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Poetry with the Masters: Schedule Set for 21st WCU Poetry Conference

The first-ever poet laureate and poet emerita of the West Chester University Poetry Conference, Exploring Form & Narrative, will be honored at the conference, held on campus Wednesday, June 8, through Saturday, June 11. The country’s largest poetry-only conference, it is renowned for creating an egalitarian atmosphere where writers, critics and students mix together. As always, the public is invited to free faculty readings on Thursday and Friday evenings.

The conference’s inaugural poet laureate is Charles Martin, who has had three of his collections nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Among his many awards are multiple Pushcart Prizes, the Bess Hokin Award, the Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Merrill Ingram Foundation. The Academy of American Poets has recognized him for his notable work translating Latin poetry. Martin has retired from teaching English at Queensborough Community College (CUNY).

Conference poet emerita Rhina P. Espaillat has published 10 full-length books and three chapbooks encompassing poetry, essays and short stories in both English and her native Spanish, and translations from and into Spanish. She has earned numerous national and international awards. Her most recent publications are her poetry collection in English, Her Place in These Designs, and two books of Spanish translations, Oscura fruta/Dark Berries: Forty-two Poems by Richard Wilbur, and Algo hay que no es amigo de los muros/Something There Is that Doesn’t Love a Wall: Forty Poems by Robert Frost.

The prize in her name, plus the Iris N. Spencer Poetry Awards and the Myong Cha Son Haiku Awards for undergraduates, will be presented Wednesday afternoon, with the winning students reading their work.

Sir Andrew Motion will deliver the keynote Wednesday evening. England’s poet laureate from 1999 to 2009, he moved to the U.S. last year and became professor of the arts at Johns Hopkins University. He was the first poet laureate to retire rather than keep the title until death.

Motion won the 2015 Ted Hughes Award for new work in poetry for the radio program Coming Home. He was inspired to write it after recording British soldiers returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has also won the Arvon/Observer Prize, the John Llewelyn Rhys Prize, and the Dylan Thomas Prize. He was most recently professor of creative writing at the University of London and served in a number of national roles in support of England's culture and literature, including as chair of the Arts Council of England's Literature Panel since 1996. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, Motion was knighted in 2009.

Conference co-founder Dana Gioia, who was recently named poet laureate of California, will lead a one-day workshop, as will fellow literary luminaries Alfred Corn and Timothy Murphy. Anne Higgins, Kate Light and Tony Barnstone will teach critical seminars and 12 faculty poets will present three-day workshops.

The conference will conclude with a concert by Iris DeMent, followed by a carnival that features WCU's Latin dance band, a DJ, karaoke, and more.

DeMent is the first popular recording artist to set Anna Akhmatova's poetry to music. She happened upon Akhmatova's "Like a White Stone" in an anthology of Russian poetry. As she notes in the bio on DeMent's website, "I didn't feel like I was alone anymore. I felt as if somebody walked in the room and said to me, "Set that to music.'" So she did, in melodies that flowed easily and continuously, becoming The Trackless Woods, released last fall.

There are several registration options, including the full conference or just the one-day seminars, and a discount for registrations received by April 15. If concert tickets remain, they will be available to the public for $35 each.

The conference will take place in WCU's Swope Music Building and Performing Arts Center. For the complete schedule, bios of the faculty, and registration information, visit the Poetry website or email poetry@wcupa.edu.