International Meetings of Poets began in 1992 as a celebration
of the first centenary of the publication of the death-bed
edition of Leaves of Grass. Instead of just another
scholarly Conference on the poet, Walt Whitman, Maria Irene
Ramalho, the Chair of the Organizing Committee of the Meetings
since then, suggested a Poetry Festival in his honour. This
celebration was to have an academic, educational emphasis.
In the early 90's, poetry readings in public places were not
widely disseminated in Portugal. Some members of the Department
of Anglo-American Studies (Grupo de Estudos Anglo-Americanos
- GEAA) had participated in experiences of that kind, namely
in the USA, where public poetry readings invade not only the
space of universities, but also the public spaces of the towns,
from libraries and bookstores, bars, cafés, to parks and churches.
In 1992, that practice was almost non-existent in Portugal.
Fiama Hasse Pais Brandão
and Yvette Centeno
were reading their poetry in Coimbra for the first time during
the First Meeting, and António
Ramos Rosa read his for the second or third time in his
life. Since then, the situation has changed radically.