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Presented by United Poets Laureate International November 27-December 1, 2016
DoubleTree Hilton Sonoma Wine Country, Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa, CA, USA
President Judy Hardin Cheung, Santa Rosa, CA, USA
UPLI President Virgilio A. Yuzon, Manila, Philippines

          Welcome to the 24th World Congress of Poets presented by United Poets Laureate International! If you were unable to join us November 27 through December 1, 2016, perhaps you can share in our enjoyment of poets and poetry through these words and images.

          Theme: Joy is contagious, spread it around. This is a saying that 24th World Congress of Poets president, Judy Hardin Cheung, made up when asked by an art promoter during a workshop to create an epitaph for herself. After some grumbling and mumbling about what might be written, she came up with “Joy is contagious, spread it around.” Many of us think of joy as something we should not have, should not indulge in, something childish and unworthy, when, in fact, it is the major aspect of life that we should pursue to achieve personal satisfaction and positive change in the world.

          Comments during the Congress included: “This is so enjoyable. ” “This is so relaxing. ” “Everything is right here. ” “We don’t have to worry about anything. ” This is so beautiful. ” “I got to talk to so many different people from so many different places. ” “I can’t think of anything to change. ” The closest to a negative comment was that the Congress was one of the smallest. We had only 123 people participating. “However, ” poets were quick to add, “This made it so we really got to know each other. It’s probably better that it was so small. “

          Tanya Joyce, Emeryville, CA, USA, wrote, “My favorite part of the World Congress of Poets… was reading with other poets from all over the world in Rex Valentine’s late night poetry circle. It was a completely different experience from reading poetry from all around the world in printed form, which I also enjoy very much. However, listening to the variety of voices, hearing how we come from many cultures and yet use one language differently (in this case English), and watching the way poets present their own work — there are always surprises — was a unique experience for me. I felt I got to know individuals more deeply and comprehend world variety better for the experience.”

          Participants came to enjoy from throughout the USA, Japan, China, India, Korea, Viet Nam, Canada, Australia, Philippines, and Cambodia. Others sent greeting but were unable to attend from Thailand, Malaysia, Greece, England, Ghana, South Africa and Germany.

          Our program centered on intercultural understanding and interpersonal contacts. We had at least one scheduled poetry reading for every participant except for those, like spouses, who chose not to. We also had many scholarly papers, some of which were superbly presented with music, dance, costumes, and great showmanship. Even the “ordinary” papers were extremely interesting.

          We had, unlike other Congresses, two afternoons of workshops where we broke into smaller groups and learned in-depth concepts from people around the world. On Tuesday afternoon, we focused on different poetry forms from around the world.

          How to Build a Tanka, was presented by Amelia Fielden, Australia. Amelia is an international, bilingual expert on writing Tanka in English. She is fluent in Japanese, and active in international Tanka and Haiku societies. Techniques and structures of how to create both classical and modern tanka in English were presented.

          Lục bát: Lê Phạm Lê, Viet Nam/USA with Tanya Joyce, USA. Lục bát , also called Ca Dao, is sung to melodies without instrumental accompaniment, by ordinary people in Viet Nam. This workshop plans to keep in touch as a new Lục bát organization. You are invited to join.

Sonnet: A family of traditional forms coordinated by Wanda Rider, USA.

         Each type of sonnet was explained and given an example as to type, meter, and end of the line, rhyme scheme patterns stanza divisions and varied subject matter used.

Rex Valentine: Elma, WA, USA, Shakespearean (English) Sonnet

Peggy Conley: TN, USA, Petrarchan (Italian) Sonnet

Virgilio Yuzon: Manila, Philippines: Asian Sonnet created by Dr. Amado Yuzon,

Founder of UPLI, and Gil’s father.

On Wednesday afternoon, we focused on how to use poetry to spread joy.

