ARTSPEAKS returns for annual poetry event

ARTSPEAKS “Bringing Poetry & People Together” will return following the COVID pandemic hiatus for its 9th annual event at 5 p.m., Sunday, outside the Historic Thomas Center.

Co-sponsored by Gainesville’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs, the event gives speakers about five minutes to share their poetry of any style and topic.

“Everybody’s welcome, all voices are welcome, all forms of expression are welcome,” said E. Stanley Richardson, founder of ARTSPEAKS and poet laureate of Alachua County. “It’s a platform for expression through the art of poetry, the spoken word and storytelling.”

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This year’s event is dedicated to James Thompson, a Gainesville poet/activist who died Aug. 31 and would have participated in ARTSPEAKS on Sunday.

Richardson said speakers can create their own art or read a poem by someone else if they don’t pen poetry themselves.

“It doesn’t really have to be poetry in a traditional sense,” Richardson said. “For me, everything is poetry; it could be a song.”

The event has more than 30 presenters this year, and Richardson said people come from across North Central Florida to attend and present.

Richardson started ARTSPEAKS in 2012 after seeing how poets often form cliques around their preferred topic or style. He wanted to form a place for everyone to come together and share.

“I just thought it’d be a good idea, a wonderful idea to just get all of these different voices together under one roof for a celebration of poetry in all of its different forms and iterations,” he said.

Richardson said people can often take art for granted until you are deprived of it, like during the pandemic, and can’t participate in community art, like theatres.

“Art in general is very important for a thriving community and quality of life,” Richardson said. “But poetry, I think, is just one of the purest forms of expression.”

He spoke of a elderly woman who shared a poem about the grief of losing her husband at the 2019 event. The woman told Richardson afterward that reciting the poem to the community members around her was a healing process.

“I think poets are witnesses and truth tellers,” Richardson said.

ARTSPEAKS also hosts an annual event for youth in the spring called “Courageous Young Voices” and established the North Central Florida Youth Poet Laureate Program.

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