Burlington Book Festival 2018

Advent Calendar Challenge Day Four

The opening of the Burlington Book Festival was not at all what I was expecting when I first stepped onto the green and gold-leafed carpet of the UVM Alumni House. The room was filled with an older audience, an occasional blonde or brunette interrupting the sea of grey hair. Despite the fact that my partner and I stood out like a pair of sore thumbs, I couldn’t help but be swept up by the quiet murmurs of hopeful excitement for the evening.

The opening ceremonies started with an introduction by Philip Baruth. Besides thanking the event’s supporters, he declared the audience would be “changed people” when we left, something I couldn’t agree with more. After his declaration, Mr. Baruth proceeded to formally dedicate the weekend to Eugene Jarecki, a prominent Vermont filmmaker and author. This seemed a curious choice to me simply for the fact that Mr. Jarecki himself claimed to be “more of a filmmaker than an author,” but several others spoke about Mr. Jarecki and his work, flawlessly connecting it to not only literature, but current social issues as well. The speaker who stood out to me the most—and not necessarily in the best way—was civil rights activist and author, Arjun Singh Sethi. Although it seemed that he was supposed to be praising Eugene Jarecki’s work and connecting it to his own, he took his time at the microphone to talk about his opinions of current social and political issues. In a different context, I would have found his speech both appropriate and inspiring, but I felt he did not connect his speech to the topic in a way that made it flow, actually taking away some of the significance of the dedication to Mr. Jarecki’s work. While Arjun Singh Sethi was very well-spoken, I did not think his speech added to the evening.

After the dedication ceremony, the featured poet of the evening, Sharon Olds, was introduced. Her part of the night seemed minor compared to the opening and dedication ceremonies, but her grey braids bounced as she jogged to the podium, energetic and excited nonetheless. She began with a reading of her poem, “For You.” I enjoyed her vivid imagery and storytelling abilities, particularly in the lines, “It felt like being cheek to cheek with a baby,” and “Sometimes the orb pops back up, a ball of cream balanced on a whale’s watery exhale.” Her language and connections within the poem were very intriguing to me.

Sharon Olds read many other poems, but another that stood out to me was “Rasputin Aria.” At first, I found it very dark and grotesque in a way that worked, but it soon turned uncomfortable for me with the phrases “poor penis” and “sister vagina,” among others. While I respect her craft and the fact that she is writing about subjects important to her, poetry of this genre makes me feel extremely unsettled, so I did not enjoy the rest of the night until the Q&A portion of the evening. When Ms. Olds started accepting questions, a woman from the audience brought up the Kavanaugh/Ford trial and connected it to Ms. Old’s own poem, “Republican Living Room,” and the poet’s own experience growing up in a conservative family despite her opposing beliefs. It was truly inspiring to hear women speaking frankly on the issues surrounding the trial and our society today, and I think it made the Q&A my favorite part of the event.

Although I was uncomfortable for much of the evening, I was still impressed by the opening night as a whole. The speakers conducted themselves very professionally and excited the crowd for the weekend to come. Based on what I saw at the opening, I wish I would have been able to make it to more events, and I’m definitely planning to attend more next year.

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