Columbus Arts Festival: Celebrating spoken word

Heather Gross, Columbus Alive

There's a reason the name of the popular early summer event is Columbus Arts Festival and not Columbus Art Festival. Though the visiting national artists and the popular local bands tend to steal the spotlight, the arts festival has a long tradition of including spoken word performances.

At this year's festival, storytellers, theater groups and young writers will appear on the Word is Art Stage on Friday and Sunday, and talented local poets are scheduled to share their work all day Saturday. And later on Saturday evening, 10 poets will compete in a slam.

To receive stage time, poets had to pass a two-step process. First, they had to submit poems to a jury for consideration. Those who survived the first round were invited to audition. It all ensures that the performances will be positive experiences for both festival-goers and poets.

"I really give the arts festival a lot of credit," said Joanna Schroeder, a veteran of the festival's poetry stage who won this year's poetry competition. "I've performed at a lot of festivals where there'll be a jazz tent not very far away, and that's very loud. At one event a friend was reading and they were emptying the porta-potties right behind him."

Schroeder, a travel agent by day, has been active in the vibrant local poetry community since she moved here about a dozen years ago. As the 2012 competition winner, she received a headlining 45-minute slot on the schedule for Saturday night, and her poem about life without a cell phone was included in the arts festival's program. She said she looks forward to performing her work - especially a poem inspired by the city's bicentennial - for visual art enthusiasts who happen to come across the stage and be drawn in.

"I think poetry is meant to be read out loud. All poetry has an element of performance to it," Schroeder said. "I definitely do like performing my work to an audience. I think that's what it's about."