October 9, 2011
It is two weeks since September 24 and it has taken me a little while to decompress from all the excitement of creating the Shebogyan contribution to 100 Thousand Poets for Change. Right on the heels of the event, I was a guest blogger for The Best American Poetry blog, and I posted a story there about 100 TPC on September 25.The story appears in its entirety below this update.
We had a great day. I think a number of people in Sheboygan got to experience the power of poetry. As I have said all along, we were going for something very basic here. Not a radical approach, but a more gentle approach.
Our attendance varied throughout the day:
For the reading by Bruce Dethlefsen at Mead Public Library: 20 people. We had a good crowd and they were very appreciative of Bruce’s work. I made a point to make sure people were aware of the fact that we were part of a global day and I suggested that we all keep in mind that in some places, people cannot simply stand up in a public place and say what they want to say. After reading for about a half hour, Bruce opened up the mic and we had several people share their work including Gerry Bertsch, Georgia Ressmeyer, Cathryn Cofell, Paul Hanson, and others.
Book Worm Gardens: approximately 25 kids and their parents. This was my favorite part of the day. Bruce and I and a few other grown ups, like poet Karl Elder, got to read poetry in a very one-on-one manner with families. Here is a picture of me with one family. I think Karl was in the process of explaining the concept of Utopia to the kids. He said “well, a ‘topia’ is from a Greek word meaning place and ‘u’ is part of a word that means ‘good.’ So what do you think a utopia is?” The boy in the striped shirt next to me was very proud to say “A good place!”
We were definitely in a good place all day long, talking to people, sharing poems. We had two girls under the age of 11 both excited to read poems for us in the lovely natural amphitheater at Bookworm Gardens.
From there, we went over to Paradigm for the high school workshop. Unfortunately, no high schoolers showed up, but poet Chuck Rybak (who had come all the way from Green Bay) was a good sport and we held the workshop for a group of poets who just happened to be hanging around. I joined it as well, and it was actually a very nice break in the middle of the day to play with the ideas that Chuck had for us. He is interested in working with various poetic constraints, and so we did a couple experiments. First, we wrote whatever came to mind but we wrote from right to left, instead of left to write, then pulled out interesting phrases. We also used an article telling the story of Troy Davis and went through, pulling out words and phrases to write poetic commentaries on capital punishment. The techniques Chuck shared were brain-opening and created a lot of much needed space in my head for future endeavors.
Next up at Paradigm was Obvious Dog: Bruce Dethlefsen, Cathryn Cofell, and Bill Orth. Cathryn read her poetry with the music interweaving with the poems, not so much “in the background,” but truly adding a layer of meaning to the words through melody and rhythm. Really great stuff. We had about 40 people in the coffee house I would say, give or take 10 or so thoughout the rest of the afternoon and into the evening. Here is a list of all the people who read at the open mic, which began at five, and then ended with featured reader, Karl Elder:
Paul A. Hanson
Scott Basler (musician)
A few of us read multiple times…we had fun. We had some very attentive audience members who stuck with us through four hours of activity and that was very much appreciated. We were only able to live stream the event from about 4:00 p.m. on, so we did not capture any of the activity at the library or Bookworm Gardens. I have yet to upload the live stream videos. They did not turn out great. We learned we need better lighting and a better vantage point. Next time. As soon as I decompress just a tiny bit more, my intention is to begin planning next year’s event and to work with poets throughout Wisconsin to unite our efforts. Changing the world, one poem at a time!
This blog post first appeared on the morning of Septemer 25 on The Best American Poetry blog:
Buttercup, Hammer, Change is Here [by Lisa Vihos]
Greetings, all. I am happy to be here as your guest blogger starting today and for the coming week. Yesterday was a big day; one I had been planning since April. September 24th was designated by poets the world-over as the day to celebrate 100 Thousand Poets for Change. Were you there?
Poems can change the world, as they point to what is true. Poems can be hammers, splitting rock, or rich ground where we locate compassion. When poets join forces, the energy that is generated leads to amazing things.
In helping to organize the 100 Thousand Poets for Change activities these past five months, I made friends on Facebook with poets in Greece, Nigeria, South Africa, and all around the United States. I was reminded very directly in this process that there are many places around the globe where poets cannot congregate and do what they want to do. They cannot simply stand up and read poems in a library or a garden or a coffee house like we did in Sheboygan, Wisconsin yesterday. In some places, poems must be checked by a government agency before being read in public. In Turkmenistan, poetry cannot be read in public at all. As I looked out over the audience yesterday, I felt compelled to remind us that the freedom we have in America to congregate and to “use our words” as we see fit, should not be taken lightly.
