Our History So far:
“We should do a poetry festival…” those six words gave us our somewhat modest start at Open Mic Night in Barnes and Noble. Allen Berry, whose friendship with Anastasia McFadyen of the Austin International Poetry Festival had a dream of doing the same thing in Huntsville, AL. When he turned to Stephenie Walker, then marketing director at the University Drive Barnes and Noble, and spoke those fateful words. That night, the festival was born. The two put together a group of local poets from just about every gathering and group that they could think of who were meeting and reading in Huntsville.
From our rather modest first meeting at Bennigan’s, to the weekly kaffeeklatsch’s, together we forged something that we could all be proud of. Local support was astounding! The best names in local poetry turned out to assist us with fundraising, judging and organizing the festival. Our first gathering drew poets from all over the state. Our first year we featured performances from Alabama State Poet, Dr. Virginia Gilbert, Nashville SLAM poets, “The Beatlicks,” “Clear Soul” author Mary Carol Moran from Auburn, Alabama, and Claiborne Walsh from Fairhope, Alabama. During the open mic time we were treated to a surprise performance by touring SLAM poet, Soul Evans.
In the years following, we have striven to bring the biggest names we could find in the poetry business to come and celebrate poetry in all of it’s many forms. In 2002 we featured Andrew Glaze, Author of “Remembering the Thunder” and Birmingham Slam poet, Mojo Mamma. And finally, we were honored to feature our own Bonnie Roberts, Pulitzer Prize nominee and author of “Dances in Straw With a Two Headed Calf.” In 2004, we featured the work of Cowboy Poet, Joel Hayes, and the poetry of Dr. Susan Luther, and we learned about Jazz Poetry from Dr. Hameed El-Amin.
While the festival has been a joyful labor or love, and celebration, it has not been without its share of tragedy. After the 2002 festival, the summer months rushed by! In the fall of 2003, with the clock ticking, we called a meeting to plan for the 2004 festival. Ruth Braswell, from the SLAM community, Annie Milton, who came aboard in time for 2003, and Allen Berry all came together at Barnes and Noble; notebooks and ideas at the ready. Conspicuously absent that day was our Vice-President, Jack. We chewed the fat for about an hour and then agreed to meet again in 2 weeks. We all missed Jack and his unique energy, but we assumed the email had not gone through, or perhaps he’d gotten involved in a particularly intense golf game. I promised to send out the meeting notice earlier next time, and headed home.
Two days later, we got the horrible news. Jack was gone. Someone had murdered Jack in his home sometime on Saturday night before our meeting. A shockwave ran through us, through the entire community. None of us could understand it. Who would want to hurt Jack?
The next couple of weeks were a haze. We all moved about mechanically; plodding through our everyday lives, just trying not to bump into the furniture. The last thing on any of our minds was the poetry festival. We were all wondering how we would get over the loss of our dear friend, teacher and mentor. A few weeks later, there was a meeting of the remaining active board members and officers.
At the meeting we talked, we reminisced, we grieved the loss of our friend, and decided that Jack would not stand for us abandoning the project that he’d been such an integral part of. We decided that though Jack’s loss was one that we would surely never get over, we had to persevere. We began making plans.
We selected Cowboy Poet Joel Hayes, UAH Professor and Author of “Breathing in the Dark” Dr. Susan Luther. Board member Stephenie Walker spoke to local poet, Dr. Hameed El Amin about conducting a workshop at the festival on Jazz and Poetry. Dr. El Amin looked at her strangely; “Have you been talking to Jack?” he asked. As it turns out, Jack had approached him about the very same topic. Even in his absence, Jack’s spirit is still with us. Though he is gone, Jack’s spirit remains with us. He is now and always will be an integral part of the Limestone Dust Poetry Festival.
In 2005, we welcome Jennifer Horne, a poet, publisher, who has been with the festival, supporting and lending her considerable talent from the start. I once told her I was considering putting her on the jury because she kept blowing the curve. We’re also bringing Sandra Agricola,. Mrs. Agricola is a native of Alabama and Georgia.poet and author of “White Mercedes,” and “Master Bedroom Poems.” Mrs. Agricola is a native of Alabama and Georgia. Rounding out our 2005 lineup, members of the Geurilla Poets. A group of performance poets who believe that poetry is a living art, who perform their poetry in the streets.
The years since have all been equally successful thanks to the devotion and assistance of our community. We thank all the poets that have kept the dream alive all these years!
It is and will always be our goal to celebrate poetry in its many forms, and to welcome as many poets as we can to the Festival.
We are a group of poets and writers who have come together to celebrate the written and spoken word. It is our mission to celebrate poetry in all its forms and to give poets a forum to express themselves and share their work with the community and the world at large.
From time to time there are those who wonder about how we decide what poets/poems are to be included in our anthology.
Well, here is how it works. Every year we select a panel of 3 to 5 volunteers. Some of them are academics, some of them not. All volunteer judges have been involved in the arena of poetry, locally, and beyond. In the past we have had Jazz Poets, poets who have worked in publishing, Slam poets, Literary Association members, high school and college professors judge our competition. The one thing that they all have in common is that they are poets.
The poems are submitted without the author’s name on them. When we receive them, the poems are assigned a number, which coincides with the poet’s name on a list. No deference is given on the basis of when the poems are received. No regard is given to the poet’s based on their past works or reputation. Only the president of the organization whose task it is to compile the list and judge’s packets knows who wrote what poem. The poems are each judged on their own merits.
No judge knows the identity of the other judges. To prevent cross contamination there is no communication between the judges. The judges are tasked with picking their top twenty poems. Once the judges have picked their finalists, the results are returned to the festival staff. The president and staff of the Limestone Dust Poetry Festival tally the results of the judge’s choices. The poems that receive the most votes are selected for the anthology. In the event of a tie, the poems that received the next highest number of votes are sent back to the judges for a runoff. Once again, the president and staff of the Limestone Dust Poetry Festival tally the results. The winners of the runoff are added to the other finalists and they become the poets in our final anthology.