Local writers enjoy freedom of poetic license at festival


The local literary scene came to the forefront last week when the Vermillion Literary Project (VLP) hosted its annual poetry festival.

The festival was held Thursday, Feb. 24, and provided student and non-student writers with a chance to expand their composition skills.

Each year we bring visiting poets to campus, and then we offer poetry-writing workshops, readings by the visiting authors, and then an evening poetry reading and slam, said Marcella Remund, instructor with the Department of English and faculty advisor for the VLP.

This years festival brought three visiting poets to the University: Patrick Hicks, Sarah McKinstry-Brown and Elliot Harmon.

Hicks is writer-in-residence at Augustana College and the author of five poetry collections. He said he was honored to be asked to participate in an event taking place in South Dakota.

Its nice to be here because the South Dakota Review published one of my first short stories about eight or nine years ago, and Ive never forgotten that, Hicks said.

Its such a treat to be here, added McKinstry Brown, who received her MFA in poetry at the University of Nebraska and lives in Omaha with her husband, poet Matt Mason, and their two daughters.

Harmon has degrees from USD and the California College of the Arts, and is a former member of the award-winning Omaha poetry slam team. He lives in San Francisco.

As Ive been here the past few days Ive been thinking about this festival and the role that it played in my education, Harmon said. I was kind of mentally listing all of the writers I was first introduced to at this festival, whose work I have since come to completely love and cherish. Being exposed to this wide variety of work outside of what I came into contact with on a day-to-day basis here just opened so many doors for me.

Hicks and McKinstry-Brown hosted workshops, while Harmon took over hosting duties at Thursday evenings poetry slam, the final event of the festival.

All three took part in a reading held Thursday afternoon at Farber Hall.

Remund said the decision as to which poets to invite can be made any number of ways.

Sometimes its a poet somebody in the English department knows of who has recently published a new volume of poetry, she said. Sometimes theyre visiting poets who have been to the campus before. Sometimes theyre visiting poets who people on the faculty meet at other literary events around the country.

It varies from year to year, but we just try to get new people each year so people who come back for the festival each year can work with different poets and get as much experience with different poets as possible, she said.

Harmon said the role of the students in this decision-making process is important, as well.

I would really encourage students to be as proactive as possible in getting the school to bring in the writers that you want to spend time with, he said. I would especially say that to undergraduates, who I think often feel like all of that stuff is sort of decided somewhere else in some secret room. Force yourself into those discussions.

The festival is a community event overall, Remund said.

It gives people in the community a chance to work with students, she said. And because there arent really any long-running or well-established writers groups in Vermillion it gives would-be writers and beginning writers especially a chance to get some one-on-one feedback from published authors.

The VLP Poetry Festival has taken place at the university for at least 10 years, although the organization itself has been in existence since the 1960s, making it one of the longest-running student groups.

According to Brian Bedard, professor of creative writing and 20th century fiction, the VLP has been the recipient of several Board of Regents awards for academic excellence, and its main project each year is the publication of the VLP magazine in April, the universitys only student-published literary magazine. That magazine is often featured at the poetry slam in April, where some of the contributors read from their work.

The participation of the visiting writers was made possible by a Speakers Bureau grant from the South Dakota Humanities Council, by the USD College of Arts and Sciences and the Department of English, and by the VLP.

For more information about the VLP, visit orgs.usd.edu/projlit.

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