November 5, 2013 by christopherbaron
In 1995, I pinched my finger between stacking chairs, and I let out an embarrassing yelp. This was the first Border Voices Poetry festival, and I was a volunteer earning “cred” during my time in the MFA program. A few years of devoted volunteering, I became the Fair manager (for 13 years). This essentially meant that I did not need to stack chairs anymore—or at least not by myself. Actually, I had the privilege of working with Jack Webb, founder and chair of the Border Voices Poetry, and a great many incredible friends and Poet Teachers from California Poets in the Schools, along with a vibrant committee of writers, community activists, and artists who care deeply for poetry, art, and the people of our community—especially the children.
Border Voices sends poets into schools throughout San Diego; puts students on TV with acclaimed poets; publishes books of poems by students and acclaimed writers; and holds annual poetry fairs.
The project has received many awards for boosting student test scores. Over the years I had the incredible opportunity to spend time with some of these inimitable writers like Robert Pinsky, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Billy Collins, Maya Angelou, Reg E. Gaines, Sharon Olds, Naomi Shihab Nye, Li-Young Lee, and so many others. About the Border Voices Poetry project, Dana Gioia , poet, critic and former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, wrote, “Like many writers and educators, I have a dream of brining major poets into the schools…and promoting poetry in every classroom. That vision has already begun in San Diego, thanks to the Border Voices Poetry Project.”
After thirteen years of serving as Fair Manager, I moved on to focus more on my own work and raising a family. Just before the release of my first book of poetry, Under the Broom Tree, part of Lantern Tree: Four Books of Poems, I was delighted when, in 2011, I was invited into the heart of the Border Voices Poetry project to be one the featured artists along with Steve Kowit and others. At long last, I would have the honor of sitting with student poets, talking with them about their poems, and sharing my own work.
Border Voices is still going strong! Through the committed work of Jack Webb, and poet and editor, Seretta Martin, and many others, the Festival still reaches many kids in the San Diego Area through festivals, school activities, and television shows.
Here is a video of my featured poet television appearance where I had the honor of reading a few original poems and connecting with two amazing, young poets! Also, because Jack and I go back so far, he truly felt free to ask me some really challenging and engaging (and awkwardly personal) questions: