Poetry Festival bigger and more inclusive this year

15 October 2019

Suzanne Seyfi 

[email protected] 

     The Poetry 719 Festival is packed with a wide variety of events, all designed to include as much of the Colorado Springs community as possible. From Oct. 16 to 20, there will be 17 events, two of which will be held at UCCS. 

     In 2018, UCCS alumnus Ashley Cornelius and Christopher Beasley began hosting monthly events under the Poetry 719 banner. They now act as co-directors of the organization with founder Philip J. Curtis. 

     Beasley said of the festival, “Last year was our very first one. Some people thought it couldn’t be done, so we thought, ‘Let’s go do it.’ So, we put it together in two months.” 

     A sampling of this year’s festival event themes: Comedy and Poetry, Erotic Open Mic, Trap and Yoga, Women’s Open Mic and Poetry & Hiking. 

     The Poetry 719 Festival will co-host a Disability Awareness Open Mic event with UCCS’ M.O.S.A.I.C. Office on Oct. 18. This will be their fourth partnered event. Cornelius said, “UCCS is accessible. Many places are not accessible.” 

     The co-directors are exceptionally conscientious of the community they serve. Cornelius and Beasley consider everything from accessibility to audience and locations to transportation limitations. “We’re trying to be as aware as possible, to hit everyone,” said Cornelius.  

     Poetry 719 will host another festival event on the UCCS campus. The closing show on Oct. 20, titled “Listen to People of Color,” will be held in the Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theatre at the Ent Center.  

     “It’s important that people know that the Ent Center is for everyone. It’s so fancy and very big, so I think it’s like, ‘Oh, we don’t belong there.’ Even as UCCS alum’, I’m like, ‘I don’t know, that’s for different, fancy people.’ But it’s a community center and everyone can go,” said Cornelius. “These million-dollar places are also for us.” 

     Another UCCS alumnus, Michael Ferguson, will be the main feature of the closing event (alongside rappers, dancers, other poets and performers). Ferguson, who works as an administrative assistant in the College of Engineering, will also be honored as Poet of the Year.  

    The Poet of the Year award is designed to recognize the people who have been attending Poetry 719 events and growing along with the organization. Cornelius said of Ferguson, “We’ve seen incredible growth from him in his writing and the way that he performs, his content. I think he represents Poetry 719 and being Poet of the Year to a ‘T.’” 

     Ferguson said, “I started doing this spoken word poetry stuff about two and a half years ago. I met my tribe from it and just have grown as a person and artist, and that’s been crazy. It’s mostly terrifying to feature. I’ve done it once. I was shaking the whole time. It’s scary. But it’s fun. I’m happy to do it.” 

     Poetry 719 relies on sponsorships and donations to cover venue fees, which are expensive, as well as paying the features. The co-directors are organizing the festival, hosting 15 of the 17 events, performing their own poetry, handling the social media and even creating flyers for each individual event. Cornelius said that despite the hundreds of hours they have put in, they are not expecting to make a profit. “We’re doing it just because we love poetry, and we love providing a space. Like Chris said, we pay everyone else first,” said Cornelius.  

     A motto for Poetry 719 is “Art ain’t free.” Thanks to those sponsorships, however, 12 out of the 17 festival events are, in fact, free. Cornelius invited one and all to “walk in, sit down, enjoy yourself.”