Realizing this would happen, I had already decided to cut January from our schedule in future.
But now I’m thinking of keeping it, because the event turned out to be a lot of fun, and had a much more intimate feeling than we’ve experienced in the past. I think it was the most deeply enjoyable event we’ve had. Maybe smaller is better. On Thursday, everyone went home feeling good about the evening.
A lack of formality may have had something to do with it. Everything was casual, starting with Jan Figurski’s music. Jan had been our featured poet, and our musician, back in October. He sings with such ease and beauty that it seems to flow out of him effortlessly. His personality feels like that too. When his set was finished, I was so warmed and calmed by it that I told the audience that if only I could sing like that I would never be down or anxious. I’d just be bouncing down that road happy. They felt it too. Quite obviously.
Out of necessity, my hosting was about as casual as hosting can be. Normally Dawna Perry hosts, but she was sick. I’m a total admirer of Dawna’s hosting. She does it with such ease, very seldom stumbling. Whereas my social anxiety gets much worse when I have to speak in front of people, no matter how few or many. Linda, my understanding wife, tried to prepare me before the event by suggesting I should just be myself and think of everyone there as friends. Which, after a year and a half, many of them are. So I tried to ad-lib my way through the evening. My anxiety was still very obvious, but maybe that added something to the intimacy everyone was beginning to feel. Because every now and then I came to a stumbling halt, having forgotten what I had planned to say before I got up. Or what should come next. “Ummm. (Pause) Hmmm. Well, okay. I forgot that. On to the next thing...” And so on. People smiled. Definitely casual. I can see how anxiety could easily be turned into a standup routine.
Prominent London poet Andreas Gripp, who had been our very first featured poet back in October, 2012, introduced this month's feature. Andreas always speaks and reads calmly and with humour, as if he were talking one-on-one with everyone.
The featured poet for the evening was Carrie Lee Connel. Carrie was very easy to take as a poet. There was nothing overbearing or pretentious about her. She had a soft lovely voice that easily drew us into her personal but unsentimental poems. Then, just when we were getting used to that style and wanting more, Carrie stood back from her notes and shocked everyone with a fast performance poem, to big applause and smiles. Her last pieces warmed us like a fire on that cold winter evening.
See Five Poems by Carrie Lee Connel
The Q&A is always interesting, as no one knows what to expect, except that it won’t be poetry. Carrie answered our questions like someone talking to a friend, trying to get out the real truth as fully and honestly as she could. I guess that sounds like a description of all poets in a Q&A situation. But there are some who carry a supply of ready-made answers. Which pop out like talking points from a politician. I suppose that would be inevitable to some extent with more experienced poets. In any case, Carrie stood there working out her answers right in front of us, there and then. With us. Even when she didn’t have an answer, we were affected. For instance, when asked what sparks her to write a poem, she managed to get across the importance of the fact that she didn’t know. That she just waits until the makings of a poem shows itself, no matter how long that takes. It was kind of a Zen moment. We didn’t want it analyzed any further.
And Carrie’s openness sparked one of the most interesting situations we’ve ever had. Heidi, the owner of Mykonos Restaurant, who is an arts lover and always enjoys our events, asked Carrie a general question about creativity, one that didn’t have an obvious answer. Instead of jumping right in with some kind of rambling word string, as many people would do just to fill the silence, Carrie paused. She waited. I’ve thought about this since. The real truth of our situation was that we didn’t have a questioner and an answerer and an audience. What we had was an assemblage of thinking people. That pause of Carrie’s allowed everyone to become part of the conversation, to actually feel they were part of it. In the silence, someone suddenly turned to Heidi and answered the question from her own point of view. Then someone else responded to that. In five minutes about ten people, scattered all around the room, had contributed to the conversation. What is creativity anyway? Is someone knitting a scarf being creative? A plumber? Someone reading a novel? All of us found ourselves trying to include everyone into our group. As Carrie had included us into hers. And we were all thinking together. It was refreshing, to say the least.
When the Q&A was over, we went straight from one new thing to another: I had an announcement. Every once in a while I have a new idea for the open mic. The one I announced this time had at first seemed like a bit of a fantasy, but has turned out to be very workable. It is also not so much for the open mic but for the city as a whole. So just before Christmas I made an initial presentation to the London Arts Council. They were very enthusiastic and asked me to present it to city council, which I will do when I get it together. Anyway, I told the idea to the people at the open mic and they were also very enthusiastic. I can’t do it justice within this summary, so in the next few days I’ll write it up in full for the website. Stay tuned.
Seven poetic souls stepped up to read in the open mic section of the evening, half of our full slate of fifteen. But they were very enthusiastic and some were definitely affected by the intimacy of the evening. One new reader, Lois Kelly, read very personal, sometimes painful, poems, for instance about the breakup of a relationship and some changing advise to a daughter. She had a hard time getting through them, choking up with tears, pausing often to get her voice back. She was surprised by her own emotional outpouring because professionally Ms Kelly does a lot of public speaking. But the audience loved it, most of whom were in tears as well. When my turn came, I also lost my reading ability while trying to describe an emotional near-disaster between my wife, Linda, and I way out in the middle of nowhere -- Florence, Italy. I sat down at the end of the poem and totally forgot I was supposed to be hosting. Which everyone had a good laugh over.
Thank you to the poetry lovers who contributed to our donation jar, which pays for the rental of the mic and speaker and buys the flyers, etc. We were also able to knock a bit off our debt, which was $300 when we launched a year and a half ago, and is now a little less than half of that. S.B.