As the Austin International Poetry Festival draws near, writers and speakers from around the globe are hurriedly translating poems, preparing monologues and boarding flights in an effort to arrive on time to inspire Austinites with their words.
From April 6-9, AIPF will bring together poets from a dozen countries to participate in poetry readings, workshops, and symposiums in Austin. The event will take place in various venues throughout Austin and feature both readings by registered poets and open mic nights.
“Poetry is a world language,” said Thom Woodruff, one of the four founders of AIPF. “It belongs to everyone. We wanted to be as inclusive and as universal as possible and have an open door to all cultural languages and all styles of poetry.”
In 1993 at the Chicago House, a local coffee shop, Woodruff, Herman M. Nelson, John Berry, and Sue Littleton decided that the heart of Texas needed a dose of poetry.
“It was a beautiful venue, a two-story bluestone place where O’Henry used to do Gilbert and Sullivan recitals and soirees,” Woodruff said. “We thought, ‘This is the capital of Texas, it needs to have a poetry festival.’”
Berry suggested to create an event similar to the Houston International Poetry Festival. But instead of making it juried and allowing a panel to choose the poems, they wanted Austin to have an open festival that allowed anyone who felt inspired to speak freely.
“It is a volunteer festival (and) community festival, so it is all ages, races and cultures,” Woodruff said. “It is very diverse, and we try to work with all the Austin bookstores and libraries that
Mark Wendel, the AIPF Board Chair who has been working to organize the event, said audiences will be able to experience a wide variety of themes as well as poetry translated from different languages.
While tabling for the festival, Wendel said he was able to hear some of the locals’ different perspectives on the event and was pleased to see the festival’s open and diverse nature.
“I was talking to a guy there and he said ‘You know, one of the things that’s different about Austin
International Poetry Festival is that you are more involved with social justice,’ Wendel said. “ (The festival) is not only about bringing people together, but the ability to have a conversation about what is really important.”
Bob “Mud” McMahon, an Australian poet who has participated in AIPF for a decade now, said he finds the opportunity that the festival offers to get to know people from all over the globe is one of the most enjoyable elements.
“It’s a collection of people who are dedicated to communication mainly through writing,” McMahon said. “It is very free and open. The variety of expression is quite phenomenal.”
After so many years, McMahon said the massive amount of art and culture around the city of Austin has drawn him to continue participating. He said he believes this may be a driving force attracting others like him to the festival.
“It’s a fulfilling engagement with the public and writers and others in all fields,” McMahon said. “Austin is an oasis in creativity. Austin is the center for all of the arts, film, SXSW and music.”
Woodruff said the importance that Austin places on literacy inspired them to plant the roots here for their beloved festival.
“Austin is the heart of Texas,” Woodruff said. “It is like the Athens of the South. People here love to read and write, so we thought international poetry should find a home here.”