Special to The Town Crier

The Rio Grande Valley International Poetry Festival (VIPF) will celebrate, for the second year, National Poetry Month Thursday through Saturday with readings, workshops, and slam contests in venues across the Rio Grande Valley — all free and open to the public.

This year's festival features more than 40 poets in total, with 35 registered poets.

Featured poets are Larry D. Thomas, poet laureate of Texas (2008), Amalia Ortiz, a La Feria native who supports herself through poetry readings across the country. Ortiz has thrice appeared on HBO's Russell Simmons presents "Def Poetry Jam." Also featured is NephtalĂ- De LeĂ“n, noted Chicano muralist and writer.

The poets will be conducting readings in schools on Friday, then in coffee shops, libraries, museums, cultural centers, bookstores, and art galleries Valleywide and even in Matamoros, Mexico, on Saturday.

"As far as we know we're the only poetry festival anywhere with concurrent readings in two countries," said festival founder Daniel GarcĂ-a Ordaz.

On Friday evening, there will be a youth poetry slam (recitation contest) as well as readings by college and university students, followed by the adult poetry slam — all at South Texas College (Pecan Campus) in McAllen. Music will be provided during a brief intermission by Pulse.

"Poetry is a much practiced yet little celebrated literary genre," GarcĂ-a said. "It's in our lullabies, our sad goodbyes, our booty-calls, our bathroom stalls. It's everywhere. Poetry is a rich and accessible form, but it's often dismissed as too childish or way too deep, as if poetry isn't what holds together our favorite songs, our favorite commercials, our favorite speeches."

VIPF kicks off on Thursday, Apr. 23, at the McAllen Chamber of Commerce conference room with an anthology release party. Poets included in the collection will be on hand to read some of the selected entries in Boundless 2009, the anthology of the festival.

"Unlike most poetry festivals, we solicit and accept submissions from all poets regardless of whether or not they registered to read at the festival," GarcĂ-a said. "Poetry is not only for and by dead white men or young angry Chicanos; one of the goals of the festival is to be inclusive. While not every entry received was selected for publication, we are extremely proud of the caliber of the poems, which speak for themselves."

Boundless 2009 includes poems by poets from around Texas and other parts of the U.S. and even poems by an American living in London.

"We're giving a voice to the often ignored and a stage to largely unknown word artists," said GarcĂ-a, a.k.a. The Poet Mariachi, author of You Know What I'm Sayin'? "We're building international brotherhood and celebrating diverse cultures. Aside from giving poets a chance to ply their trade, sell books and merchandise, we're also giving the audience free cultural programming."

Public and private venues have come forward as hosts. Aside from the McAllen Chamber of Commerce and South Texas College (Pecan and Mid-Valley campuses), other venues include Jitterz Coffee Bar (Mission), Galeria 409 (Brownsville), Paragraphs On Padre (South Padre Island), Donna Hooks Fletcher Museum (Donna), and Museo Casamata (Matamoros).

"We're stimulating the economy here," GarcĂ-a said. "We have poets traveling from Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, New Mexico and northern Mexico, so the festival is already having a positive economic impact on the Valley. We'll be spending money here — for food, lodging and transportation. The McAllen Chamber of Commerce understands the business of art, which is why they're our main sponsor."

The festival's grand finale will be the third annual Poetry Pachanga — the event that started it all in 2007 at UT-Pan American. The Pachanga, which follows a private dinner for poets only, is where all registered poets will take the stage, together for the first time. Doors open to the public at 7 p.m. at the Narciso MartĂ-nez Cultural Arts Center, with music by Incohero at 7:30 p.m., followed by the Poetry Pachanga. "Borderline," artwork by Celeste De Luna, will also be on display.

"Anyone who has pre-determined thoughts about poetry will find that this is not simply a festival by and for angry young Latinos—although we have some of those," GarcĂ-a said. "Our festival poets are a broad amalgamation of very diverse poets presenting verses about love, lust, lemons, life—and everything in between. We have professors and pachucos, housewives and hoodlums, silly and serious poets coming together to teach, entertain, and make you think or even pee in your pants."

VIPF 2009 is a program of Art That Heals, Inc., and with major funding from the McAllen Chamber of Commerce and also sponsored by South Texas College, the Narciso MartĂ-nez Cultural Arts Center and El Zarape Press.

For a schedule of events and listings of poets and sponsors, visit www.vipf.org or call 956-358-7211.