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The People’s Poetry Gathering, a documentary film by Nick Doob and Steve Zeitlin chronicling the 1999 Gathering. 

Founded by City Lore and Poets House in 1999 and later produced in cooperation with Bowery Arts + Science, the People’s Poetry Gathering was a biennial event that brought together diverse audiences not only to witness stunning performances, but to galvanize public attention around issues of preserving cultural forms and languages.  During these festivals in 1999, 2001, 2003, and 2006, Lower Manhattan was transformed into a poetry village for three days.  The People’s Poetry Gathering was one of the highest profile poetry events in the United States and had an average audience of 10,000.  Previous Gatherings featured:

1999: In New York City, artists, folklorists, musicians, and lovers of poetry gathered en masse for the first biennial People’s Poetry Gathering.  The festival brought together folk, ethnic, and literary poets from New York City and across the U.S., including cowboy and hobo poets and U.S. poet laureates.

2001: The Gathering continued to combine readings with musical performances, including poetry rock concerts by singer songwriters such as Patti Smith, panel discussions, and offbeat happenings, such as a day-long reading of Homer’s Odyssey on a ship at South Street Seaport. Our festival focus was the oral tradition.

2003: The Gathering highlighted ballads and epics.  Poet Laureate, Billy Collins, wrote an insightful essay on the ballad for The New York Times on the festival’s opening day; and we hosted a special conference and concert honoring Alan Lomax for his contribution to folk music and poetry.  Beowulf and Sundiata were among the works featured.

2006: Through collaborations, performances, dialogues, and panel discussions, the Gathering was inspired to develop a more focused initiative on contested and endangered languages.  The 2006 festival was dedicated to the poetry of these languages.  The program included a keynote by poet Robert Bly, a program at the United Nations, and a “Festival within a Festival,” Harpsong: Celtic Poetry and Music.

All of the Festivals featured traditions such as a  midnight reading of Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry in the New York City Marble Cemetery;  open mics in English and Spanish; workshops on publishing, writing, and memorizing poems; as well Poetry and Prayer at the Bowery Mission on Sunday mornings.

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