Take a Gamble on Literature at the Central City Poetry Festival

The Teller House will host the first Central City Poetry Festival on September 21.EXPAND
The Teller House will host the first Central City Poetry Festival on September 21.
Jeff Stover
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There’s something about Colorado’s mountains — and particularly the old mining and gambling town Central City — that inspires poetry. And this September 21, the brand-new Central City Poetry Festival plans to celebrate just that: the music of the line, the sweeping panorama of the horizon, writers sharing their work, and audiences enjoying every word. And all of it will take place at the inspirational Teller House, a center of history and poetry in its own right.

We spoke with lead organizer Jeff Stover about what fans of poetry can expect from the new poetry and prose celebration taking place just a short drive to the west.

Westword: This is the first year for the Central City Poetry Festival. Start us off by talking a little about how the event was conceived.

Jeff Stover: I was asked by a member of the Central City Opera to pitch an event idea that would help to grow the arts in Central City. With the rising success of Instagram poetry, and poetry in general, we proposed a festival using the historical environs of Central City, most notably the Teller House. This building is from the 1800s and has a great literary-like atmosphere that captures the imagination. Given that poetry and literature can be quite lonely pursuits, we wanted to offer a festival that went beyond the usual conventions. Our vision is to build this into the biggest premier poetry event in the world. After presenting this to the mayor of Central City, Jeremy Fey, and the Opera, we were granted permission to go ahead with the festival for this year, with only three months to get things together.

Three months isn’t long. Why so quick?

The idea was pitched and accepted by June, with the understanding that the poetry community was ready for a festival of this kind and it would be best to at least put on a "proof of concept" for this year rather than wait until 2020 and perhaps lose the opportunity. We've built much more than that, and are very excited to share all of our activities and guests with our attendees.

Take a Gamble on Literature at the Central City Poetry Festival
Jeff Stover

Talk a little bit about the things you’re anxious to share. What can attendees expect in this inaugural year?

First, they will be graciously received at the door of the Teller House and then free to explore the vendor, sponsor and partner areas on the first and second floor. Our vendors include booksellers, authors, poets, publishers and authors. Our sponsors and partners will be upstairs with their own booths and hosting workshops over the course of the day. An outdoor garden courtyard also offers an open mic for poets, food from JKQ Barbeque, and beer from Dostal Alley. We're also proud to bring in In-Tea of Littleton in the Terrace Room bar on the first floor. Add to that our kids' activities at the Gilpin County Art Museum just across the street, and you have a festival for the whole family. All of that is just the general admission. For those interested in the VIP experience, we have our special poetry-reading event at 3:15 p.m., also across the street at the Williams Stables Theatre. Guests will enjoy musical accompaniment between poetry readings, and also our keynote address by Khadijah Queen.

Khadijah Queen is a fantastic first special guest.

Khadijah is a great poet and exemplifies everything we want to promote with the festival: creativity, honesty, unique experience, and diversity of those experiences. We're very blessed to have her as our first keynote poet.

You'll also have other local luminaries, like former Colorado poet laureate Joseph Hutchison and Kathy Winograd. Will all these folks be doing readings? Signings? Both?

Our poets and authors span different parts of the poetry world. Art From Ashes, a Denver nonprofit helping at-risk youth with poetry and art, will be represented by Theo Wilson, a local slam poet of high esteem. Sandra S. McRae, who teaches English at Red Rocks Community College, just published her latest book of poetry. We've many more great guests to check out, so I encourage everyone to visit our website for the full lineup.

The Poetry Festival isn't limiting itself to poetry: David Hicks from the Mile High MFA and author of the novel White Plains will also be a guest, along with several other prose writers. Since this is only the first year, how is the festival already expanding?

The original and current vision for the festival was to feature other mediums that either complement poetry or serve it directly. Much in the way comics are the "common denominator" for conventions featuring film, books, and TV elements, poetry serves as a base for many other art forms. Much of online poetry posted has a visual element, so including artists and other creators makes sense. It also gives the poetry community at large a way to cross-pollinate ideas and grow with the arts as a whole.

There's even music. Can you talk a little about who's performing at the festival?

We have Chris Rippey attending the event with his own booth, and he's also our performing musician at the VIP event. Chris is incredible on many levels, not the least of which is his poetical storytelling series The Tales of the Boatman. Chris plays numerous instruments from around the world. He'll be there to share and educate attendees about the vast history of music contained in these instruments, and how they have always been connected to poetical expression.

Take a Gamble on Literature at the Central City Poetry Festival
Jeff Stover

The event is housed at the historic Teller House this year. Why choose that location to hang your poetic hat?

One step inside the Teller House and you'll know. It's rich with art and history, and gives a tug to the poetical mind. There's a powerful poem attached to the building by way of the iconic "face in the floor" located at the bar on the first level. The poem was written by Hugh Antoine d'Arcy and concerns the beautiful face painted on the bar floor, which guests can see when they visit. Poetry is in the foundation of the Teller House!

And why Central City?

With the incredible presence of the Central City Opera and the growing festivals such as Central Jazz and the Central City Plein Air Festival, Central City is growing into a complete destination and home for arts of all kinds. Adding poetry to the lineup was logical.

Who's on your wish list for next year and the second annual Central City Poetry Festival?

We're working on getting the publisher Andrews McMeel Universal involved, given that they publish some of the biggest names in modern poetry right now and have helped to pioneer the global resurgence in poetry. I can't say exactly who we'd like to offer, but we'll have an entire year to build for 2020. So many good things are to come.

The Central City Poetry Festival takes place on Saturday, September 21, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Teller House. For tickets and more information, visit the festival's website.

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