a little further. After all, Daniel asked ME to introduce Emmy Perez, our featured reader. How could I say no to that? And here I am, doing just that.

You can tell I was tired, yeah? Ugh. But it was worth it.

Emmy was first up, and she read a huge variety of poems, which I really admired. Emmy's my former professor (you knew that, right?). In fact, she was my first poetry professor! So she's known my work since their cliched beginnings. LOL. How embarrassing. She could probably blackmail me with my bad poetry... but she'd never do that because she's kind of awesome.

Anyway, I introduced her and said obligatory nice things, and then she took the stage. She read an amazing variety of work, from experimental to conventional, old and new. Really cool stuff.

Mona Sizer was the next to read, and wow, I mean, I've heard her read before, but her works, too, are really rich. What I liked about Mona's works was that they're really narrative. I'm kind of interested in narrative poetry, so yay, I liked it, particularly a poem she read about a cat :-P

My mom's art, set up at the pachanga
So this year there was a total of seven (?) featured poets, and each one was set to read for twenty minutes. I started doing the mental math, glancing at my watch, thinking about how, after the featured poets read, all of the forty registered pots were going to read... anyway, I'm not a math person, but I figured we were going to be there all night. I glanced over at Mary Ann, who looked equally tired. Executive decision time: let's go home. And so, home we went.

Anyway, VIPF, as per usual, was a whirlwind of a weekend. I enjoyed every bit of it. I'm glad I participated fully this year, and I was honored to be a part of it in a more integral way than usual. It really humbles me to be a part of this community. If I took one thing away from this year's festival, it's a renewed sense that it takes a community to foster an artist, and that we can help EACH OTHER grow, blossom, change. At each event, I could look around, see familiar, warm faces. I could listen to voices that have shaped me, and some, in perhaps a small way, that I've helped shape and foster, too.

I'm blessed to be a part of this community. We're not in this alone; poetry isn't a solitary art. We should celebrate that. We do celebrate that.

So, here's to community, to poetry, to friends, to hugs, kisses and love. Here's to VIPF, the blood and sweat that goes into it, the smiles, laughter, and artistry that comes out of it. Here's to the quiet solace in its aftermath, the mediation, reflection, and creation that follows. Here's to counting down the days until VIPF 2014 when we'll come together and share again. Here's to poetry.


  1. Gracias, Katie, for such a plethoric description of the whirlwind four-day poetry festival! We're grateful to have you join us this year as editor and organizer! You sold out! Nice! Always admire your work!


Post a Comment