This last weekend I volunteered to cover a poetry reading for the Sacramento Press, a local online newspaper. The event was titled Crossroadsand was the first of a six-part series featuring local poets. It was held in an art gallery to cross-pollinate the arts.
I got there a little early to talk to the organizers of the event and silently wondered if the 30+ seats lined up in neat rows would be filled on this gray and rainy afternoon. I was surprised and delighted when more and more people arrived and more and more chairs had to be brought in. By the time the program began it was standing room only for more than 60 attendees.
Two area poets, Julia Connor and Victoria Dalkey, read some of their poems which were by turn reflective, picturesque, imaginative and profound. After listening to them speak I wanted to attend some of the local venues and read my own stuff aloud. But more than that, what I took away from the event was a sense of recognition that I had found another ‘tribe,’ other people who are similar to me, not only in interests and abilities but in demeanor, appearance and, of all things, age!
Several years ago I had visited a local café that hosted a poetry night every week. It felt very French and Left Bank, a place were in the 50’s and 60’s the Beats and the hippies would hang out. The place was always packed, the noise level high and the poets – well, in general they were either young males fueled by testosterone and activism, or old males wearing leather bomber jackets. I know I over generalize but ….
The poetry read, to my mind, was usually aggressive and always heavily cadenced with a sing song beat which smote the ears ( I think that is the first time I have ever used the word smote in a real sentence) like a hammer on an anvil. Outside the café young men stood in small groups smoking cigarettes and drinking from paper bags. It was not a venue in which I felt comfortable or particularly welcomed.
But last Saturday, as I sat waiting for the program to begin and the seats to be filled, I overhead conversations, such as the one by the tall-standing, gray-haired woman who was saying how she had moved to senior housing and had simplified her life enough to have time for the arts. She was joined in conversation by a gentleman/poet sans leather who related his experience in downsizing and who I later learned would be featured in an upcoming program.
As I looked around the room I saw most people were middle aged or older, at least 50% were women and nobody was drinking out of a paper bag. Even the readers were sporting crow’s feet and wrinkles. But it was not just the maturity of the audience, it was their respectful presence and receptive listening. It was the quiet “oh’s” of appreciation when a poem was finished. The readers did not pound out pentameters and didactic phrasing – it was more conversational and lyric.
At the end of the program, I hung around to take a picture of the poet/readers. Both engaged me in conversation when I expressed my appreciation of their work. They asked my name and listened without impatience. The gallery owner and the co-hosts were equally cordial. A member of the audience announced free wine and appetizers at her home for all those interested and available.
On my drive back home I was delighted with my afternoon. Here were other birds of my feather; the possibility of new acquaintances, even friends, arose.The pleasures of the spirit are paid in the currency of time, rather than coin. Even though I have to live very simply and frugally, I have extraordinary opportunities to do as I please.
My only New Year’s resolution for 2012 was to attend more live music venues. Little did I know that baby step – the noon time free concerts – would snowball into art exhibitions and poetry readings. Now that I have found my tribe, my calendar should be very busy in the coming months and provide lots of fuel for creative fires.