Poetry Month means more area readings

Language: It can be more than talk when expressed by poets. April is dedicated to the art of putting feelings into exactly the right words and rhythm to capture the imagination of an audience.

April 15, 1999|By Jill Hudson Neal | Jill Hudson Neal,SUN STAFF

Some universal truths about poetry readings: Poets will almost always wear dark-colored clothes and likely will dread the moment right before stepping in front of an audience.

The poets will pray that the energy in the room is light, easy, sweet and supportive. They will walk to the podium slowly, clutching a few sheets of paper or a slim volume of a literary journal in their hands.

The audience, more often than not dressed in bright shirts and baggy sweaters, will assess the nervous poet. The quiet onlookers will sit with their chins nestled in the palms of their hands.

What comes next? Words and sounds, tone and cadence, honest feeling conveyed through language. Poet and audience are transported, uplifted for however long it takes to read a sonnet, a few haiku, a couple of free-style, stream-of-consciousness lines that will finally mean something by the last period.

April is National Poetry Month, and poets and their audiences have a lot to choose from around the region.

Five area poets read their works before a small, friendly group Tuesday at the east Columbia library. Columbia poets Linda Joy Burke, Felicia Morganstern and Dan Fromme joined Blair Ewing and Agnes Osinski at the podium to share their thoughts on such topics as the summer of 1968, cartoon characters, the five elements of nature, industrial toil, vulnerability, the changing of the seasons, fortune and that old poetic standby, love.

Old friends

All of the poets have met -- and collaborated -- before. In 1997, Ewing produced and funded "Word Up Baltimore," a compact disc featuring 56 works by local poets. Ewing, who publishes an arts magazine, introduced all of the poets -- who had 10 minutes to read their work.

Performance poet Burke arrived Tuesday night armed only with the latest edition of Healing Design, a literary magazine featuring some of her poems. Burke, poet-in-residence for Columbia's Acupuncture Institute for the past few years, usually delivers her poems accompanied by musical instruments. This time, she was in a rather low-key mood for the evening reading.

"This was definitely a quieter venue," said Burke, 42, her long salt-and-pepper dreadlocks swinging around her shoulders. "My colleagues have heard me perform some of this stuff before, so part of me just wanted to be able to share my work in a calm way. I need to sometimes perform without all the bells and whistles."

No one seemed to miss the bells and whistles. Pat Leak, a 65-year-old retired elementary school music teacher who lives in Columbia, said she came to the reading to support the poets and the art form.

"I enjoy listening to good poetry," Leak said. "I've been attending a number of readings more recently. Poetry will always hold a unique place for people who like to slow down and listen. There's a place in you that hungers for that type of thing, a place where you can be quiet."

Meeting of the minds

Sitting in the back of the room, amateur poets Hilbert Turner Jr., 30, and Rebecca Blitz, 31, remembered how they met one year earlier.

"Oh, we met at a poetry reading in the Barnes & Noble bookstore in Ellicott City," Blitz said. "Now, we like to go to all the readings if we can. Brings back good memories."

Turner said poetry readings were the perfect opportunity "to pick up good ideas from other writings and to support other poets."

Osinski read a couple of new poems, as well as "The Politics of Paper Cups," which appears on "Word Up Baltimore." Ewing also read a poem from the recording, a lightning-fast, one-minute poem called "The Tongue Twister News."

Before reading his poem, "October," Fromme said he felt out of place with the other poets. "Being in the company of really great, great performers is a little nerve-racking. I'm in awe of the talent here.

"I write poetry for the heck of it, just to get into the rhythm and rhyme of it."

A teacher learns

Twenty-nine-year-old Morganstern teaches English as a second language at Harper's Choice Middle School in Columbia and read a haunting poem about a Liberian student who tells the nightmarish story of children being thrown into alligator-infested waters in his home country.

The poem was greeted by appreciative sighs and applause, which didn't seem to surprise Morganstern. "When you walk into a room like this and you see people that you know and look out to see people make good eye contact, you get a real sense of community," she said. "There's an effortless connection and there's not a sense of judgment. It's really nice."

Local offerings

Local poetry offerings to celebrate National Poetry Month: Winners of the Howard County Middle School Poetry Contest will read their works at 7 p.m. April 27 at Borders Books and Music, 9051 Snowden River Parkway in Columbia. Information: 410-290-0062.

Poetry writing workshops for students and adults will take place Saturday at the east Columbia library. The workshops will be conducted by Karen Arnold, poet-in-residence at Montpelier Cultural Arts Center in Laurel. The workshop for pupils in grades six, seven and eight will take place at 10: 30 a.m. For adults, the workshop will be at 2 p.m. Information: 410-313-7700.

"Word Up Baltimore" retails for $11.97 and can be ordered at Borders in Columbia. It can also be ordered by sending $12.97 to Maryland Poetry Review, Drawer H, Baltimore 21228.

Pub Date: 4/15/99

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