They sat welldressed and clustered, walled in by a Borders bookshelf, I gazing in at the poet speaking into mic from the side. Beside me sat a disgruntled man clearly not present because of the poetry but willing to give it a chance. He ate a reeses fastbreak and giggled during pauses in her words, discovering some kind of secret humor in the professional mask this woman wore as she read pages from her chapbooks which she had marked earlier in preparation for people to hear.

I hardly heard her over the sound of the thick man in purple suitcoat whose white-haired-head bobbed as each poem reached an end in attempts to convince the room he understood and approved its message. The poet interrupted herself mid-poem to acknowledge the entrance of those who belonged in the circle of people she had come to entitle “poetry,” speaking abstractly of her wonderful acquaintances in attendance.

Earlier that day at the homeless shelter, my coworker started strumming the blues on his guitar. A woman stood and sang in sultry impromptu voice:

well
one summer night i was walking
i was walking down the road
and well
if you asked which way i was walking
i couldn’t tell you yes or no

And her passion-sound was poetry to the homeless inhabitants of the room, everyone bobbing their heads to the senseless words composed while they watched expectant, somehow thick with meaning.

When the woman sat down, they turned to me, asked me to read a poem of mine. After watching her and understanding what life was, none of my practiced planned poetry survived on pages.

No. I watch from the side, wondering why poetry is segregation and classification in the places and ways it sounds.

poems

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the way she wrote

April 23, 2009

I went to a poetry and fiction reading at Chatham University on Tuesday to hear the products of the chapbooks created by students in the MFA creative writing program. While listening to people read their works, I quickly got lost in the nervousness of the unestablished writers which added an element so bookreal to their poetry.

 

Listening to poetry is quite different from reading it. Differently just as good.

 

I hate to admit it, but at every reading I’m immediately biased by the voice and the character of the reader. If they speak with a hard-edged sound or fail to project the poetic clarity that I hear in my head when I scan their words, I might end up getting better acquainted with the space of wall in front of me than their poem.

 

I’m working to get past this.

 

I ran into a writer who graduated with me from college last year. Both of us were in the writing program and we had been in classes together that involved us reading and critiquing each other’s creative essays very carefully.

 

It’s off-throwing to encounter a familiar face in an unexpected setting, but as her face came into focus, I realized that I knew her mostly by the way she wrote. I envisioned some vague stories about time she spent in Europe, but mostly I envisioned her writing style. She wrote in clipped sentences and phrases with humorous quips that led up to neatly boxed ending.

 

I decided this is a nice way to know someone.