More focused WordXWord returns to downtown Pittsfield

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PITTSFIELD — A combination of talented local and visiting poets and storytellers with thought provoking — sometimes unfiltered — viewpoints will speak their minds this week in the Upstreet Cultural District.

The 8th annual WordXWord festival returns Tuesday and runs through Saturday, a more streamlined version of past years week-long celebration of the spoken word.

"We're on this trajectory to narrow our focus; we're doing what others aren't." said WordXWord Director Bill Yehle. "We don't imagine ourselves being, say, Barrington Stage."

The trio of headlining visiting poets, Eve Ewing, Safia Elhillo and Jayson P Smith, all strong poets from Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York City, respectively. Each will perform and host performances throughout the five days of nine scheduled shows and four workshops. The festival features local poets and storytellers in separate slam competitions, hybrid events of local and visiting artists and workshops.

Organizers have already held the poetry and storytelling slam semi-finals, with four finalists ready to via for the title in their respective category.

In recent years, WordXWord has been more inclusive of youth and young adults creating a wide range of experience on stage. in all, the 47 local creative orators range in age from 14 to 75, according to Yehle.

"We hade kids sign up for what we thought would be adult-only slams," he said.

Young poets from previous WordXWord festivals found them to be a welcome outlet for their work.

"It was always difficult for me to share pieces of my identity with others because I thought that people would overlook my experiences because of my age," wrote Izzy Nunes, a Miss Hall's School student. "WordXWord gave me the confidence I needed to stop seeking validation from others which allowed me to grow both as a write and a person."

Jamie Vachula, student at Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter School in Adams, broke out of her shell thanks to a WordXWord youth event in May.

"The Outspoken poetry festival and the poetry workshops really helped me put myself out there (and my writing too0 because I tend to be shy," she wrote.

"Metaphorically, the performers stand up in front of an audience, naked," Yehle said.

While organizers don't censor the work as mature content is likely at any event, poets and storytellers still need to think before speaking.

"You want to make sure to choose the right words to get a point across and if a curse word works, so be it," noted Yehle.

IF YOU GO...

WordXWord 2016 Schedule

Tuesday: Poetry Crawl, 5:30p,m.starts at Dottie's Coffee Lounge, 444 North Street, ends at Berkshire Museum, 39 South St.

Feature night: 7:30p.m. Berkshire Museum, Marquee performance by 2016 poets-in-residence Eve Ewing, Safia Elhillo and Jayson P. Smith.

Wednesday: bSpoke! / Cadavre Exquis, 5:30p.m. Lichtenstein Center for the Arts, 28 Renne Ave. Featuring the work of a variety of Berkshire poets, plus Exquisite Corpse - a massive multi-voice collaboration.

Poetry Slam Finals: 7:30p.m. Dottie's Coffee Lounge Thursday: Outspoken Youth Poetry Slam, 5p.m. Lichtenstein Center #Kahoots: two minds/two voices with special guest Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib 7:30p.m. Whitney Center for the Arts, 42 Wendell Ave.

Friday: Story Slam Finals, 6p.m., Lichtenstein Center The Ragged Edge of Truth, 8p.m., Whitney Center Poets-in-residence join with a cast of regional voices.

Saturday: Festival Finale, 8p.m., Whitney Center A “best of the festival” meets-new-stuff, surprise cameos and recently discovered bits of genius.


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