Published Writers and Aspiring Poets Gather at This Year's Sotto Voce Poetry Festival

Published Writers and Aspiring Poets Gather at This Year's Sotto Voce Poetry Festival
by Jennifer LB Leese

Everyone from published writers to aspiring poets is invited to take part in the Sotto Voce Poetry Festival September 5th through the 7th in Shepherdstown.
Participants will have the opportunity to study with four accomplished poets: Andrea Hollander Budy, Grace Cavalieri, Terrance Hayes, and Sarah Maclay.
During the festival, which is being held for the third time since 2005, poets and writers of all skill levels may participate in workshops held in various Shepherdstown locations.
"While for the past three years we have been able to offer all the workshops and readings free of charge, this year we decided to charge $25 for some of the workshops. This fee will help us with the expenses of the 2008 festival," said Hope Maxwell-Snyder, organizer of the festival.
The Poetry Festival began all from the love of poetry and Hope's hometown. "I wanted to bring together my love of poetry with the town I live in, Shepherdstown, and to expose the local community to first rate poets and their poetry."
Hope wanted to "promote public awareness and appreciation of poetry, to expose the general public to contemporary poetry, and to give poets the opportunity of working with renowned writers."
At this year's festival, Budy will lead a workshop on Shaping the Poem: Managing Lines and Stanzas. Cavalieri will teach a workshop on the dramatic poem.
Hayes will focus on New Shadows: Moving Poems from Imitation to Innovation, and Sarah Maclay will teach En-Chant-Ment, a workshop in which participants study poems that pull the reader in by "casting a spell."
Space in the workshops is limited to 10 participants, so those who want to participate are encouraged to register early online at the Sotto Voce Web site at or by phone.
Poet Michael Collier, a past Sotto Voce participant, said this about the festival: "What I found remarkable about the Sotto Voce Poetry Festival was the way in which it involved the entire community of Shepherdstown and remarkable as well was the way everyone was incredibly welcoming and gracious and seemed deeply interested in poetry."
This year's festival offers something for everyone. There will be free readings for the community, a children's workshop and a young adult workshop, which are also offered free of charge, a reception at Christian Caine Jewelers on Friday evening, a talk about the writing process as well as workshops that deal with the craft of writing.
"The atmosphere is intense but also intimate. Poets begin to arrive around Wednesday and Thursday of the week. From then on visitors can expect to see plenty of activity all over town (the readings and workshops take place all over and include the Historic Entler Hotel, the Episcopal Chapel, Shepherd University Library, The Stone Soup Bistro and Four Seasons Books). They will hear poetry readings, discussions about poetry, and, if they happen to be poets, advice on how to improve their own poetry. They will also have the opportunity to attend discussions about the writing life, panels about editing and publishing, and receptions that include readings and book signings. One of the nice things about the festival is that people actually have the opportunity to meet the poets and have one on one discussions," informed Hope.
All four poets being featured at this year's festival are award winners. Andrea Hollander Budy's full-length poetry collections include "Woman in the Painting," "The Other Life," and "House Without A Dreamer," which won the Nicholas Roerich Poetry Prize. Her other awards include the D.H. Lawrence Fellowship, a Pushcart Prize for memoir, the Runes Poetry Prize, the Ellipsis Poetry Award, the Porter Prize for Literary Excellence, the WORDS Award, and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.
After writing poetry for almost 40 years, Budy said she knows from experience that a key to creating a powerful poem is knowing how to shape it. That's how she chose the topic of the workshop she'll teach at Sotto Voce.
When asked about her biggest accomplishment as a writer, Budy replied, "While I am certainly proud of the important prizes I've won for my writing...I am most pleased that my devotion to my art does not replace or interfere with other important components of my life (tutoring aspiring writers, working in my garden, or spending many valuable hours with my very good family). In fact, time spent away from my desk actually enriches my writing." Budy lives in the Ozark Mountains with her husband, Todd. Since 1991, she has been the writer-in-residence at Lyon College, where she was awarded the Lamar Williamson Prize for Excellence in Teaching.
