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Carnival of Cadence

First Yockadot poetry festivals seeks to break down artistic boundaries.

As a poet, Dan Logan knows some people mislabel his art as inaccessible or, even worse, tedious. As an Alexandrian, he’s often heard the same kind of misrepresentation about his city — that it can be a little stodgy when it comes to artistic expression.

"There’s a stereotype of Alexandria as a conservative place, which it isn’t," he said.

Logan is one of over two dozen performers who will participate in the first Yockadot Poetics Theatre Festival which takes place from Thursday, April 26 through Saturday, May 5 in Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax and Baltimore. According to founder M. Magnus, who lives in Alexandria, the festival will showcase pieces and performances that reflect "avant-garde" poetics and their relationship to traditional theater.

"We’re really trying to define Poetics theater as a genre," said Magnus, a poet and fan of the genre.

"It’s basically the application of certain experimental things that are going on in poetry to theater, and the structure of theater," he said. "From the theater side, it’s really a celebration of text-based theater. It’s finding where those two places meet."

Mary McElveen, who was recently selected as Alexandria Poet Laureate, will be one of the participants as the festival opens on Thursday, April 26 at St. Elmo’s Coffee Pub, 2300 Mount Vernon Ave., at 7 p.m. She said she’s looking forward to seeing how different artists tackle the spoken word.

"It’s going to be a little different," she said. "It might be a surprise for people who are expecting a more classical approach. But I think we all need to have our ideas shaken up now and again."

LOGAN WILL also appear on opening night, which is scheduled to focus on Alexandria poets. He said his work is accessible because he writes about issues that interest a general audience; some of those issues are ones he studied as a congressional speechwriter for politicians like Sen. Joe Biden.

Logan is looking forward to the event because he’s eager to expose audiences to unusual forms to poetic expression.

"I think it’s going to be a great festival. The chance to have experimental theatre and poetry in Alexandria…there are a lot of young people in Alexandria, and it seems like they don’t get the kind of programming they want," he said.

Magnus said he was inspired by the poetry culture in D.C., where he’d attend poetry readings and other events. He also enjoyed the festival atmosphere of some annual events in Alexandria, such at Art on the Avenue in Del Ray. Yockadot is a combination of both.

"In order to get it off the ground here, we connected with the Alexandria Performing Arts Association as our fiscal agent. We’re meshed the community really nicely," he said.

The festival also partners with Dominion Stage in Arlington, which will help facilitate performances. "We’re definitely interested in having a crossover with the theatre community," said Magnus.

Each reading at the various venues will "show a progression of poetry," he said. "The first night [at St. Elmo’s] is Alexandria poets, representing our community. The next night at the same place, we’re taking it a step towards what we’re demonstrating. These are poets selected from around the Mid-Atlantic who are known for dynamic performance readings, and several of them have structured their readings with elements of theater."

On Saturday, April 28, the festival comes to the Del Ray Artisans Gallery, 2704 Mount Vernon Ave., at 8 p.m. for a free event. Rodrigo Toscano and his Collapsible Poetics company will perform.

On Monday, April 30, the Yockadot artists will help with a seminar at George Mason University’s Johnson Center, 4400 University Drive.

Lee Ann Brown and Tony Torn will discuss their modern Noh Play "Sop Doll," which will be performed during the festival. Torn, the son of actor Rip Torn, is an avant-garde a performer in New York. Their play is structured like a traditional Japanese "Noh" play — a stylized form of theater with heavy symbolism — but based on an American Appalacian folk tale.

TORN AND BROWN will perform "Sop Doll" at 4 p.m. on Saturday, May 5, which is the finale of the Yockadot Festival. It will be held in the United States Patent and Trademark Organization building, 600 Dulany St. in Alexandria.

Magnus took a tour of the PTO building a year and a half ago, and knew he wanted to stage performances in that space. If all goes well, he said he’d like to revisit that space with a festival that involved poets reading from works inspired by themes of patents and trademarks. "If this festival helps to define poetic theatre, that Alexandria would be a place that is associated with that," he said. "I hope that people experience words pouring over them as music does. That they come here and experience this like they would a wild concert."

McElveen agreed that some of the poetry will be a completely different experience for many of the festival-goers. "One of the things that’s particularly good about it is that it doesn’t seem limited to just people standing up there reading poetry. There’s a little more drama, a wider view of poetry," she said. "If you can have something that’s going to draw people in to listen to poetry of any sort, I think that’s a step in the right direction. It’s like that old debate about children reading comic books. I’d be happy with children reading cereal boxes, as long as they’re reading."