Breaking Stereotypes National Beat Poetry Festival begins this week

The Beats
From left to right: Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac
Photo courtesy of Vincent Quattroche

CHARLES PRITCHARD

Staff Writer

 

What comes to mind with the phrase “Beat poetry?”

More likely than not, the first thing one might imagine is “Beatnik;” someone with a black turtleneck and bad facial hair, snapping their fingers while stringing together words he or she think makes him or her sound important.

It’s a stereotype that has existed since the ‘50s and this really couldn’t be further than the truth about Beat poetry.

The easiest way to clear up that misconception is to attend the coming National Beat Poetry Festival here on campus.

The National Beat Poetry Festival is a nationwide event, which started this month and could very well go until the end of the year and even into the next.

Fredonia is participating in the festival, and will be kicking off the event on Sept. 25 in McEwen at 5 p.m.

The organization’s website states that it “is dedicated to hosting, collaborating and fostering joint partnerships for themed poetry readings, workshops, plays, radio shows and much more locally and across America — and even internationally at times. The collaborations and joint partnerships extend to individuals, organizations and representatives of universities and colleges.”

During this event, a number of published authors will be on campus to introduce students to true beat poetry. Coming to Fredonia will be Colin Haskins, Michael Kilday, Debbie Tosun Kilday, Dianne Borsenik, Marci Payne and William DeVault.

The host of the event will be Fredonia’s own Assistant Visiting Professor, Vincent Quatroche.

Each one has experience under his or her belt as a writer. DeVault has a 24,000-poem catalog and Haskin has ongoing programs to help every cause from war veterans to animal shelters. Their expertise, work and experience vary as much as their personalities.

According to Quatroche, he was contacted by a fellow poet in New York City and asked if he would like to set the event up on Fredonia’s campus.

But the poets coming here from out of state are not the only ones who will be onstage that night.

“I highly encourage anyone with any interest in writing to come for our workshops and open mic,” Quatroche said. “This is an opportunity that anyone interested in writing should take advantage of. It’s creative writing at its finest.”

The true attraction is the chance for writers to come and share their experiences with the poets and work with them, learning something new in the process that they can take with them.

Any writer of any genre is welcomed to come to the event and have a five-minute slot on the open mic, meet the poets and ask them questions.

But what about the image of Beat poetry and that stereotypical image of a Beatnik? And what will the festival actually contain?

“There will be no snapping of fingers, nor wearing of berets.” Quatroche said with a barely contained laugh. “We have too many people who can critique poetry and supposedly write poetry, but too few that actually live it and that’s what the Beat movement is about,” he added with a solemn nod. “Living your poetry, instead having it confined to the page.

“The talent of these writers goes beyond any specific genre,” Quatroche said. “These people [the poets] will be speaking very honestly and candidly about their personal experiences on any number of levels and styles. You’ll not find that any of them are alike.”

That, in a nutshell, is what Beat poetry and this festival is about: taking a piece of poetry, something that could move a few people on the page and bringing life to a poem.

Even those without a passion for writing would benefit from going to this event; it is an opportunity for a new experience.

This coming Friday and Saturday, the festival starts at 5 p.m. and 2 p.m., respectively, in McEwen 209 and Jewett 101. The event’s ending time has yet to be carved in stone.

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