          Putting Your Poetry to Dance by Natica Angilly, CA, USA, Poetry and Dance as a unified art form. Hands-on, or rather feet-on instruction where everyone gets a chance to dance a poem.

          Poetry as Mooring: The Joy of Mentoring Ourselves and Others Through Poetry of John O’Donohue, David Whyte, and Rainer Maria Rilke by Constantina Clark, OH, USA

          When we mentor ourselves or another human being, our goal is to transfigure our aloneness by picking up the pieces of our fragmentation, integrating all the disjointed pieces within a place of wholeness and well-being, moving from isolation to intimacy to joy.

          Poetry as a Healing Art by Cathy Dana, CA, USA: As Cathy Dana said, “We all grapple with love and loss, heartbreak and immeasurable joy.” Cathy showed how to turn loss and heartbreak into healing.

          On Wednesday morning, our keynote speaker was Author Aleta George talking about the life of Ina Coolbrith, first poet laureate of California. We also had a discussion panel on how to publish poetry internationally with Elma Photikarm, editor and publisher of Poems of the World, an international poetry quarterly; Liz Hack, webmaster and editor of the poetry website, San Francisco Peace and Hope, which is international; and Judy Hardin Cheung, editor and publisher of Poets of the Vineyard Newsletter, a small monthly publication that focuses on the poetry and activities of its small membership which is also international. Everyone can join any or all of these groups, or start their own using these as models.

          The formal part of our Congress finished with our traditional awards ceremony where three outstanding poets received gold laurel crowns and the title Poet, Laureate Man (or Woman) of Letters. Dr. Weilin Fang, Nanjing University, China; Alicia Rodrigues, Tetonia Idaho, secretary general of the 24th and other World Congresses of Poets; and Elma Photikarm, Philippines and Palatine, Illinois, USA, editor and publisher of Poems of the World were so honored. Many other poets were also honored with awards.

          No Congress is complete without tours of the local sites and landmarks. On Monday afternoon, we visited the Charles M. Schulz Museum at the Redwood Empire Ice Arena, home of Snoopy. There, we saw memorabilia of Charles M. Schulz, creator of Peanuts comic strip, ate at the Warm Puppy Cafe, watched ice skaters, and bought souvenirs at the gift shop. We then went to Historic Railroad Square in Santa Rosa for some more sightseeing and shopping.

          On Thursday, we had an all day excursion through the rural scenery of western Sonoma County. We stopped for wine tasting at Ektimo Winery, a very small, prize winning, and private winery. We then moved on to Korbel Champaign Cellers for a look at a large, long established winery with elegant tasting room surrounded by vast vineyards bordering the Russian River. We then moved on to Armstrong Grove State Park with its cathedral-like redwoods. Three hearty poets hiked the 1.5 miles to see Colonel Armstrong, the tallest tree in the forest. We all ate a picnic lunch and stood in awe of the majestic trees. From there, we went to Goat Rock Beach on Sonoma Coast State Park. We played on a driftwood log, chased seagulls, played tag with the waves that were too cold to let us get wet, and generally had a fabulous time with the brisk, sunny, invigoration of the wild Pacific coast. We finished with a stop at The Tides with a souvenir shop, delicatessen, a large wharf with a whale pot, a gigantic anchor, fishing boats coming and going, and seagulls within a few feet, waiting for a tidbit while posing for photos. While on the way back to the hotel through Bodega and Sebastopol, one poet was heard to say, “This was my favorite vacation ever. We did so many things, and it was all in one day.” We finished with a pizza party at Mary’s Pizza Shack, within walking distance of the hotel.

          Aftermath of the Congress? People have reported keeping in touch with each other, and being excited that so many international poets are now called “friend.” This was not the biggest Congress, but many have commented that it was the best–the best for friendship, the best for quality of presentations, and the best for organization that offered ease and enjoyment. Others said it was best for entertainment, best for workshops, best for theme, and best for promoting joy. Maybe most of all, it was the best until next time.

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