Gill Sotu’s poetry is not so much poetry for the page. It is poetry for the stage.
“My poem goes through a process,” said the San Diego spoken word artist and storyteller. “The first is to write the draft. The second part is to read it aloud to at least one person. The third part is doing it in front of an audience, preferably before you do it in front of your target audience.
“I feel like a poem isn’t finished until I’ve taken it on stage a few times.”
You understand? Sotu does not read his poetry. He executes it. These performances earned him two Grand Slam Poetry Championships and two RAW Performer of the Year nominations.
“I try to answer the questions I have inside of me,” Sotu said of his compositions. “How to Navigate and Live Life.”
For the fourth year in a row, Sotu, who is the Poet-in-Residence of the San Diego Writers Festival, will kick off the one-day event Saturday in Coronado with a performance at the Opening Ceremony at 9:30 a.m., followed by a workshop at noon. .
“Unlocking the poetry of all things,” he said, “is about being creative and finding that muse.”
After the past two years in which the event has been virtual, Sotu is happy to return to an in-person San Diego Writers Festival, the fourth annual.
“Doing it virtually is a weird experience,” he said. “You don’t hear any applause. You get no feedback during the performance. You browse comments to see what people are saying. It’s harder for the algorithms to process the energy you get when you’re in a live room.
“I think part of the appeal of spoken word poetry is that it’s a quick payback. You write the poem, you perform it, you get applause on the spot. This is what gives me high performance.
As always, the festival features author appearances, panels and workshops such as Sotu throughout the day. In addition to the Coronado Public Library, events will take place on the Coronado High School campus and at the John D. Spreckels Center.
This year, the festival’s keynote speaker is Canadian author Shilpi Somaya Gowda, whose best-selling first novel on female infanticide ‘Secret Daughter’, published in 2010, will be made into a film starring Sienna Miller and Indian actress Priyanka. Chopra. She’ll be in conversation with SDWF co-founder Jeniffer Thompson at 11 a.m.
Also among the notables, Aimee Bender, one of today’s top short story writers, who will lead a workshop entitled “Stellar Short Fiction” at 1 p.m.; chef Keith Corbin, author of “California Soul,” who will be part of a noon memory workshop and a “Social Justice and Food Writing as Metaphor” panel at 2 p.m.; and author and civil rights lawyer Qian Julie Wang, whose memoir “Beautiful Country” was a bestseller. She’ll be in conversation with SDWF co-founder Marni Freedman at 1:30 p.m.
There will also be a midday screening of the Ukrainian film “Badroads” and a discussion with filmmaker Dmytro Minzyanov.
Locations and times for all events can be viewed by viewing the San Diego Writers’ Festival schedule here.
One thing all festival writers have in common is a desire to tell meaningful stories, about themselves and about life in these turbulent and sometimes dangerous times. Sotu tries to stay optimistic through her work.
“My poems aren’t super depressing,” he said. “I write poems that I need to hear and that I want to hear. I try my best not to be boring and also try to find rhythm in them and be a bridge, to try to let people feel a little better about the world.
San Diego Writers Festival
When: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, October 8
Where: Various places in town
Coddon is a freelance writer.