Last night, my friend and I read poems at an art gallery opening. The theme of the latest show is Twisted Fairy Tales, and my friend was invited because she teaches a Fairy Tales class at our school. In fact, the name of the gallery comes from inspiration that comes from her class: Into the Woods Fine Art Gallery and Body Art Studio. My friend invited me because she's kind and because it's easier to be brave with a friend by your side.
I've written before that we weren't sure what to expect. Would there be body art going on? Would there be interest in poems? How many people would come?
There were tons--TONS--of people. I would estimate easily 100, perhaps many hundreds. Some came for a quick look at the art. Some stayed all night. Some had amazing tattoos. Some were not marked at all. There were a few children. A few people came in costume--and some people were wearing clothes that the outside world would define as costumes, but they probably wouldn't.
Throughout the night, we took poetry breaks. It had some challenges. Next time, the curator says we'll have a microphone.
I thought one of the challenges might be that people came for the art, not for the poetry. But everyone seemed good natured. My friend and I read our poems with fairy tale themes. The crowd clapped enthusiastically. And then it was back to looking at the interesting art that had the same themes.
The crowd was an interesting blend: mainly students and former students. I saw a couple who had been a newer couple long ago when they took my English class--and they're still together. I saw a student who had been in a less balanced frame of mind when she took my class--and now she's graduated and gotten a job in her field. I spend so much time talking to/about students in trouble that it's good to remember that the majority of our students are going to be OK.
The event reminded me once again that poets can't ever be sure who will respond to their work. As I stood in line for a drink, I spoke to a man with so much body art that even his face was painted. He talked with great enthusiasm about my Cinderella poem.
Now if I had seen this man at the grocery store, I'd have assumed that poetry would not be his thing. And, to be fair, it might not be. Maybe he just liked the theme. He liked my poem because it imagined life after happily ever after. But never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that poetry would take me to a gallery that's part tattoo parlor where I would discuss figurative language.
And if poetry isn't his thing, maybe poetry like mine will help him be open to poetry in the future. My conversation with him has helped me be less afraid of people who have made different body art choices than I have.
I watched a young man, heavily inked, holding his daughter, who was wearing fairy wings and a ruffled dress. The purples, pinks, and greens in her dress matched his arms. It's interesting to me to think about parents and children and how our lives don't really change. Students grow up and have children who will grow up and have children.
Or maybe I'm just in this kind of mood because it occurred to me that 30 years ago on Memorial Day week-end, I'd have been graduating from high school in Knoxville, Tennessee. And now, here I am, a thousand miles to the south, reading poems to the next generation, with my Hindu friend who says that she must have done something good in her past life to have had a friend like me. I said, "In my Lutheran way, I feel the same way!"
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