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A poet of stature: John Ashbery.

Highbrow Poetry for the People

What makes a great poet? To Laurie Ylvisaker, founder of the Woodstock Poetry Festival, it’s stature. “Our vision was to bring people who have spent their whole life writing and publishing and reading,” she says. “People who had a wealth of published works. People who are at the top of their stature.” She enthusiastically recounts Pultizer winners and poets laureate—like John Ashbery (pictured)—the festival has attracted, and notes that the Jamaican poets attending this year are all “very well educated and professors.”

But this focus doesn’t sit well with everyone. “A lot of the local and regional people are being shut out,” says Mike Jurkovic, a local poet and host of the Voices of the Valley reading series. The Woodstock Poetry Society has been around for nine years, he points out, and they weren’t even consulted for suggestions. “The only thing I was asked about was sitting in front of a bookstore selling tickets for the big names,” says local poet Cheryl Rice.

“These are people who support the poetry scene 365 days a year,” says Jurkovic. “You won’t see too many of the founders of the festival at the regular readings in the Hudson Valley.”

But it’s exactly that year-roundness that the Woodstock Festival wants to avoid. “We have so many incredible local and regional poets,” says Ylvisaker. “But people coming to the festival every year don’t want to listen to the same people. The focus of the festival is not the open mike, it’s to listen to the best.” She notes that there are 30 regional poets who are reading in events like the Sacred Poetry Celebration.

And there are at least a few regional poets who won’t be there at all. They’ll be at the Hudson Valley Poets Fest, Jurkovic’s alternative festival in Widow Jane’s Cave in Rosendale. Running from 3 PM to dusk on Saturday, Jurkovic’s festival will have 15 regional featured readers and cost $5. Jurkovic, who has read and volunteered at the Woodstock Festival in previous years, says he decided to break away after festival organizers instituted an administrative fee for poets applying to feature in a pre- festival reading. He now counts it as a moral victory that the fee has been rescinded.

Ylvisaker is philosophical about the difference of opinion. “People can do what they want to do,” she says. “They could come to listen to some of the best.”

For more info on the Hudson Valley Poets Fest: (845) 566-4425, nrcurmud geon@yahoo.com. For the Woodstock Poetry Festival, visit www.woodstock poetryfestival.com.

—Miriam Axel-Lute


Saved: Erickson’s Season’s Last Tomato.

From the Ashes

Artist Mary Ann Erickson, co-owner of Woodstock’s Blue Mountain Bistro, was in the final stages of preparing for her upcoming show Food for Thought and Objects of My Affection, to be presented at the restaurant. She was finishing up a large painting, and some pictures were in the process of being framed. This was to be a collection of her recent work, including Hudson Valley landscapes, flowers and still lifes—35 paintings in all. Then a tragedy occurred.

Erickson, her husband and 11-year-old son left their home late in the afternoon on Sunday, Aug. 10, to go for a swim. A storm blew in and lightning struck their house, starting a fire. A neighbor managed to contact Erickson, but by the time the family returned home, the second and third stories were fully engulfed in flames.

“We just stood in the yard and watched our house burn,” Erickson laments.

There were 27 artworks in the upstairs studio, and all of these were lost—along with the family’s two beloved dogs.

The firemen saved some of her work, however. The almost-finished Sunflower was still on the easel downstairs; Erickson could see it from where she was standing, and asked a fireman if he would get it. He did. Another painting was on a fireplace mantle and three more were in a back room, and all of these were also salvaged. (Season’s Last Tomato, pictured, was one of those rescued.) Three paintings were still at a frame shop, bringing the total saved to eight.

Erickson’s first thought was to cancel the show, but friends and family encouraged her to move ahead. In addition to the eight paintings, she will display digital images of some of the lost art.

Erickson has had a long career as an artist and graphic artist. A graduate of the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles, she moved to New York City in 1975 to begin what became a 20-year career as an illustrator. Working for everyone from The New York Times Magazine to New York magazine to HBO, she also created album, book and video-jacket art. Still, Erickson found time to pursue her own interest in landscape painting, continuing to learn and explore. According to the description of the upcoming show, her landscapes “pay homage to the great tradition of plein aire painters who reveled in being out of doors and capturing the magic of nature.”

Food for Thought and Objects of My Affection opens at the Blue Mountain Bistro (1633 Glasco Turnpike, Woodstock) this Saturday (Aug. 23) with a reception from 3 to 5 PM. The exhibit runs through Nov. 1. For more information, call (845) 679-8519.

—Shawn Stone

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