PITTSFIELD -- The fourth annual WordXWord Festival is ramping up to slam into your summer.
On Monday, festival founder Jim Benson and his fellow board members held a polysyllabic press conference at Mission Bar + Tapas to announce the dates -- Aug. 11-18 -- and highlights, which include new performers, youth writing workshops and the apropos "WXW Poetry Olympics."
As the story goes, WordXWord got an off-kilter start four years ago. "We had 18 performers and about 20 audience members. The balance wasn't quite there," Benson said. But the interest in spoken word, both read and improvised, proved that it existed.
Since the first festival, Benson has recruited professional talent and garnered local support from venue hosts, performers, volunteer board members and organizers. He estimated that more than 4,000 people attended last year's events.
In addition, the festival is cultivating a year-round presence by promoting local writing and reading challenges.
Local Web designer William Yehle directed this year's "30x30" poetry challenge to write 30 poems for each of the 30 days in April. More than 300 people, from a high school class in Guatemala to local business people, produced about 2,200 new works of poetry.
"It was so exciting," said Yehle, who is also working behind the scenes for the festival.
"With things like [WordXWord], everything people previously thought about poetry gets thrown away," he
This year, writers of song, speech and stanzas will take stage in off-beat locations, including Mission and its sister Y Bar, Shawn's Barber Shop, Bra & Girl lingerie boutique, The Lantern restaurant, Gallery 25, and another venue to be announced.
Programs will continue to be offered free of charge, due to sponsors and a grassroots $7,500 online fundraising campaign hosted at indiegogo.com. A total of $4,060 had been raised as of Monday. Benson said all revenues fund the performers.
This summer, WordXWord is also partnering with IS183 Art School of the Berkshires to offer free writing workshops to students at Morningside and Conte community schools in Pittsfield, in association with the schools' free summer meal program.
Poet-publisher and former paratrooper Derrick Brown of the Austin, Texas-based Write Bloody Press will emcee and direct the WXW Poetry Olympics. He's traveled around the country to determine "what made for an exciting literary experience."
He said the goal of WXW Poetry Olympics is to give the written material a stage presence by imposing upon performers the preposterous and improper -- be it challenging them to recite haikus through a mouthful of crackers or sharing excerpts of journal entries written during the poet's younger years.
Featured authors at the festival will include Brown and Austin fellows Anis Mojgani and Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz, Chicago's Robbie Q. Telfer, and New Yorker-turned-Berkshirite Taylor Mali.
Local and regional poets and authors will get a chance to put their work on in front of a live audience in the context of such events as "Page+Stage," a pairing of poet-performers with stage directors; a poetry slam; and Head-to-Head Haiku competitions, which will include divisions for young adults.
Also this year, there will be a singer-songwriter concert series and film screenings of "Louder than a Bomb," a documentary of the high school slam poetry scene, and "You Belong Everywhere," a "rock & roll poetry concert film" featuring Brown and produced by actress Amber Tamblyn.