2015 West Chester University Poetry Conference Inexplicably Canceled

west chester university

Over at Philly Books and Culture, The Philadelphia Review of Books‘ blog, John Ebersole reports that the 2015 West Chester University Poetry Conference has been canceled. The Conference, held in West Chester outside of Philadelphia, was to feature Ted Kooser as keynote speaker. Natasha Trethewey delivered last year’s keynote address.

According to the blog, the conference was canceled directly following the removal of Kim Bridgford from the position of conference director.  A WCU spokesperson revealed that Bridgford has been “reassigned to full-time teaching responsibilities.”

The cancellation is garnering some attention, as it is entirely unclear why Bridgford was “reassigned” and how her reassignment is cause for cancellation of the conference. The West Chester University Poetry Conference website has only this to say: “Due to a reorganization of the WCU Poetry Center, the Poetry Conference is in hiatus for a year. The next West Chester Poetry Conference will take place in June 2016.”

Ebersole breaks down the Conference’s complex history and origins. It’s possible that the debate at the core of the conference may have some relationship to this newest development and the perplexing “reorganization.” Here’s an excerpt:

It’s easy to forget that the WCU Poetry Conference was born out of the debate between what was then called New Formalism and Free Verse. Ten years ago, a philly.com article profiling the conference included this little gem in the headline: “formalists declare victory over free verse.” Perhaps the conference’s biggest critic at the time was poet Ira Sadoff, who in the same article concluded that formal verse “promotes dead white males, and some live ones, whose poetry is often deadly.” In fact, as far back as 1990, Sadoff published an essay in Philly’s own American Poetry Review entitled “Neo-formalism: A Dangerous Nostalgia.” On the other hand, conference co-founder Dana Gioia, as a defense against his critics, often cited the popularity of rap music as an indicator that formal poetry was alive and well and saw hip-hop in the same continuum of traditional verse.

Certainly rehashing this debate would be nostalgically hazardous, but one sometimes wonders exactly what we gained from having it in the first place. Does any poet writing today still neatly place metrical and free verse on either side of versus? Not really. And maybe that’s what we gained.

Does the WCU Poetry Conference still see itself as a statement against the orthodoxy of free verse?