SHEPHERDSTOWN – Robert Frost, the New England poet as beloved as ever nearly a half-century after his death, once explained his work this way: “Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.” Friday and Saturday in Shepherdstown, the eighth-annual Sotto Voce Poetry Festival will spotlight Frost and other award-winning poets with a series of lectures, workshops and other events, many of them open and free to the public.
One of the most anticipated offerings comes Saturday afternoon when award-winning poet and Ohio State University professor Andrew Hudgins presents “Out, Out,” a talk on Frost and his 1916 poem by the same name. The Texas-born Hudgins – a Pulitzer Prize finalist for “Saints and Strangers,” his 1985 volume of poetry – will deliver the free talk at 4 p.m. at Four Seasons Books at 131 W. German St. Hope Maxwell-Snyder, who continues to run the festival she launched in 2005, says that over the years it has attracted participants from the region as well as from far away as D.C., New Jersey, New York, even California.
“The festival stemmed from my passion for poetry,” said Maxwell Snyder, who grew up in Bogota, Colombia, where her grandfather passed along his love for poetry, asking that she memorize and recite poems. Maxwell-Snyder, who holds degrees from William and Mary, the George Washington University, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Manchester in England, lives with her family in Shepherdstown, her husband’s hometown.
Her resume includes serving as Shepherd’s Coordinator of Modern Languages and writing poetry, plays and a novel. Maxwell-Snyder said she rediscovered her love of poetry after a sabbatical from Shepherd when she signed up for a writers’ conference. “I started writing poetry once more and during a conversation with a friend, the idea for a poetry festival came up,’’ she said. “I got right to work.” Another highlight of this year’s festival is a Friday poetry reading by Hudgins and former Vermont Poet Laureate Ellen Bryant Voigt, who has published six collections of poetry and has been a finalist for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award.
The free reading begins at 8:30 p.m. at the Erma Orr Byrd Auditorium at Shepherd University. On Saturday, participants pay to sign up for workshops and private writing critiques with experts including Michael Collier, director of Vermont’s acclaimed Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference who teaches at the University of Maryland and has served as Maryland’s Poet Laureate; Stanley Plumly, a poet and English professor who heads the University of Maryland-College Parks’ creative writing program; and Peter Stitt, editor of the Gettysburg Review and a professor of English at Gettysburg College. After Hudgins’ Saturday lecture on Frost, a free reception and book signing with Sotto Voce’s guest poets is scheduled from 5 to 6 p.m. at Four Seasons. The festival wraps up with another free poetry reading, this one with Collier and Plumly.
It starts at 6:30 p.m. at Erma Orr Byrd Auditorium. Sotto Voce – the name is taken from the Italian phrase meaning, “in a soft voice” – has grown tremendously since its start, according to Maxwell-Snyder. Featured poets over the years have included Peggy Shumaker, poet laureate of Alaska; Edward Hirsch, president of the Guggenheim Foundation and author of “How to Read a Poem”; and Mississippi-born Natasha Trethewey, who was appointed United States’ Poet Laureate in June and began her tenure just last month. Explains Maxwell-Snyder: “My objective since the beginning has been to make poetry more accessible to the general public and to celebrate it as an art.”
Want to go?
For a schedule of all the events happening at Sotto Voce Poetry Festival or to sign up for any of the workshops where space remains, go online to www.sottovocepoetryfestival.com. For more on Saturday’s events at Four Seasons, contact the book store at 304-876-3486 or firstname.lastname@example.org.