There is richness in the high deserts of the Sangre de Cristos that are invoked and explored by the writers who live in and are inspired by these Colorado and New Mexico lands.
Their words are creating a new voice for Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico with events such as February’s Crestone Poetry Festival, a celebration and creative outlet to sustain regional writers, poets and the spoken word.
The Crestone Poetry Festival – a four-day celebration (February 21 to 24) of the written and spoken word takes place in historic downtown Crestone.
The event features more than twenty accomplished poets and writers from around the Sangre de Cristo region of Colorado and New Mexico, as well as along the Front Range and Western Slope. Each day of the festival will include reading events, workshops, open mic opportunities, and other activities.
Peter Anderson, founder and primary organizer of the festival, was inspired by another of Colorado’s poetry festivals in Salida called “Sparrows.” That festival was held in the gorgeous mountain town for six years.
“It was an amazing gathering where beginners became seasoned performers. Isolated poets felt a sense of connection. A community of mountain poets took shape,” Anderson said.
He is part of a troupe of poets known as the River City Nomads who first got together by way of Sparrows and have been performing all over the state for the last fifteen years.
After the festival in Salida came to an end, another one was organized in Carbondale called the Karen Chamberlain Poetry Festival – honoring the late poet, Karen Chamberlain, whose work and guidance were treasured by many in the Roaring Fork Valley. The Karen Chamberlain festival went on for about three to four years and accrued a large following in that time.
Anderson, who claims some of his most meaningful friendships and creative partnerships came about as a result of these festivals, seized the opportunity to continue the tradition. “I wanted to keep the campfire burning so to speak,” said Anderson. “I also wanted to create a gathering that would build literary community up and down the Sangre de Cristos between Salida, Crestone, Taos, and Santa Fe. There are a lot of poets who need to know each other. I am hoping the Crestone Poetry Festival will be a gathering place where that can happen.”
The festival is returning for a second year which speaks to the amount of support Southern Colorado has for these types of events and how people in this region rally behind opportunities to flex their creative muscles.
One of the poets featured at the festival this year is a familiar face in Colorado poetry circles. Juan Morales, associate professor of English at Colorado State University – Pueblo, will be reading from his latest collection, “The Handyman’s Guide to End Times.”
“It’s a very exciting festival also because it’s very grassroots in its feel. So you get that kind of intimate atmosphere. And there’s no egos; it’s just writers supporting each other,” Morales said.
“Even if there’s a really well established amazing writer there and you’re intimidated, there’s a very good chance that writer will just come up to you and say: ‘Hey, what’s your name? What do you write? What are you working on?’ So that’s a really amazing thing.”
The festival has connections throughout Southern Colorado for this close-knit group of writers. Anderson was the former editor of “Pilgrimage” – a bi-annual literary magazine based in Pueblo – before Morales took over as the current editor and publisher.
The festival draws in key names of the written verse such as Colorado’s Poet Laureate of Colorado from 2014-2019, Joseph Hutchison; William Pitt Root, who has been featured in the New Yorker, The Atlantic and others; and poets from around the Southwest.
Morales calls supporting the festivals such as Crestone a “no-brainer” that will further grow Southern Colorado’s literary culture and community.
“We want these great cultural festivals to continue and to grow,” Morales said.
Along with Morales, Maria Melendez Kelson, assistant chair of the English Department at Pueblo Community College, will also take part in the festival where she is scheduled to lead a workshop on haikus, called “Anti-social Haiku,” which will explore how the form acts as a sort of antithesis to modern-age technology.
Tickets for the festival can be purchased from the festival website: www.poemfest.com. A full weekend pass is $100 and gets you into all of the scheduled workshops and events over the course of the four days. Individual tickets are $10 each, excluding two events on Saturday, February 23, 2019. A full schedule of events and workshops can also be found on the website.
The festival will be an excellent opportunity for writers not only to hone their craft, but also to make connections within Southern Colorado’s vibrant creative community.