Spreading The Seeds of Poetry in York: An Interview with Carol Clark Williams
“I don’t think of myself as having a role–I am a poet.”
Carol Clark Williams is certainly a poet, and a modest one at that. As host and organizer of Poetry Spoken Here (a monthly workshop in York, PA open to poets of all ages and skill levels) and the Yorkfest Poetry Tent (an annual two-day poetry festival), the former poet laureate plays an incredible role. Her belief in the importance of her literary community and her enthusiasm for poetry fuel her passion for organizing and writing.
Triangle: What are you most excited about in terms of what is happening with the literary arts in York?
Carol: Literary arts in York are boomin’! Thanks to the continued efforts of poets and poets laureate to spread the seeds of poetry, we have more reading groups and workshops than we ever did before, as far as I know. There is poetry happening somewhere almost every night of the week. Young people are being encouraged to write, to stand up and read what they have written. Adults are reading in Harrisburg,Lancaster and York, and workshopping at Yorkarts and in people’s homes.
A vital part of York’s flourishing community is the annual Yorkfest Poetry Tent. The Yorkfest Fine Arts Festival is hosted by The City of York at the end of each summer. Over 100 artists and vendors set up near the Colonial Court House Complex and the closed section of Market Street between Pershing and Beaver. The poetry tent is located along the river at lot 125 between West King Street and Market Street. Check out a video of local poet Barbara DeCesare performing at the 2010 Yorkfest.
Triangle: Can you tell us about the Yorkfest Poetry Tent?
Carol: Poetry Spoken Here is the name I assigned to the Yorkfest Poetry tent, instigated by Reni Fulton with my support—again, I think in the 90’s. The City of York, Yorkarts and Inside-out consulting group have provided a lot, tent, tables and chairs. We meet along the creek on the bike path, hopefully in golden sunshine, and read aloud or perform poetry all day for both days of the Yorkfest—this year, August 24 and 25. The various poets laureate, beginning with Gerry Meisenhelder, have kept the tent going.
I sent out an all-call to the poets on my e-mail list in early July as soon as our participation in the Yorkfest was confirmed for this year. Anyone who writes poetry is welcome to read at the tent. Saturday is already booked full of dynamic poets from as far away as Harvey’s Lake and Annapolis—and Ohio! We read for fifteen-minute-features. There are a few times left on Sunday.
If anyone wishes to read, the poet should contact me at my e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Yorkfest Poetry Tent is actually where Carol discovered the literary community in York back in 1992. This is where she met important poets who would later team up with her to create groups, workshops, and readings that would sustain York’s literary community and help it to grow.
Triangle: How long have you been involved with the local writing community? What would you consider your role?
Carol: I have been a part of the York writing community since 1992, when I entered my first Yorkfest Poetry competition. The event was the Riverwalk in those days, and I took an honorable mention, crossed paths with Anna Bowman, who wished to start a poetry writing and critique group, and went on from there. With Ed Starkey and Reni Fulton, we formed the Yorkpoets, a dues-paying organization that met in a Yorkarts studio, the library, coffee shops—anywhere we could keep the flame alive. I don’t think of myself as having a role—I am a poet.
Carol grew up in Palmyra, PA and after college she began teaching poetry and grammar at Susquehannock High School. She earned her graduate degree from Lebanon Valley College. There, she encountered a writing community that consisted of various literary magazines and writing groups–but as a commuter student it was difficult for her to get involved. “I was pretty much a solitary poet until Yorkpoets was formed,” says Carol.
Since then, Carol has helped the writing community in York develop into what it is today. Looking to the future, she hopes that this creative energy and community participation in the literary arts will lead to the establishment of a sort of writer’s house.
Triangle: What do you want to see more of in our literary community? What can be improved?
Carol: I want a writer’s house, like the Kelly Writers House at Penn in Philadelphia—a workable building always open where poets can drop in, write, eat, discuss, get help expressing their ideas. I want a poetry commune, a place where we can retreat from the world for a week, a month, a weekend. I guess what I want is a specific space for poetry and poets, always open.
Even with all the work and care Carol has contributed to York’s writing community, she simply considers herself a poet. She loves writing, hearing, and reading poetry—Margaret Atwood is her favorite. “I have been writing since I could write. Before that, I sang songs to myself,” says Carol. Below you can read her own work, previously published in The Fledgling Rag, and see just how much love this poet has for poetry.
To Teach You Poetry
if I could,
I would hold out my hands to you.
with every poem that has marked my mind
tattooed along splayed fingers,
painted in polish on the nails.
Williams’ “El Hombre” etched beneath my ring,
Millay’s “Mariposa” on the Mount of Venus,
Henley’s “Invictus” striding up the lifeline
in large red capitals. The names of poets:
William Stafford inscribed across my knuckles,
Billy Collins circling my wristbone,
Robert Frost and Linda Pastan needled deep
into the suicide vein. And if you would
take my extended hands, the lines of ink
would transfuse from my skin to your arteries,
wash the heart in effervescent waves,
seizing and releasing, widening, coloring,
hammering at the thick dark muscle wall
in ancient iambic rhythms.
– Carol Clark Williams; published in Fledgling Rag
Don’t forget to check out the Poetry Tent (lot 125) at Yorkfest on August 24th and 25th. Poets will read their work between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Sunday. Carol’s workshop occurs monthly on the first Monday at Yorkarts (118 West Philadelphia Street, York PA). Check out these events and more on our calendar! Thanks for chatting with us, Carol!