For the second year in a row, the Kentucky State Poetry held its yearly conference virtually, and—as the many who participated can attest to—the virtual conference, for both the eager participants and presenters, was a real, smashing success.
The session began with poetry readings by Affrilachian poets who reside both in Kentucky and outside the state. The readers, among them Frank X. Walker, Joy Priest, and KSPS Vice President Danni Quintos, gave voice to a movement that began over thirty years ago and is still as vital and fresh now as it was when Frank Walker coined the word “Affrilachian” in 1991.
The presentations at the Conference covered a wide variety of topics, including writing epistolary poems (Britton Shurley), the intersection in writing between poetry and essay writing (Miranda Honey, Erin Keene, and Joy Priest), the “character of place” in poetry (Mitchell L. H. Douglas), and a Q and A session on publishing one’s work, led by the poets Marissa Davis, Kristen Renee Miller, Robin Rahija, and Kentucky’s Poet Laureate, Crystal Wilkinson.
The keynote presenter for the Conference, Kiki Petrosino, began by talking about the importance in poetry of place, of “a community that links itself so strongly to place.” Many of the poems she read were situated in central Virginia, where she comes from. A number of her poems took on the complicated legacy of Thomas Jefferson, an historical figure who is still, as Petrosino said, “a phantom but also a real presence” for Virginians. Her poems, as the best historical poems often do, managed to enliven our complicated racial past as an incisive commentary on the present, as in the poem “Message from the Free Smiths of Louisa County,” from Petrosino’s highly praised collection White Blood: a Lyric of Virginia.
The presentations and workshops were punctuated by social hours and readings from the KSPS-sponsored contests, as both student and adult poets read their award-winning submissions. An open mic reading ended the Conference on Sunday afternoon.
All in all, this year’s virtual conference was a smashing success, and whatever form the Conference takes next year, KSPS looks forward to (as one board member described this year’s Conference), the “Best Conference yet!”
- –Matt Birkenhauer