Nystrom, Seibles, Spaar read for Virginia Festival of the Book

Three established poets recite selections from most recent works


Tim Seibles was one of three poets sharing selections of recent work at the event.

Three Virginia-based poets convened last Thursday evening for a reading at Christ Episcopal Church as part of the Virginia Festival of the Book. The event, entitled “Night Moves,” focused largely on poetry written during or about nighttime.

As the Mid-Atlantic’s biggest community-based book event, the Virginia Festival of the Book always offers an impressive list of authors. Book signings, workshops and readings have collectively drawn crowds of over 20,000 each year for the past 13 festivals. Featured writers ranged from debuting authors to international bestsellers, and specialized events allowed each participant to find their niche program.

The festival also gives a platform for local authors to share their work. For poets Debra Nystrom, Tim Seibles and Lisa Russ Spaar, events like “Night Moves” allow them to expand readership and garner community-wide excitement for the poetic craft.

Tim Seibles, Virginia’s poet laureate and Old Dominion University English Prof., explored more political themes in selections from his collection, “One Turn Around the Sun.” His poems covered everything from racial disparity to class differences, including historical elements such as quotes from Martin Luther King Jr. and references to the George W. Bush administration. In his poetry, Seibles does not succumb to despair, but instead writes in a confident and impassioned tone. He puts an interesting twist on modern political issues by writing both humor and supernatural elements into his work.

Decorated poet and University English Prof. Debra Nystrom commenced the event, sharing selections from her newest collection “Night Sky Frequencies: New and Selected Poems.” In the pieces she shared, Nystrom explored the intricacies of personal relationships and expanded small moments into large and resonant entities. She demonstrated attention to detail and a masterful command of metaphor, combining these elements to orient her readers in distinct places — whether a smoking zone outside a rehabilitation center or a playground in South Dakota. She also exhibited the breadth of her writing talent, briefly departing from poetry to share a long-form prose piece that pivoted between images of Italian streets and her family’s farm.

English Prof. Lisa Russ Spaar closed out the evening, reading some of her former collections as well as her most recent book, “Orexia.” Spaar, who said “a lot of [her] poetry is about language itself,” demonstrated an impressive ability to use high-level language. As a poet, she is also incredibly attentive to rhythm and sound, transforming her reading into a musical experience. Many of her selected poems were in conversation with other poets, such as William Blake and Emily Dickinson, and the poetic voice was often insomniatic and interior.

At the end of the event, the three poets encouraged the audience to be engaged and active in their communities. They agreed it was crucial to always remember the power words can have to incite positive change.

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