Cascadia Poetry Festival

A couple weeks ago, with the help of two other English faculty (Brent Schaeffer and Sarah Zale)–I led a group of ten students to Nanaimo, British Columbia, for the Cascadia Poetry Festival.

The Cascadia Poetry Festival is an international event which gathers writers, artists, scientists and activists to collaborate, discover and foster deeper connection between all inhabitants and the place itself. Over four days the fest serves as cultural bioregional investigation and features Academic, Democratic and Performance components, late night readings, a Small Press Fair and several workshops. Some of the best poetry minds in the bioregion will gather, discuss this place and begin to better understand Cascadia and our role here.

The trip was an integrated learning experience I designed as part of a special topics course in the Humanities that I’m teaching this quarter, and the trip was funded by a grant from International Programs for international faculty activites.

While I’d attended the festival last year when it was held in Seattle and knew it would be a dynamic learning experience, I wasn’t prepared for how well the students I was traveling with would be able to integrate and engage in the wide range of bioregional concepts that the festival presented. Thanks to the education they’d received at Cascadia, they were prepared to participate in the poetry readings, panels and workshops which were infused with discussions of geology, geography, indigenous cultures, linguistics, literature, activism, and community-builiding.  I was blown away.

Sarah Zale made a similar observation:  “I was amazed at the growing ability, over four days, of the students to make connections between the arts and sciences . . . Our students, the youngest at the conference, confessed early feelings of intimidation, then took on the challenge to join the discussions and activities. They did Cascadia College proud. I was persuaded, yet again, of the importance of taking students out of the classroom and  into our local communities and the global world.”

In talking to students a week after they’d returned, they were able to synthesize the experience in some important ways.

Becca Bramwell wrote to me that “This festival gave me some amazing insight into issues I’ve discussed in my classes, but in an international context. It was amazing to see the overlap between poetry, language, culture, and geography. This really took learning to the next level for me, and I wish this type of integration was more easily accessible to people my age because it truly was the opportunity of a lifetime and broadened my understanding of my home.”

Another student, Michelle Schaeffer, put it this way:

“Still so much to think about and absorb . . . I think we all came there as something, whether it was as poet, student, activist or participant and we all left a little bit changed for the interactions we encountered. We were a part of an experience that let us discover for ourselves how we fit into the place we call home. We learned that nothing is static, all parts are moving and evolving, living and breathing, each of us co-habitating with the environment. We discovered that everything is important – land, water and air – and we have a responsibility to help sustain the home that we live in.”

Some students even felt that learning about the Cascadia bioregion should be a requirement for all students who attend the college.  It was this last suggestion that confirms and continues to instruct me, like Sarah mentioned, that some of the deepest learning experiences take place outside of the classroom, in communities we have access to as faculty and that we can share with our students so they can make the connections we so often hope they will on their own.

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