National Poetry Festival at Grand Valley

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.

National Poetry Festival poster, 1971
Poster for the 1971 National Poetry Festival at GVSC

Vas Dias, whose poetry and criticism had appeared in national magazines such as The NationThe 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.

Jackson Mac Low at National Poetry Festival, 1971
Jackson Mac Low, poet of chance, working on a tape collage at Thomas Jefferson College’s first National Poetry Festival in 1971.

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.

National Poetry Festival poster, 1973
Poster for the 1973 National Poetry Festival

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.

Allen Ginsberg at National Poetry Festival, 1973
Left: a poster inviting participants to register for National Poetry Festival; Right: Allen Ginsberg speaking to a group in Seidman House in 1973

 


The third and final National Poetry Festival was held in 1975.

National Poetry Festival poster, 1975
Poster for the 1975 National Poetry Festival

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.

Robert Bly at National Poetry Festival, 1975
Poet Robert Bly at the 1975 National Poetry Festival at Grand Valley

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.

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