I’ve already mentioned the great outdoor emphasis last weekend. You know I heard incredibly great music – but I’ll get to that later. Knoxville’s literary soul was also on display. Urban Woman walked to Shakesfest while I visited Outdoor Knoxville, so when I walked back into the center of downtown, I stopped in.
Shakesfest is an annual event centered around the bard during the month in which he was born and in which he died. Birthday cakes are offered up – there were three this year. Speakers talk about some aspect of Shakespeare and, as was the case this year, are generally authors who have written something about the subject. Union Avenue Books was on hand to sell copies.
The entertainment took a twist I didn’t see coming. Urban Woman said there would be Celtic music and, while that isn’t my favorite genre, I planned to photograph the band and duck out the door. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I entered the room and saw none other than Laith Keilany with his Oud. I couldn’t imagine the connection between a Lebanese guy playing a middle-eastern instrument and William Shakespeare. Laith explained that the oud became the lute, which was popular in Shakespeare’s day. He spoke at length about the instrument, played a bit and answered questions.
The whole event targets a teen audience with the hope of having them engage literature in general in a meaningful way, and Shakespeare in particular. Judging from the response from those teens present, it works. Although the crowd was sizable, I wish more schools would see to it that their students participated next year.
Sunday proved to be just as beautiful as Saturday. The city looks better in every direction with the trees leaf-covered, dogwoods blooming and flowers sprinkled about. It’s a perfect time to visit the most beautiful spot downtown: Old Gray Cemetery. Somehow I don’t find the place depressing. It’s a serious place, yes, but more reflective than morose, to me. Maybe I’m of an age to begin acceptance of the fact that life ends and it’s really OK, I’m not sure.
What drew me to the cemetery on this beautiful Sunday afternoon was poetry. Old Gray sponsors the Poetry in Old Gray contest each year and the winners gather to read their work and to celebrate the written word in this exquisite setting. Judy Loest, who is beautiful both inside and out, served as master of ceremonies. She is a fine poet, herself, and I’ve featured one of her poems before on the occasion of the demise of the last urban pear tree. Cathy Kodra served as judge of the contest and gave eloquent introductions of each other poets and their poems.
Aaron Waldrupe, a student at CAK, won honorable mention for his poem, “For a Friend.” The three women who placed in the contest are each widely published poets. Jane Sasser took third place with her poem, “Black and White” and Connie Jordan Green took second with her poem, “Mindy at Dusk, 1919.” First place went to Linda Parsons Marion for her poem, “Growing Pains.”
The poets each read their winning entry before cycling back through for additional works. Cathy Kodra read two of hers followed by each of the others in order. A more lovely setting and event is hard to imagine. The ancient gray stones interspersed with dazzling dogwoods as the beauty of the language was offered up by gifted writers served, perhaps ironically given the setting, affirm life in all its luminescent glory. Knoxville, your poets and artists elevate each of us with their blessed gifts.
Take a walk up Broadway and around the cemetery. Enjoy the beauty and serenity. Take a poet or, if none are available, take some poetry to read. It’s good for the soul.