On March 9, 2018, the Alpha Gamma Kappa Chapter of Sigma Tau Delta at Shepherd University hosted “Poetry Fest 2018,” a festival dedicated to exactly what it sounds like: celebrating poetry! As participants entered, each was handed a raffle ticket for a literary themed basket. Baskets included genres like “Horror,” “Sci-Fi,” “Romance,” and “Crime/Mystery,” and were packed with goodies like books, candy, board games, pens, knick-knacks, and more. Along the tables were plain white sheets of paper, with colored pencils, and an encouragement to write their own poems—or doodles—while the event occurred. Outside, there were free refreshments.
As for the event itself, audience members—along with a few adventurous members of our chapter—read either original poetry or just poems that they liked. Readers received extra raffle tickets. After the regular poetry, there was a short break and then our favorite section of the night. Inspired by the Sigma Tau Delta International Convention, we had an hour long “Bad Poetry,” in which participants were encouraged to read the worst poem they could write—or find—with the warning that they would certainly be booed off stage.
We expected a relatively small turnout, with our own chapter members, some community members, and some local high schoolers. However, by the high point of the event, the very large room was packed, with people standing along the back for lack of a place to sit. As per our last count, we had over eighty people in attendance. Because we had reached out to local high schools, in the hopes that the event would foster a love and appreciation of poetry and the written word, we had teachers, groups of students, and many others in attendance. But there weren’t just people attending the event—there were people having fun. The room was full of laughter. By the close, audience members asked questions like, “How will we hear about the next event you’re having?” “Do you have other types of poetry readings?” and—my personal favorite—”How often do these happen? If poetry readings are the sort of things you guys do, I’ll be here every weekend.”
Of course, we consider our high attendance to be a success. However, it’s comments like the ones above that truly made us feel like we had done something right. People weren’t just attending because they had nothing better to do—they were really enjoying poetry. At our event, we were able to help a large crowd of people understand that poetry isn’t some stuffy activity professors do for other professors, or some ancient art form that’s just for studying in textbooks—it is beautiful, and fun, and something to be celebrated.
Because of the success, and quite honestly the fun, we had with this event, we hope that it will become an annual tradition for our chapter of Sigma Tau Delta. In the future, we hope to continue promoting the event for high school students—while also opening it up for the community and our own university. Of course, there are always ways we can improve the event. For one, the system of handing out tickets to participants who read poetry was a little clunky at times, with some readers walking away without grabbing their tickets. For another, we required visitors to stay until the end in order to win the raffle, when we could have kept phone numbers or something similar to get in contact with winners. However, in terms of the structure of the event itself, things seemed to go smoothly.
For chapters who wish to emulate the event, we recommend a few things: promote, promote, promote; include something more fun (like bad poetry); provide snacks; and have an amazing emcee. Above all, the event should be fun—seek to encourage the love of poetry and writing that brought you to Sigma Tau Delta in the first place, add a touch of organization and planning, and everything will run smoothly.