Poets to convene Saturday at first-ever poetry festival

Sammi Handler

Two poets will keynote Harvard-Westlake’s first-ever poetry festival, “Wider than the Sky: A Celebration of Poetry in Word, Image and Performance,” Saturday with readings, performances and workshops.

The festival, which will run from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 25, will feature Douglas Kearney and Sharan Strange, as well as readings, performances and workshops. Strange won the Barnard New Women Poets Prize in 2000 for her first poetry collection, “Ash,” and is an active member of the Dark Room Collective, a community of black poets.

Kearney is a Los Angeles poet who teaches at California Institute of the Arts. He has published multiple books.

“A big aspect of the festival is what it’s like to be in LA, and poetry in LA,” co-director of the festival and English teacher Sasha Watson said. “So I was very excited to get someone local to talk about being a poet in Los Angeles and inspire kids in that way.”

Attendance is not limited to Harvard-Westlake. The school is providing transportation so that participants from other high schools are also able to attend the festival. Watson estimates that there will be 200 attendees.

“[We want to] create a poetic community that’s not divided by geography or different backgrounds, and to bridge those communities with a common love of poetry,” Watson said.

Watson and co-director of the festival and visual arts teacher Alyssa Sherwood worked during the summer to create workshops, which “are the really exciting thing [about the festival],” Watson said.

There will be roughly 15 -18 workshops led by poets and visual artists, on topics related to writing poems in different mediums, such as writing poems in response to paintings and instructing teachers on educating their students on how to make poetry videos.

Event admission is free and includes breakfast and lunch. Watson and Sherwood, along with Senior Advancement Office Jim Pattison, met with Robert Polito, the president of the Poetry Foundation in Chicago, who agreed to partially fund the event with Harvard-Westlake.

“The goal [of the festival] is really to open up poetry to as many people as possible, for students and teachers to be invited into poetry in a new way,” Watson said.