In the summer of 1971 Robert Vas Dias, Grand Valley’s own Poet-in-Residence at Thomas Jefferson College, organized the first National Poetry Festival at Grand Valley State College.
Vas Dias, whose poetry and criticism had appeared in national magazines such as The Nation, The New Yorker, and Partisan Review, invited poets of national acclaim to a 10-day experience of workshops, discussions, readings, performances, and exhibits relating to poetry and art on the Allendale, Michigan campus. Poets in attendance at the first festival included Gregory Corso, David Henderson, Toby Olson, John Logan, Robert Kelly, Al Young, Allen Planz, Donald Hall, George Quasha, Robert Bly, Robert Creely, Sonja Sanchez, Anselm Hollo, Tom Weatherly, Diane Wakoski, Joel Oppenheimer, Ted Berrigan, Jerome Rothenbert, Dudley Randall, and Philip Whalen.
The National Poetry Festival was repeated in 1973. At this event three of the four Objectivist Poets, George Oppen, Carl Rakosi, and Charles Reznikoff, were brought together in the same space for the first time.
Also in attendance at this event were Kenneth Rexroth, Robert Duncan, Theodore Enslin, Allen Ginsberg, Diane di Prima, Victor Hernandez Cruz, Edward Dorn, George Economou, David Meltzer, and Rochelle Owens. A recording of the discussion “Objectivists and After,” is available through PennSound, an online poetry archive at the University of Pennsylvania.
The third and final National Poetry Festival was held in 1975.
The event included poets Robert Bly, Robert Creely, Galway Kinnell, James Wright, Carol Bergé, Kathleen Fraser, William Heyen, Ira Sadoff, Diane Wakoski, Mei-Mei Berssenbruggi, Nikki Giovanni, Jessica Hagedorn, Lawson Inada, June Jordan, Etheridge Knight, Alex Kuo, Alison Mills, Howard Norman, Simon Ortiz, Ishmael Reed, Leslie Silko, James Welch, and Shawn Wong.
Though the festivals were a resounding success, they were discontinued after Vas Dias left Grand Valley. The University Archives contains additional news releases, photographs, posters, and audio tapes documenting these events.
This April celebrates the 20th anniversary of National Poetry Month, the largest literary celebration in the world. Visit the Student Scholars Day exhibition on the Red Wall Gallery in Lake Ontario Hall to read Grand Valley students’ poetry and short fiction excerpts from this year’s issue of the student-run journal fishladder.