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MARCH/APRIL 2012

CCNY Poetry Festival Features Hunter’s Tom Sleigh

Tom Sleigh, senior poet and director of Hunter College's creative writing MFA program, will be the featured guest poet for City College's 41st annual Poetry Festival, Friday, May 10.

Tom Sleigh, senior poet and director of Hunter College’s creative writing MFA program, will be the featured guest poet for the 41st annual The City College Poetry Festival. The all-day, all-verse event runs 9:15 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, May 10, in Theater B of Aaron Davis Hall, 135th Street and Convent Avenue on the CCNY campus. Dubbed “the Woodstock of the Spoken Word,” the festival has become New York’s longest-running poetry celebration.

"The City College Poetry Festival is the democratic voice of poetry in New York City public schools,” said Pamela Laskin, a lecturer in the City College English department and director of the CCNY Poetry Outreach Center, which produces the festival. “Its assumption is there are many poets, and they all have terrific stories to tell. This would make Walt Whitman proud."

Upwards of 150 students from as many as 50 schools are expected to recite their poems at this year’s festival. The festival is “something the children always look forward to,” said Norma Dunkley, a teacher at P.S. 368 in Brooklyn, who has been attending the festival for over 10 years. “It’s a blessing, something that is real to them, and it’s an entire year of poetry for the children, leading up to this celebration. The teachers and the administrators love it, too.”

Some of the children who participated in the festival’s early years are now teachers who bring their classes. “In 1975, I introduced a third grade student to the audience of 400 cheering students, teachers, friends and family: In 1996, this same individual returned to the festival at City and introduced the readers from her fourth grade class,” recalls Barry Wallenstein, CCNY professor emeritus and former festival director.

“Over the past four decades, this event has become a place of reunion and affirmation for City College alumni, returning teachers, student-poets and friends of the College. I hope it and the important activities of the Poetry Outreach Center continue long beyond 2012.”

In addition to the readings by students, each year the festival invites one or more prominent poets to read their works. Among those to have appeared are: Paul Simon, Allen Ginsberg, Gwendolyn Brooks, Muriel Rukeyser, Adrienne Rich, Philip Levine, Billy Collins, Major Jackson, Kimiko Hahn, Cornelius Eady and, most recently, Patricia Smith and Richard Tillinghast.

The event commences with readings by elementary school students, followed by poets from junior high schools. Beginning around 12 noon, the winners of the festival's citywide high school poetry contest will recite their poems, with the top three winners receiving the Knopf Publishers Prize, which awards cash prizes.

Readings by the featured guest poet, Tom Sleigh, follow. The festival concludes with college students, alumni, faculty and published poets from around the country reading their works between 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

In addition to the Knopf Publishers Prize, the festival presents a special award for the best poem in a language other than English. Reflecting the diversity of New York City and of CCNY, poems have been submitted to the festival in almost 20 different languages over its history. #

For more information about the 41st CCNY Spring Poetry Festival, please contact Pamela L. Laskin at (212) 650-6356, or visit the Poetry Outreach Center online.

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