A returning poet, Cavalieri has taught at Sotto Voce before. She holds several awards for writing, including the Allen Ginsberg Award for poetry, the Pen-Syndicated Fiction Award for short story, the 2005 Bordighera Poetry Award and a 2005 Paterson Prize for Poetry. She has written books featuring women in history, including Mary Wollstonecraft and Anna Nicole Smith. "My radio program "The Poet and the Poem" is now recorded at the Library of Congress. The series has been on public radio for 31 years without interruption and I have interviewed more than two thousand poets. I also founded two poetry presses in Washington DC and teach poetry in colleges," said Cavalieri.
Hayes will attend the Sotto Voce festival for the first time this year. He is the author of "Wind in a Box," "Hip Logic," which won the National Poetry Series, and "Muscular Music," winner of the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. His other honors and awards include a Whiting Writers Award, a Pushcart Prize, a Best American Poetry selection, and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. He is an associate professor of creative writing at Carnegie Mellon University and lives in Pittsburgh, Pa., with his family.
Maclay chose the topic for her Sotto Voce workshop - Enchantment - based on the fact that some of her favorite poems seem to cast a spell with a non-linear tone and feeling.
"I have noticed that some of my favorite poems create this particular effect - the effect I refer to as 'en-chant-ment' - in part because of a shared technical characteristic, and I guess I took some perverse delight in noting that it was a characteristic in disfavor in certain poetry workshops - yet here it was, creating an impact that I always - always - felt when in the company of these poems," said Maclay, whose works include "The White Bride," "Whore," and three limited edition chapbooks: "Shadow of Light," "Ice From the Belly" and "Weeding the Duchess."
Maclay's poems, essays and reviews have appeared in APR, FIELD, Ploughshares, The Writers' Chronicle, Ninth Letter, and many other publications. Her work was recently selected for inclusion in "The Best American Erotic Poems: 1800 to Present." She received a Special Mention in the Pushcart Prize XXXI, a 2005 Albert and Elaine Borchard Fellowship, and was first runner up in the 2007 Poets & Writers California Writers Exchange Contest.
This year's festival will include two special poetry-writing workshops for children. Both workshops are being sponsored by the Arts and Humanities Alliance of Jefferson County, and will be free of charge. One workshop, scheduled for 10-11am Saturday, September 6, will be for children ages 8 to 12. Ethan Fischer, a local poet and Shepherd University faculty member, will lead it. The other workshop, to be held from 10am to noon the same day, will be for children ages 12-16. Award-winning poet and playwright Grace Cavalieri, who is one of the four nationally recognized writers featured at this year's festival, will lead it.
Both these workshops will be held at the Four Seasons Bookstore on 116 West German Street.
"By bringing in poets of national reputation, Hope has changed the complexion of this poetry festival. And it gets bigger and better every year," said Cavalieri. "This occasion is more than local, more than regional.
"All great ideas start with one person and personal energy. Hope Maxwell-Snyder is not only a poet and playwright; she is a dynamo of ideas. Anyone can get a good idea. It takes personal and professional power to turn it into reality. To host a major writing festival with educational components, readings, parties, book selling, and accommodations is like being a CEO of a large corporation. After developing all this, imagine marketing it. It takes an entrepreneur who is an artist...a rare find."
Registration for all workshops is essential. You can register through the website ( or by calling 1-888-812-1885. For the children's workshops you can visit the website or call 301-667-1391.
Workshops already full include: Sarah Maclay's En-Chant-Ment and Informal Conversation About Publishing, Andrea Hollander Bud's Shaping the Poem: Managing Lines and Stanzas, Terrance Hayes' New Shadows: Moving Poems from Imitation to Innovation, and Grace Cavalieri's The Dramatic Poem.
For more information, visit