Past poet laureate to speak

Published 8:24 pm Tuesday, April 7, 2015

A past Virginia poet laureate will be the keynote speaker at Paul D. Camp Community College’s sixth annual literary festival this month.



Sofia M. Starnes was Virginia’s poet laureate from 2012 to 2014. The honorary position is a two-year appointment made by the governor from a list of three names submitted by the Poetry Society of Virginia.

“We are extremely excited,” said PDCCC Literary Club Advisor Ronette Jacobs. “She brings a great wealth of knowledge, gift and talent to us.”

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Jacobs said she initially wanted to bring Starnes, a Williamsburg resident, to last year’s literary festival, but she was booked. Jacobs immediately jumped at the chance to bring her this year.

The event will feature Starnes’ talk, as well as readings, balloon animals, face painting and more.

“It’s an opportunity for (people) to bring their children and become continued lovers of reading,” Jacobs said. “We’re promoting literacy across generations.”

Starnes said she draws inspiration from the many places where she has lived and traveled.

“I’m always very intrigued by the interaction between the temporal, the physical and those things that are not tied to time,” she said.

Born in the Philippines and having lived in Spain before meeting her husband and moving to the United States — first to New York and then to Virginia — Starnes said her life has involved “a lot of goodbyes, a lot of departures.”

“You can either cling to the moment or you can try to find what are those things that still make sense, and I can take them with me no matter where I am,” she said. “They are as relevant in Virginia as they might have been in Manila or in Madrid or in New York.”

Another central theme is family relationships, “because those are universal,” she said.

She also said she tries not to focus on describing items like houses, therefore allowing the reader of the poem to insert his or her own house into the imagery.

“When they listen to that word, they can put their own house or their own experience in it,” she said. “They know what it means. They know it’s a place of shelter.”

Starnes said she expects her reading at the literary festival to include several poems, and she also will share the background of the poems.

“When you do a reading, you want to set the poem in a context,” she said. “I hope the session will include time for participation. Attendees can ask a question or share an experience or wonder about why a poem came to be or share their own writing and reading experience.”

Virginia’s poet laureate “is given an enormous amount of freedom,” Starnes said about her time as Virginia’s official poet. The poet laureate is not required to write any official verse.

“In that sense, you are your own person,” she said. “I found it to be an important element. They (the poet laureate) are not obligated to do anything other than represent poetry. In my case, I thought it was important to promote the reading of poetry, too.”

Starnes has authored five poetry collections and is the editor of “Four Virginia Poets Laureate (2004-2012): An Anthology and Reader’s Guide” and “The Nearest Poem Anthology.” She has won numerous writing awards.

The literary festival will take place April 24 from 6 to 9 p.m. on the Hobbs Suffolk Campus, 271 Kenyon Road.