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San Jose Poetry Fest Spotlights a Scene With Stuff to Strut

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What it looks like to be poet Katharine Wilson performing poetry before a packed Cafe Frascati in downtown San Jose. (Courtesy of Mighty Mike McGee)

Poetry is having a moment in San Jose right now. A week, really: the 5th Annual San José Poetry Festival started Thursday night and runs through Tuesday at a variety of venues downtown.

Poems are like cats. Not everybody loves them, but those that do feel an inexplicable sense of ownership over particular individuals, like they were written for the express purpose of pleasing you. Though, of course, you can’t own a poem, anymore than you can own a cat.

So there’s really no point in telling you what you want to see amongst the  smorgasbord of options to choose from. But Saturday night, a solid bet is MACLA on 1st Street, which will feature youth poets Emma Rheams, Rohnny Vallarta, and Anouk Yeh from MACLA’s DMC Studio program. They’ll be followed by performances from Riley O’Connell, editor-in-chief of The Santa Clara Review, and Christina Madueño.

They’ll be followed in turn by my new favorite, Brendan Constantine of Los Angeles. He teaches poetry, which inspires poetry, like his masterpiece “The Opposites,” which inspired this animated interpretation from TED-ed:

Brendan Constantine’s work can be found in such salubrious publications as Best American Poetry, Poem-a-Day, Tin House, Rattle, and Chautauqua. Alongside him is no slouch Joy Elan from the East Bay. She won twice at the National Poetry Awards for Poetry Video of the Year (2015) and Poet of the Year (2016).


Constantine will also lead a Sunday poetry workshop at Works/San José). Promised topics include dreams, writer’s block, and “how to end a poem.” No experience necessary.

Sunday, you won’t want to miss spoken word artist Bri Blue of Berkeley, who’s a joy to watch on YouTube, and even better live at the Caravan Lounge. Don’t know if you believe me? Watch this.

“I love an incredible turn of phrase,” says outgoing Santa Clara County Poet Laureate Mighty Mike McGee. (Submissions for the next one are being accepted here. “I’m hoping thousands of people apply.”)

He gave the festival’s keynote address  and he’ll be here out all week. Literally.

“I’m telling ya. There is a poem out there for you. Whether you want to write it or not. Somebody will write the poem that you need. And you will likely hear it if you go out there enough,” he said.

So go out there.

The San Jose Poetry Festival runs Sept. 5-10 at various venues in downtown San Jose. For more information, click here

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