Wednesday, July 29, 2009

One Reason I'm Proud of Hickory


Hickory is not known as a Mecca of the arts. We do okay for a city of roughly 35,000. But we have no professional theater or dance troupe, no recording or movie studios. In fact, we don’t even have a large performance venue like our closest neighbors in Lenoir and Morganton.

And yet, as I travel to poetry readings and writers’ conferences across the state, I run into one widely published poet after another who wants to come to Hickory to participate in Poetry Hickory. Why, you might ask, do such literary notables want to drive from places like Asheville or Raleigh or Charleston, SC, to participate in a reading series that doesn’t pay and is held in a small coffee shop with no more than café seating for about 60 people?

The answer is because poets need an audience. There are few, if any, material rewards for writing poetry today, so poets thrive on the sense that they’re being heard, that they’re having some sort of impact, making some sort of difference, and that their efforts are appreciated by the relatively small body of contemporary poetry readers. I’m proud to say that those who attend Poetry Hickory deliver all this and more.

I’ve been to dozens of readings in bigger cities like Asheville, Raleigh, Charleston, and Charlotte and except for readings on college campuses, the audience has been consistently larger here, consistently more attentive, and consistently more appreciative. These qualities have helped put Hickory on the poetry map in NC. Readers so far this year have come from all the cities named above as well as Mt. Olive, Goldsboro, Mebane, and Laurens, SC, and have published a total of 55 books.

Poetry Hickory is held at Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse in downtown Hickory on the second Tuesday of each month. Each event begins at 6:30 with three “Open Mic” readers (meaning anyone who wants to can do so) who are followed by two featured writers (writers who have published at least one book or a large number of individual pieces). Recently, a writers’ networking group, called simply Writers’ Night Out, also began meeting at Tasteful Beans at 5:00 prior to each reading. These meetings have consistently had 10 to 13 participants ranging in age from 16 to 80 and including both writers who are unpublished and writers who are widely published. The group even includes three magazine editors, one of whom drives from Charlotte, another from Winston-Salem. Jessie Carty, the editor from Charlotte, has even begun recording Poetry Hickory and putting excerpts on YouTube as part of her The Shape of a Box journal.

On August 11, Chapel Hill poet, Sara Claytor, and Charlotte poet, Ann Campanella, will be featured at Poetry Hickory’s 24th reading, and I know two things about that evening already: both poets will be glad they came, and I will be proud to say I’m from Hickory. For more information about Poetry Hickory, contact me at


  1. I had to miss in July, but my calendar is marked for August. Is the "Writers' Night Out" open?

  2. I have to agree with you 100%. Poetry Hickory, thanks in large part to you Scott, is such a well put together event with an appreciative audience.

    I would say the only draw back to the audiences in Hickory, versus events I've been to in Charlotte, is that the writers don't seem to sell very many of their books.

    While giving a reading is not just about selling books it would be nice to know that the listeners would also become your readers :)

  3. I agree with both you and Jessie. And I think not having a dance troupe or theater might just be an advantage. Who listens to readings when they can be entertained, going to concerts and plays? The dramatic arts scream of a false superiority to reading. Poets who read at Poetry Hickory don't perform; they read. The art-filled walls at Taste Full Beans Coffee Shop makes a lovely cooperative setting in which words can flourish with rather than taking a back seat to other art forms. It's pretty much perfect except for the one "rude machine" and the book sales.

    And Nancy, yes, Writers Night Out is open. That's the beauty of Poetry Hickory. The writers and the audience are friendly people.