Wrightwood Arts and Wine Festival brings poetry, food, music and more – Daily Bulletin

By Timothy Green | Contributing Columnist

The local mountains will be full of art this spring, as the Wrightwood Arts & Wine Festival is finally ready to launch on May 21, after two years of pandemic-era postponements.

More than 30 visual artists are participating in a juried art show in the cozy mountain town, and the festival will also feature gourmet food, live acoustic music, wine tasting and a large literary component.

The setting won’t be unusual for one of the featured authors.

“RENT Poet” (rentpoet.com) Brian Sonia-Wallace has spent years touring the country with his portable typewriter, composing poems for strangers in venues as varied as Amtrak, the National Park Service, and the Mall of America. He’ll spend the day doing what he loves to do, manning his booth in the literary corner, asking passersby his favorite question: “Do you need a poem?”

Last year, I interviewed Brian for episode No. 67 of Rattle’s podcast (rattle.com/rattlecast) and quickly came to admire his perspective. After being laid off from a job, I have decided to try paying his next month’s rent with a Kickstarter poetry project. When that proved successful, he tried his hand at busking poems in public parks, which morphed into paid gigs at corporate events and a series of writer-residences.

Brian sees poetry as a kind of service industry, “part therapy, part fortune-telling.” Removed from the stuffy halls of academia, there’s something universal about poetry, something deep in our bones stretching back into the oral tradition of prehistory. We all have stories that are worthy of words. “People respond to the act of being asked what they need a poem about,” he explained, “and being listened to.”

As RENT Poet, Brian has made an art of listening. Strangers tell him stories, and he absorbs them, then taps away at the keys until he can hand those stories back as poems pressed into 4-by-6 index cards. Mostly he’s asked about the things that go unspoken in our day-to-day lives: love, loss, forgiveness — the meaningful things we don’t often talk about. Through the poet, a daughter tells her father of her, a long-haul trucker, how much she appreciated his sacrificed hours away from home. A widow remembers her husband of her. A teenager confesses his true love for her. Whereas most poets are looking inward, Brian uses his typewriter as a tool to engage with others, putting his fingers on the pulse of humanity. What he’s learned over the years is chronicled in his inspiring book, “The Poetry of Strangers” (Harper Collins, 2020).

Festival-goers can ask Brian to write the poems throughout the day, but that’s only a taste of the literary offerings in the works. Award-winning poets Nicelle Davis and Alejandro Escudé will be leading writing workshops, with a reading planned for late afternoon. Space for the workshops is very limited, so be sure to register early.

The festival closes with a crowd-favorite—the Wrightwood Poetry Slam, where performance poets are welcome to compete for a $500 first prize.

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