Monday, March 28, 2011

Poetry Potluck

A loaf of bread, a jug of wine and...
I just held the first-ever-as-far-as-I-know Poetry Read Out Loud Potluck.  And I have got to tell you, it was fabulous!   Seriously, if this idea rings any bells in your soul I highly recommend that you host one yourself!

For years I've attended the local birthday tribute to William Stafford, Oregon's former Poet Laureate-- an annual event which invites everyone to bring a favorite poem of his to read out loud.  It never fails to warm the cockles of my puny heart.  And for years I have been part of the local high-school's participation in the national recitation contest, Poetry Out Loud, sponsored by the NEA and The Poetry Foundation.  Add to that my occasional but passionate work with the Hood River Middle School's 8th Grade Poetry Slam, and well, you can see I might get to experience more live poetry then your average bear. It never fails to be remarkable.  RE-MARKABLE.  Truly.

So, this year after the Stafford reading, I floated the idea that we should do this more often, maybe read some other poets out loud...  Others concurred.   I floated it again after Poetry Out Loud -- after all some of the same adults have been volunteering for years now to spend a full day of their lives listening to high-schoolers recite poetry and none of us ever fails to say what an honor and a pleasure it is to do so.  More concurrence.  OK, bitches, it is SO ON!

I sent out the e-vites, had to cancel the first date due to an unexpected snow storm(!), persevered with e-vite #2, and lo and behold had over a dozen people show up last Saturday night with stacks of books and pages folded into their pockets and hot dishes, desserts, bread and cheese and wine to share.  As people drifted in (the invite was clear about the fuzziness of the starting time), I realized that very few of these folks knew more then one or two other people in the room.  Was that fabulous or problematic?  I was not really sure...

Maybe it is the power of poetry.  Certainly, it must be.  The crowd was self-selecting, obviously:  Why would you come if you were indifferent to the soul-stirring possibilities of the spoken word?  And stir souls we did, each in turn, one poem at a time.  Well lubricated with wine (and people brought the good stuff), and warmed with three kinds of soup, nourished with bread  and sweetened with chocolate, we went on to Round Two of favorite poems.  Then we turned off the electricity (in honor of Earth Hour), and the poetry continued in the dark!  People recited poems they knew by heart.  We extemporized limericks together, which lead, inevitably, the way that limericks tend to do, quite merrily into the gutter.  But, as that poet of the stage Tennessee Williams said, "Some of us were still looking at the stars!"

It was a glorious night.  Poetry can bring people together in the most heart-felt and enjoyable way.  Afterwards one guest used these words to sum up what several others had also confided in me: "You know, surprisingly, in a room full of 15 people, I really found every one extremely tolerable!"  Yes, friends, that constitutes HIGH PRAISE for one's fellow beings here in the early part of the 21st century.

And truthfully, I think I can say I have been drawn to poetry all my life for that very reason:  It makes life tolerable.  When life seems intolerable, I turn to poetry.  There I find redemption, beauty, companionship, courage and inspiration.  How wonderful to be able to find and share that with our fellow living human beings.  "Everything is connected.  Nothings lasts forever.  We are not alone."

a tolerable crew basking in the glow of spoken words
I hope someone from our circle will step forward to host another Poetry Potluck soon.  Maybe you'll want to start one yourself.  And maybe, if you are invited to one, you'll say yes before you say no.  The spoken word is powerful.  Listening is powerful.  Being present to one another in this way feels like communion. (But with chocolate in addition to the bread and wine!) It brings out the holy talk in me.  I threaten to get all revolutionary, evolutionary, and eleemosynary on your asses.  Look that up in your rhyming dictionary, bitches, and tell me, who's your mama, now?

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