It’s thought-provoking and inspiring, emotional and raw, connecting us all through the power of the written word. In celebration of National Poetry Month, Hope at Hand presents the 4th Annual Jax Poetry Fest with free community workshops and presentations by a collection of local poets, writers and spoken-word artists in Downtown Jacksonville.
Jax Poetry Fest is an annual event produced by the North Florida nonprofit every April during National Poetry Month to inspire community-based poetry projects and engage the community. The inaugural Poetry Fest was held in 2016. Now in its fourth year, the festival has grown in terms of both programming and participation. “Poetry is typically a very quiet, individual, personal activity, and the more people we meet, they say, ‘I really love poetry,’ or, ‘I wrote poetry in college,’ so it’s kind of fun to talk about it and get people with like minds together,” says Steffani Fletcher, executive director at Hope at Hand, Inc.
This year, the event is a collaborative effort with the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Jacksonville Public Library, Friends of Hemming Park and The Performer’s Academy. Spoken word performances, poetry slams, youth poetry contests, weekly workshops and lunchtime poetry readings in Hemming Park will be offered at no cost to the public throughout the month.
“We’ve hosted it on our own for the last three years, so this is the first year that we’ve had partners, and we’re really excited,” says Steffani Fletcher. “Collaborations always make things a little more interesting, and it opens you up and brings everyone together. It’s been really fun this year having some partners in the Performers Academy and Friends of Hemming Park. It’s so much bigger and better.”
The month-long celebration kicks off April 3 at Art Walk with Melissa Ross, host of WJCT’s First Coast Connect, hosting the opening ceremonies at Hemming Park. The event will include the announcement of the High School Poetry winners, open Mic and a live Poetry Performance featuring Ebony Payne-English and guests.
The Jacksonville Public Library, Main Branch Downtown will also host a Poetry Performance featuring Ebony Payne-English, Moses West, Tonya Smart, Love Reigns and Ahynte Heard and the Lyricist Live with Mal Jones.
Emmy and Peabody Award-Winning poet, playwright and radio host, Al Letson, returns to Jacksonville to emcee the closing ceremonies in Hemming Park on April 27. Leston will also perform a VIP benefit to raise funds for Hope at Hand. VIP tickets for the Jax Poetry Fest Closing Celebration with Letson are available at www.jaxpoetryfest.org.
“We’ve always compressed the schedule and had similar free workshops in a week, but this year we’re trying to spread it out throughout the month to better accommodate people’s schedules,” notes Fletcher. “We’re very thankful that Al Letson agreed to take part in Jax Poetry Fest. We’re thrilled to have such amazing support, and we need Jacksonville to show up.”
Ebony Payne-English will host the first workshop designed to promote communication. She is partnering with the event through the Performer’s Academy. “I think poetry in general does a beautiful job with communication because most poems use the least amount of words as possible to get the point across, which is really fun,” says Fletcher.
Chamblin’s Uptown offers a children’s workshop focused on blackout poetry on April 6. Using a single book page, participants will black out words revealing a poem in the remaining text. Blackout Poetry is offered the first Saturday of every month at Chamblin’s.
Fletcher will also present a program detailing the benefits of poetry therapy, which is the foundation of the programming at Hope at Hand, which she founded in 2009 to provide poetry and art programming to Duval County’s most vulnerable youth populations.
Through partnerships with such community organizations as the Sulzbacher Center for the Homeless, Pretrial Detention Facility, Girls Court, Seamark Ranch, PACE Center for Girls, Department of Juvenile Justice, Youth Crisis Center and Gateway Steps to Recovery, Hope at Hand works with children in domestic violence shelters, pregnant foster girls, youth in recovery, incarcerated girls, youth coping with bereavement or homelessness.
Staff members have specialized training in education, theater, meditation, yoga, poetry therapy and counseling. With poetry as the foundation for all programming, Hope at Hand provides participants with strategies that will offer continuous support as they work to overcome personal barriers. “We use poetry to get these kids to consider confidence, self-esteem, choice and change. That’s what we do,” she says.
“We work with kids in a lot of stagnant environments, and we use the poetry to make sure they are going to be successful. Our mission doesn’t typically offer an opportunity for the community to participate because we partner with other youth-based agencies, the poetry festival gives us an outlet to provide workshops for all of Northeast Florida.”
Sponsor, donate, or simply find an interesting event at www.jaxpoetryfest.org.