Thursday, March 30, 2023

March Goes Out with a Poetry Reading

Last night, I went to a poetry reading.  On its face, that's not too strange.  In fact, I had seen/heard one of the poets, Carolyn Forche, several times before.  But what made last night unique is how I came to be there.  

Last week, one of my classmates reached out to me to see if I was going and to suggest that if I was, we go together.  She also needed a ride, since she doesn't drive at night, so if I lived near her, could I drive and she'd pay for gas and parking?  

Although I live half an hour away, I offered to drive to her, pick her up, and we'd go together.  I was less worried about driving at night than I was about arriving at a crowded venue with nowhere to sit and no one I know.  I proposed that we go at a ridiculously early hour so that we left ourselves time for traffic.  I expected to get to Busboys and Poetes, the venue, at 5:30 for a 7:00 start time, but in the end, we did need the extra time--lots and lots of traffic.  We had good conversation in the car along the way.  

The poetry reading had a different format--it was a liturgically inflected reading.  That's fancy talk for the fact that it had some liturgical elements that you would usually find in a worship service.  The host and curator, Travis Helms, is a poet and an Episcopal priest, and when he was in Austin, he was trying to create something that felt less transactional when it came to poetry readings, something more participatory, a gathering that had something to offer to people yearning for something to connect them to the Divine but without having to go to a church building.

How that looked last night:  after a singing bowl centering, we opened and closed with poems read in a responsive format.  It could have been even more like worship; Helms has described gatherings with something that sounded like the Eucharist, although he never disclosed whether or not he saw the meal sharing as sacrament or whether he blessed the elements--the kind of details that fascinate a theology nerd like me.

Last night was more like a traditional poetry reading, but that was fine with me.  Carolyn Forche read poems that were new to me, poems about lighthouses and refugees and wreckage.  Richard Reeves was completely new to me, and I loved the talk between the poems, talk that illuminated his writing process.  I hope that some of that type of information and illumination is captured in his book of essays that's coming out in August.

At the end of the reading, we didn't linger.  We got a bit lost, but those who wander with smart phones are never really lost.  We drove around the downtown DC majesty, marble buildings and monuments, and made our way back towards Virginia with much less traffic than we had faced on our way to the reading.

I am so glad my classmate reached out to me.  I am so glad I said yes.

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