Poets seek to revitalize North Central Florida’s poetry community with festival
Just two days after receiving the proclamation declaring April as National Poetry Month in Alachua County, E. Stanley Richardson’s work laid before him.
Years of hard work had seen him graced with the title of Alachua County Poet Laureate by the county commission.
But on a recent night at this weekend’s poetry festival, an open mic event at the Harn Museum Art meant more.
With the lights dim inside Eloise R. and William H. Chandler Auditorium, the open mic invited anyone in North Central Florida willing to share their voice to paint the Harn’s grey seats and pastel walls a shade of golden opportunity to share a piece of their lives through poems.
“It brought the community together, that’s the simplest answer. It brought beautiful people together. It’s liberating, it’s healing,” Richardson said.
The open mic served as the kickoff to the 2023 North Central Florida Poetry Festival hosted by Richardson’s ARTSPEAKS Organization. The Festival also celebrated poetry with free workshops and a special appearance by guest poet John Murillo.
University of Florida student Tesnie Louissaint, 19, was among the many organizers and attendees that found community at the open mic as she stepped into the spotlight, delivering her poem to the approval of the crowd’s finger snaps.
“I believe that being able to perform is a nice outlet of expressing yourself, and it's a nice way of connecting with others,” Louissaint said. “There is power in numbers and power in words.”
The open mic also served as a platform for local organizations like the Civic Media Center’s Thursday Night Poetry Jam, Gainesville’s DOPEnmic, and UF’s Living Poets Society to reach new audiences.
On a night painted in similes and foreign worlds of abstraction, UF’s Living Poets President Rayaan Ali, 21, found the heart of poetry still beats in Gainesville.
“People like to think that poetry is dead, and all the poets are dead, too. But that's clearly not the case,” said Ali.
While the open mic was limited by the evening’s three-hour schedule, to some attendees poetry is more than art. According to speak language pathologist Reinfred Addo, 28, poetry is the language of the people, an overthrower of governments, a way of life.
“I believe poetry and art should be for the people. And nowadays, it seems like only a small subset of the of the population does poetry or called themselves poets,” Addo said. “Poetry has allowed people to organize in solidarity, even inspire people.”