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Profile: Local Poet Celia White

Celia White is a well-known Buffalo poet with one published book, six chapbooks, and for the past decade she has organized the Urban Epiphany poetry reading. She was this year’s recipient of Artvoice’s Best of Buffalo Awards for Best Poet/Spoken Word Artist. Writing has always come naturally for White. “I’ve been writing since I was child–around age 11, I’d say,” says White. She has kept a journal since that age, and started writing fiction in college.
White says the journaling she has done is not so much about cataloging her own experiences, “I think for me, the process of writing it down is more important than the writing itself. That interest in the process of writing carries over to her attitude toward poetry. In her own words, “Mainly what I’m interested in is how people put their experience into words.”
White didn’t start reading her poetry until 1990 in Seattle, and she doesn’t agree that she is a spoken word artist. She defines herself as a poet, and says that her voice just adds to the poetry. “You need the person so bring it across,” says White, adding that with the theatrics of a vocal reading, the poem can often resonant more clearly to the listener. Music also figures in. White is inspired by it and compared to it, when people tell her that her words have a musical quality.
Urban Epiphany is a poetry reading based on that exact concept. White started it ten years ago, and although there were a few gaps between events when she moved away from Buffalo, she says it has been going on for five or six years now. White manages to bring between 80 and 100 poets together for a five-hour event. Each poet gets a two-minute reading. White says, “I think getting a sampling of someone’s work is more stimulating.”
White says that surprisingly, people outside of Buffalo tend to know more about her poetry and other poets in Buffalo than the people within the city limits. With Urban Epiphany, she brings together all types of poetry. The groups don’t necessarily combine and White claims the event “…is not just a hipster bar scene.”
In meeting many imported poets, as well as through her own travels, White has discovered that many people consider Buffalo to be the center of a thriving literary scene. White credits the University at Buffalo, but also believes our locally spawned poets act as envoys, saying, “We’ve had a lot of poets move to New York City and do major work in the poetry scene.” Urban Epiphany was last held on April 27th of this year, the final Sunday of National Poetry Month.
Though devoted to her poetry, White still has to maintain a regular job and has held a wide variety of them. She taught a journal-writing course at the Ellicott Woman’s Festival, creative writing at the high school level, the Erie Canal curriculum and how to write stores about it to fourth graders, poetry to City Honors High School students, and she currently works at Canisius College as a librarian. In this capacity, she has built a digital library of litigation documents for cases against the tobacco companies, thus making them easily searched.
Poetry and writing has always been the undercurrent to whatever White is doing at the moment. “It’s not my career, but it’s my calling,” she says. When White felt she had enough poems compiled that she wanted to share with people, she created her first chapbook–a homemade book one can make at a store like Kinkos. Locally made chapbooks, such as Celia’s can be found at Rust Belt Books at 202 Allen Street.
After the six chapbooks came her first professionally published book, which is now in its second printing. “It’s been fun to hear people say they picked up your book, and they really liked it,” says White. White easily rattles off her poetic influences as Patti Smith, E.E. Cummings, Robert Haas and Sharon Olds.
Many of the performances from Urban Epiphany, including White’s, are available on YouTube under a search for “urban epiphany 2008”. You can also visit to learn more about the event. hosts the sound recording from the years 1998, 2003, 2004, 2007 and 2008 on their website. Of course, you can always visit Rust Belt Books or Talking Leaves to pick up White’s book entitled Letter. Visit her blog if you would like to learn more about her and her poetry:

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