Marking the last weekend of National Poetry Month, the 12th annual Rio Grande Valley International Poetry Festival is commencing this weekend. It started yesterday, April 25 and will run through today, tomorrow and Sunday, April 28 in various locations throughout the McAllen/Mission area.
The VIPF was started by Daniel García Ordaz and Brenda Nettles Riojas in 2008, and organized by them as well as McAllen Poet Laureate Edward Vidaurre. Poetry submissions for the festival are accepted from around the world, and this year writers stem from the RGV, India, Scotland, England and across the United States.
The festival started as a one-night event at the then University of Texas Pan-American (now Rio Grande Valley) with 14 poets from across local cities. After the initial success, according to García Ordaz, the festival includes readings, writing workshops, musical performances, visual arts displays, academic talks and a visit to the final resting place of poet and scholar Gloria E. Anzaldúa.
Other than a private dinner for poets participating in the festival, the events are open and free for the public to attend.
“Everyone has a voice and something to say, but we wanted to give people a microphone and a stage to share that voice,” García Ordaz said. “We want to connect the writing community, because it’s such a solitary sport, writing, and it’s good to bounce things off each other.”
A married couple of poets actually met each other at the VIPF, according to García Ordaz, proving that real connections are being made every year.
Last night was the opening reception at the McAllen Creative Incubator (601 N Main St.), and the annual anthology of submissions “Boundless” (published for the festival) was available for people. García Ordaz said the book gives writers the opportunity for their work to be expressed on paper.
“Several of our poets have gone on to national acclaim,” García Ordaz said. “We’ve brought in featured poets who have received awards.”
Since 2016, “Boundless” has included a youth anthology series containing poetry submissions from RGV students at various campuses, including the La Joya Independent School District, Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District, Weslaco Independent School District, San Benito Independent School District and South Texas Independent School District.
“Our festival is unique in a couple of ways, and one of those ways is we open up our anthology to anyone in the world,” García Ordaz said. “We’ve had poets from practically every continent almost.”
Tonight, at Brick Fire Pizza (located at 704 E Griffin Parkway, Mission), the VIPF will be hosting a poetry slam from 7 to 10 p.m. There will be youth and adult poetry contests, readings from University of Texas Rio Grande Valley students and faculty and musical performances.
“Like many other hobbies or habits, a lot of it starts early,” García Ordaz said. “We’re such a growing place, the Valley is such a different place from when I was a kid, and I wanted to give young people the opportunity to show off their creative side.”
VIPF believes that involving students and the youth in the festival will inspire more artistic expression, poetry or otherwise.
“It’s just to sustain the soul,” García Ordaz said. “Poetry is all around us. We wanted to get young people excited about something different and participate.”
Tomorrow morning at the UTRGV McAllen teaching site (1800 S Main St., Suite 1100 Room 1.103), poetry workshops and readings will take place. In the evening, festival attendees will congregate at the McAllen Creative Incubator for Poetry Pachanga XIII, which includes poetry readings, music and art.
On Sunday, the festival will end with a trip to Hargill, the final resting place of Anzaldúa, originally from Harlingen. The visit to Anzaldúa, the author of “Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza,” is usually informal, but powerful.
“From the beginning we included that, and we always dedicate our anthology and the festival itself to Gloria Anzaldúa and some of our other local writers,” García Ordaz said. “It is a very powerful experience, it’s very spiritual. There’s tears involved often.”
For the first time, the VIPF is partnering with the UTRGV Center for Mexican American Studies to present “El Retorno: El Valle Celebra Nuestra Gloria” on Saturday.
The annual event honors Anzaldúa as one of the “most significant writers and theorists” to come from the Valley.
“It’s a returning to her roots, to her Valley,” García Ordaz said. “We usually have people who have never been to the cemetery, and usually we read some of her words or works that were inspired by her. It’s a powerful moment for people who feel connected to her.”
This year’s “El Retorno” will feature Randy P. Conner, PhD., a close friend and writing partner of Anzaldúa for over 30 years.
“I get emails from as far as China asking about Gloria Anzaldúa,” García Ordaz said. “It’s one of those things that the Valley unfortunately still doesn’t know her generally speaking, but the world does. With or without ‘El Retorno,’ we’ve always included a visit to her gravesite.”
More details and a schedule for the festival can be found at www.valleypoetryfest.org.