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Collin Kelley: Guided by Voices

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A blog from: The Staff of Poets & Writers

Posted by RW Blogger on 4.25.11

Collin KelleyP&W-SPONSORED PRESENTER: Collin Kelley

Poet Collin Kelley, author of After the Poison, Slow to Burn, and Better to Travel, and curator of the Poetry Atlanta reading series, blogs about his experience as a longtime R/W-sponsored presenter of literary events.

I’ve had the honor of organizing and co-hosting the annual Voices Carry reading in Atlanta for the past seven years. The reading began at the request of my friend, the late Chante Whitley-Head, in 2004 as part of the Atlanta Festival of the Book. Nearly two hundred people crowded into the rotunda of the Jimmy Carter Library to hear Cherryl Floyd-Miller, M. Ayodele Heath, Alice Lovelace, Tania Rochelle, Ralph Tejeda-Wilson, Kodac Harrison, the late John Stone, and my partner in crime, Cecilia Woloch.

There was an electricity in the room that September night; one of those readings where every poet is performing their best work, the audience is enrapt awaiting the next line, and there are murmurs and gasps when a poet has found just the right combination of words to elicit uncontained emotion. Those transcendent kinds of readings are rare.

Voices Carry was supposed to be a one-off event. There was no money to keep it going, Cecilia was moving back to Los Angeles, and Chante was stepping away from the festival after being diagnosed with cancer. But everywhere I went for months afterwards, people kept asking when the next Voices Carry reading was going to be held. Even from LA, Cecilia was game to put together another reading and to fly back to Atlanta to assist and read.

Poetry Atlanta saved Voices Carry. A twenty-five-year-old nonprofit organization, Poetry Atlanta’s mission is to promote the local poetry scene as well as produce the award-winning Atlanta Review. I was asked to sit on Poetry Atlanta’s advisory board and suggest projects. The first project I brought to the table was Voices Carry. There was a little money in the coffers, but where would the rest come from? Enter Poets & Writers’ Readings/Workshops program.

We were able pay honoraria to poets (who included Jon Goode, Dan Veach, Beth Gylys, Eric Nelson and Sharan Strange), which freed up funds for us to rent the Carter Center space again! The 2005 reading was held on September 11th and it was a double whammy of remembering the terrorist attacks and the still unfolding horror of Hurricane Katrina’s wrath on the Gulf Coast. It was an emotional evening.

Cecilia and I are already talking about the 2011 edition of Voices Carry. My applications will be in the mail to P&W soon. And, as always, we’ll remember our friend Chante, who put us on this road in the first place.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Atlanta is provided by an endowment established with generous contributions from Poets & Writers Board of Directors and others. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

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