The Sheboyan contribution to 100 Thousand Poets for Change was a success from the standpoint of connection. People in our community crossed some lines and got to know one another a little better, all through the reading of poems. We had narrative free versers, rhymers, and straight-up rappers. We had the poet laureate of Wisconsin, Bruce Dethlefsen; we had Karl Elder, Cathryn Cofell, Chuck Rybak and many others. We had children, young adults, and seniors. We had friends and strangers writing poems while they were listening to the open mic, then standing up to share what they had just written. (Actually, there were no strangers. Everyone became a friend in the process.)
We had teenagers lying on couches in the coffee house glued to their iTouches suddenly paying attention. We had a gentleman reading the work of his adult daughter with great pride. We had audience members sharing favorite poems from books. We had small children reading Mother Goose and other verse that spoke to their experience. All in all, I accomplished what I set out to do months ago: to make people fall in love, again or for the first time, with poetry. To fall in love and pay attention.
I woke up yesterday morning to a poem by Oscar Wilde coming through on a website called Your Daily Poem. Panthea is old-fashioned, yes, I know. There are words I did not at first recognize, “hymeneal” (of or pertaining to a wedding or marriage) and “daedal-fashioned” (made by Daedelus, the legendary artist and inventor, the builder of the Labyrinth). Then, there were other lines that came in loud and clear, sounding very 21st century to my ear: “…all life is one, and all is change.”
All pathetic fallacies aside, when I practiced the poem at 7:30 yesterday morning and I got to these lines, “The yellow buttercups that shake for mirth/At daybreak know a pleasure not less real/Than we do…” I welled up with tears. I hate when that happens. Crying while reading a poem. What the heck? I thought perhaps it would be a bad idea to read a poem at an open mic if it was going to make me bawl in public; especially over something as cornball as recognizing how myself and a flower are, at some atomic level, one and the same.
But, I did read the poem, twice. Once at the open mic at the library, and much later in the day to a different crowd at the coffee house. At neither point did the offending words make me cry. However, when I looked out at the audience, I saw wet eyes, closed eyes, longing eyes, bright eyes. In that moment, I knew that the world was in good order. Poetry slows us down to look with our eyes, inward and outward, to pay attention, to revel in what is important. A poem can threaten a despot, shake a woman to her core, or touch a man’s heart. A rhyme can delight the ear of a child, no matter if the child is 3 or 93. The energy we put out into the world matters. And it does not go away. Wilde put it well when he said, “The Universe itself shall be our immortality.”
What do we want our immortality to look like? From Wall Street to whatever streets we live on, change is upon us. You may be a buttercup or a hammer. You may be ears or eyes or both. If you are like me, you are a poet. And as poets, we will be here.
What follows is the original announcement of what we would be doing in Shebogyan:
The Sheboygan contribution to 100 Thousand Poets for Change offers something for everyone. If you believe that poetry can change the world, or at least that it can move people in a more attentive and thoughtful direction, then we need YOU… to read your work or participate as an audience member! If you do not live in Sheboygan, find out what’s going on in YOUR city and please get involved!
The Sheboygan day has several components:
We will then transport him to Bookworm Gardens,
a children’s garden dedicated to literature.
12:00 p.m. Picnic with the Poet at Bookworm Gardens, 1415 Campus Drive, Bruce will emcee and invite you and others to share poetry for the young and young at heart. Bring a poem and lunch, or buy lunch there. Bring children!
The next three events all take place at Paradigm Coffee and Music, 1202 N. 8th Street
2:30 p.m. Chuck Rybak leads a writing workshop for high school students 4:00 p.m. Obvious Dog (music by Bruce Dethlefsen and Bill Orth) will accompany Cathryn Cofell reading her poetry
5:00 p.m. Open mic begins and continues until 8 or we run out of readers. We will be live streaming thoughout the day. We’re still working on that!
My goal in Sheboygan is to change how people feel about poetry. I want poetry to become a household word. I want every person to have a favorite poem and a favorite poet (or several).
For more information on the Sheboygan event, contact Lisa Vihos, firstname.lastname@example.org