Beyond the Neon Hosts a Poetry Festival in Downtown Las Vegas

BTN Founder Ms. AyeVee talks about the festival, contest and poetry

By Melissa Gill

Poetry is everywhere in Las Vegas if you know where to look. Beyond the Neon (BTN), a local poetry organization sponsored by Nevada Humanities and Poetry Promise Inc., is hosting a Beyond the Neon Poetry Festival on Friday, August 27 from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. The festival will be held at The Yard at Fergusons Downtown. The event includes a poetry slam contest-– 10 poets competing to win a $100 prize,  a book fair, food, music, poetry workshops, plus live performances and Tolsun Books poetry readings from Jennifer Battisti, Elizabeth Quinones-Zaldana, Emilee Wirshing hosted by Heather Lang-Cassera. Tickets to the event are $5. The festival is for all ages.

Off the Strip chatted with the Beyond the Neon Founder, poet, curator and teaching artist, Ashley Vargas also known as Ms. AyeVee, about the poetry festival, the spoken word contest and writing poetry. 

What inspired you to create the Beyond the Neon Poetry Festival?

I got the idea to create a poetry festival in Las Vegas back in 2015 when I first started going to different Poetry Festivals around the country. Las Vegas has a relatively new poetry scene compared to places like New York City, Dallas or San Francisco who’s scenes have been growing and thriving for decades. I wanted to cultivate a space where local literary artists and creatives from across the spectrum could come and celebrate poetry. I wanted that for my hometown. 

What does poetry mean to you?

Poetry is everything to me. Poetry has been the most constant friend I have ever had. No matter what was happening in the world around me, I could always write about it. In poetry I found the freedom to be my most authentic self. I found the bravery to tell the stories I thought I had to hide. Poetry has been my saving grace for as long as I can remember. 

Where do you draw inspiration from for your poetry?

I’m inspired by my life. My writing comes from a very personal place. I observe the world around me and tell the stories no one else seems to notice.

Who will be the judges for the poetry slam contest?

We are still in the process of confirming our judges, but there will be five judges. And they will all be locals to Las Vegas.

What are the poetry judges looking for when they are critiquing the spoken word artists?

Generally, we tell Poetry Slam judges to base their scores (0.0-10.0) on creativity, authenticity, content and stage presence. But at the end of the day, it’s all about how the poet makes the judges FEEL that determines the score.

Have the 10 poets who are participating already signed up? If so, who are the spoken word artists?

Not just yet. Poets will sign up at the festival for the poetry competition later that evening. First come, first serve.

What are the poetry workshops that will be held at the event?

I will be leading a Professional Poetry 101 workshop. This class will help poets, regardless of experience, to take their poetry to the next level. We will discuss resume/cv building, headshots, publication submissions, cover letters and professional etiquette. There will also be time for a Q&A for more one on one assistance.

What advice would you give to beginner poets and spoken word artists?

Read poetry, write poetry and perform poetry. You have to do the work. There is no fast forward button. Go to open mics or open reads and watch people perform. Learn what you like or don’t like on stage. Then perform as much as possible. Be inspired by your experiences on stage and learn what type of artist you are. Being authentic and prepared is the key to success.

What upcoming events or projects are you currently working on and when are they set to happen?

I will be performing as a Featured Literary Artist at the Utah Arts Festival in Salt Lake City, UT September 28 and 29. 

I will also be performing and moderating at the Las Vegas Book Festival October 23. It is going to be a wonderful time and I’m very excited.

Save the date! The BTN Festival will be back at Ferguson Downtown on October 31 for a special Halloween edition. It [is] going to be a great time for the whole family.

Purchase tickets for the Poetry Festival online and follow Beyond the Neon on Instagram for more information. 

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