Wednesday, November 18, 2009

You Just Had to Be There

You Just Had to Be There
“Musings” for November 12

On October 10 I attended my very first Poetry Day at Catawba College, sponsored each year by the Poetry Council of North Carolina. And all I can say about it is, “Wow! What an experience.” Don’t get me wrong; this was not my first poetry event, far from it. Over the years, I’ve probably attended 500 readings and 4 dozen conferences, workshops, and other poetry happenings. None, however, have managed to outdo this one for intimacy, sincerity, talent, or pure joy taken in and from poetry.

Not all of what made Poetry Day so special can be easily quantified. Part of it was simply the spirit or soul of the thing. Here were 50 or more poets and poetry lovers ranging in age from 7 to 70 gathered together on a Saturday morning to celebrate the success of this year’s Poetry Council competition winners, but nothing about the day felt competitive. Appreciative, yes, supportive, reflective, and at times, ecstatic, but there were none of the negative trappings of competition. On a rainy day, in a room where 3 of 4 walls were made of 10 foot high glass panels and people talked of poetry, listened to music from a banjo and an upright bass, and ate fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and really good cherry cobbler, it simply felt . . . nice.

Part of it, of course, was the people. Many of the best poets from all across NC were here: Shelby Stephenson of Benson, long-time editor of Pembroke Magazine; Anthony Abbott of Davidson, president of the North Carolina Poetry Society; Katherine Barr of Charlotte, Sara Claytor of Carrboro, poetry activist; Bill Griffin from Elkin; David Manning from Cary; and many more. The student winners were also here, each one displaying talent and confidence far beyond their years and renewing the hopes of the poetry aficionados in attendance.

Part of it was the poetry itself: the quiet longing of Bruce Lader’s “Things in Her Life He Would Love to Be,” the strident intensity of Lenard Moore’s A Temple Looming as the poems reanimated black and white photos, the sometimes-painfully honest reflections of Stephenson’s Family Matters, and the perfectly relevant humor of Jean Rodenbough’s “A Poem Goes Through Airport Security” (reprinted below).

And part of it, perhaps the biggest part of it, were those unique moments we’ll tell others about years from now and follow with the phrase, “You just had to be there.” Moments like Anthony Abbott following readings by 7 middle and high school students, each of whom began by saying, “This is my first reading,” with the line, “This is my 3422nd reading.” Moments like Katherine Barr, despite severe macular degeneration, walking to the podium alone and reading from the page her cathartic poem “Squamous Cell Carcinoma.” And moments like Shelby Stephenson singing with Linda, his wife of 43 years, “I Can’t Stop Loving You.”

I don’t know if I’ll ever have such a day as this again, but I do know I’ll attend next year’s Poetry Day with great expectations, and I know that when I read the poems in Bay Leaves (PCNC’s competition winners’ anthology), what I feel will go well beyond what might be apparent in any single poem.

A Poem Goes Through Airport Security
by Jean Rodenbough

stop there please
we need to scan you again
our screen shows you are carrying
incomplete sentences poor
line breaks dangerous metaphors
and some unlikely similes
as though you were cunning
as an ice cube
just walk back through this detector here
no, don’t ask questions
we ask what we need to know
now place any small syllables
or words that alliterate into this plastic bag
stop! don’t touch anything else! that phrase
and the irregular meter must be removed
take all that is not secured you must bre
ak your lines in order to make them
safe be careful now leave these
stanzas on the table
and walk a
way slow
ly without

1 comment:

  1. I absolutely love Jean's poem!

    I'm looking forward to the next gathering.