HISTORY OF THE PALM BEACH POETRY FESTIVAL

Poets Featured Previously at the Palm Beach Poetry Festival
(2005-2014)

The beginnings of the festival were very much a collaborative effort between Miles’s Coon and his wife Mimi, his good friends, Carol and Alan Benjamain, and other board members. In 2004, then president of Poets of the Palm Beaches, John Palozzi asked if Miles would organize some workshops. Miles idea was to have not just some workshops, but a festival with workshops, readings and craft talks, taught by really great poets. After an initial conversation, John and his board authorized Miles to organize the first festival as a partnership event with Poets of the Palm Beaches and Lynn University.

The inaugural festival was presented in January of 2005. Audiences up to 300 people attended readings by Patricia Smith, Thomas Lux, Sharon Olds, and Billy Collins. Campbell McGrath and Spencer Reece pitched in with wonderful introductions. All available workshop seats were filled by poets who had to apply for admission. Of the 48 workshop attendees, 75% traveled from out of state and even from as far away as Australia to attend the first festival.

From the Festival’s “start up,” four of our country’s great poets had agreed to be part of this adventure. Morgan Stanley and the Palm Beach Post gave much-needed support. After the enormous success of the first festival, it was agreed that the mission of the festival would be best served by establishing a nonprofit corporation of its own. Palm Beach Poetry Festival, Inc., was founded in March of 2005 with net proceeds from the first festival.

The second annual festival was presented in January 2006 in partnership with Old School Square Cultural Arts Center (now Delray Beach Center for the Arts). Eight workshops were offered. Each workshop was ten hours (up from five the year before) and of the eight workshops, two intermediate level sections were included to encourage participation by poets at every stage in their development as writers of poetry. A Florida Poets reading was added. In this second year, again, all workshop seats were sold, and audiences approached 300 in number. The second festival offered some outreach programs to engage the local community.

2006 Faculty & Staff with winners of the  high school poetry  award2006 Faculty & Staff with winners of the high school poetry awardThe success of the second festival was due to the amazing line-up of featured poets: Laure-Anne Bosselaar, winner of the Isabella Gardner Award; Kurt Brown, winner of the Custom Words Poetry Prize; Jane Hirshfield, winner of the Poetry Center Book Award; Tony Hoagland, winner of the James Laughlin Poetry Award; Galway Kinnell, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner; Thomas Lux, winner of the Kingsley-Tufts Poetry Award; Campbell McGrath, winner of the Kingsley-Tufts Poetry Award; Susan Mitchell, winner of the Kingsley-Tufts Poetry Award; Marilyn Nelson, Connecticut Poet Laureate; and Sharon Olds, former New York State Poet Laureate.

Facilities at Old School Square proved ideal. The Crest Theatre provides an intimate and comfortable setting for readings and craft talks, and the Vintage Gymnasium is a wonderful space for the festival gala and late night performance event. The classrooms, so bright and welcoming, are perfect for the workshops.

Morgan Stanley and the Palm Beach Post have come to our aid over the years. Clear-Channel Communications and Barnes and Noble were early sponsors who supported the festival’s mission along with many other generous donors.  Our gratitude also goes to Chris Bluemer, a local poet, who counseled Miles in the early organizational days of the festival and to Marya Summers, a local poet and journalist, who served as the festival’s communications director and coordinator from the outset until August of 2006.

In the 10 years since it’s beginnings, the festival has presented workshops with some of America’s most laurelled and engaging poets, faculty who are known for their teaching and their poems. In it’s tenth year, the festival received a record number of applications and added a ninth workshop, expanding the number of participants and auditors who hailed from 24 States, Canada; the United Kingdom, Israel; Qatar; and Peru.

Poetry feeds the human appetite for solace, in its making and in its reading. In every society throughout history, poetry has expressed our deepest human emotions. The individual voice speaking for all of us. In Palm Beach County, festival events, the festival as a whole, has proven to be essential, desired and thrilling. 



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