ABSTRACT: The Furious Flower Poetry Center is celebrating the success of its first in-person poetry reading since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020.
On April 20, 2022, the Furious Flower Poetry Center had its first in-person reading, since the COVID-19 pandemic made all events virtual in 2020. The 2022 Furious Flower Poetry Prize reading took place in the festival’s Highlands Room on the JMU campus and featured judge, Tim Seibles; winner, Ariana Benson; and honorable mention, Benin Lemus. After each of their readings, Benson and Lemus were presented with their awards by the center’s director, Dr. Joanne Gabbin. JMU Bookstore has ordered copies of Tim Seibles’ work for sale at the reading so attendees can have their copies signed by the award-winning poet.
The 2022 Furious Flower Poetry Prize Reading also marked the first hybrid poetry reading for the Center. The event was simulcast live on Furious Flower’s Facebook page, allowing poetry lovers around the world to join in the event and ask questions during the Q&A portion. The livestream was then recorded on Furious Flower’s Facebook page for viewers to enjoy at their convenience. There were over 40 people in attendance between the virtual and in-person audiences, creating a lively Q&A as the reading ended.
Ariana Benson and Benin Lemus were introduced by Tim Seibles, who explained why he chose their work for the award. About Lemus’ work, Seibles said:
“Benin Lemus writes poetry of direct engagement. His poems can be tender or unapologetically fierce regarding what is happening in this life. In a poem titled “On Arthur and August”, […] she writes “read and you will have pity on the people you meet” which strikes me as real wisdom, especially if we take the words to heart and recognize the need for the weight they carry as a marker of what each of us carries . We read poems because we want to feel deeply knowing that everything that weighs us down, that electrifies us is shared; that we are not strangers in a foreign land, but members of a vast community of souls who suffer and rejoice each day. Benin Lemus makes poems that invite us to return to our lives; who invite us to view life with unfailing honesty and compassion.”
In her introduction to Ariana Benson, Seibles said of her work:
“Ariana Benson’s poems are both elegant and raw. In ‘Theodicy’ she writes ‘You understand, now, that this God / is one of the impossible choices; that His just / does not match ours .’ If we believe that our world is under the governance of such a being, it is difficult to argue on this point.And of course, the truth, small ‘t’ or a capital ‘T’, matters to all of us. We read poetry hungry for what is undeniably real, because it seems true to our understanding of things It is certainly difficult to live, difficult to continue reading or listening if the words you have offered do not help us to know what we know. If words don’t somehow help us clarify the lies, what’s the point? Ariana Benson’s poems are fueled by a thirst for clarity, which she examines the past or the way the past persists in the present, either way we feel the intensity of its quest.
Prior to the reading, Seibles led a writing workshop for JMU faculty and staff that focused on tone and how it is handled. In his lesson, he referenced poems by Ross Gay, Louise Gluck and Lucile Clifton, among others.
“Not everything you come up with in a writing exercise will be perfect or even usable. The point of writing exercises is to try not to get caught up in the “data” in your mind; you never know what you’ll unlock by writing what comes to mind”
The 2022 Furious Flower Poetry Prize Reading was a huge success as a trial run for future Furious Flower events taking place in hybrid mode and marked a joyous return to in-person and socially distanced events with the Center. You can watch the livestream of the reading below.