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National Poetry Month has special meaning for West Chester University and Kim Bridgford, director of WCU's Poetry Center. The annual West Chester University Poetry Conference, which Bridgford directs, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. And her Mezzo Cammin Women Poets Timeline Project, an online collection of and connection for all women poets, just published its 50th essay, one on Emily Dickinson.
Renowned poets Rhina Espaillat and Rachel Hadas joined a dozen other poets in giving readings and comments to celebrate Mezzo Cammin's milestone at an event at New York's Lincoln Center on April 11. Remarked Espaillat, "You are bringing these women poets back from the dead, bringing their voices into the room, and putting them into conversation with each other."
Bridgford, who considers Mezzo Cammin one of the most important projects of her literary life, says, "The more essays we include, the easier it is to see the commonalities." She hopes it will evolve to include all women poets who ever lived. It already contains a wide selection of contemporary and historical poets as well as the Sumerian poet Enheduanna, the first identified poet in recorded history.
"At the most important times of their lives, people turn to poetry, to celebrate, to make sense of a death," Bridgford notes of poetry's timelessness, intimacy and universal appeal. "Poetry can make life magical. It's all about grandeur and kindness," which is what she hopes to bring to the community through the Poetry Center's free readings, salons and partnerships.
In April, Alice Friman gave a free public reading at the Poetry House and Bridgford hosted a night of "Poetry Under the Stars," in which students and alumni read poetry to accompany a special presentation in the University's Dr. Sandra F. Pritchard Mather Planetarium. Other events this semester have included a craft talk and reading by Naveed Alam and a collaboration with the School of Music linking current students with alumni by word and melody.
"It's not just about bringing poets here," says Bridgford. "It's about poetry for the community."
From June 4 to 7, more free public readings take place each evening of the Poetry Conference – an opportunity to hear up-and-coming voices as well as established poets. U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Tretheway's keynote is also free to the public, who are also invited to register for various segments of the conference.
The 20th anniversary Poetry Conference will include special events, including a demonstration at Aralia Press, the fine press run by conference co-creator Mike Peich; a Saturday concert by Diane Schuur, Grammy-winning vocalist and pianist; and Saturday workshops for teachers at a special rate.
Bridgford invites anyone curious about poetry to sample it through one of the free events.
Whether the poetry is formal and metered or informal and hip-hop, she says, "We are all having the same conversation, just in different groups."