Of flowers and songs

Jose Montoya, wise to the word.

Jose Montoya, wise to the word.

Most of us have our first, and only, encounter with poetry in school. There’s a recitation of Joyce Kilmer’s “Trees” (“I think that I shall never see … ”) or something by Robert Frost, and then it’s back to memorizing SAT words: lugubrious, torpor, scintillate. For most Americans, poetry joins the ranks of learning algebra, doing chin-ups and studying the Louisiana Purchase as a high-school exercise with no real-world relevance.

Americans are often surprised to discover that poetry tomes are best sellers in other countries or that poets have been imprisoned and deported for their work. Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda was exiled from Chile for his political affiliations. Poet Vaclav Havel had his works banned and was imprisoned three times by the communist government of Czechoslovakia before becoming that country’s leader in 1989.

Closer to home, poetry gives expression to the youth at open-mics, and it gives rhythm to the verse of rappers on street corners and nightclub stages. Elders use poetry as a vehicle to deliver acquired wisdom to successive generations. Poetry is the voice of a community.

No one knows this better than Jose Montoya, Sacramento’s poet laureate and the creator of the Flor y Canto Poetry Festival. The festival opens at 5 p.m. Thursday, with a free reading in the California State University, Sacramento, Ballroom, featuring Eugene Redmond, Lorna Dee Cervantes and Dennis Schmitz. The weekend continues with free poetry and music at La Raza Galeria Posada, located at 15th and R streets, on Friday night at 7 p.m. Saturday’s daylong festivities include a poetry slam hosted by Terry Moore, Aztec dancing, an open-mic and a headlining show by John Trudell and Bad Dog Band, all at the Crest Theatre, 1013 K Street. Sunday brings a full day of poetry at various locations. Call (916) 556-3981 or visit www.sacculture.com for a full schedule.