Saturday, November 19, 2016

Poetry is Not for Wimps

The Contestants of the Stone Soup Poetry Slam, June, 1, 2015.

I wrote the following for The Listserve, an self-described email lottery where a chosen subscriber is allowed to send an email message to their million-plus fellow Listservers. I was chosen last month. The emails people write are diverse in topic but are overall encouraged to be positive. I wanted to stay true to that and stem away from self-promotion. My Listserve message turned out to celebrate the last two years of Stone Soup Poetry. I didn't name Stone Soup, but I gladly name dropped a couple of friends.

Intended as a celebration and a thank you, I didn't mean for it my message to be a swan song (and part of me is still hoping that's not the case). In light of my alleged "retirement," I figured I should post it here for those who missed it. The original message was lightly edited, mostly with paragraph breaks, which the Listerve submission page somehow didn't allow for.

Poetry is Not for Wimps

That's a saying I used for years. I say it far less nowadays.

I am the host of a weekly poetry series; I'm having a good time hosting it again, after years of wondering what exactly I was doing with it. The founder of the 45 year venue died over five years ago, and I ended up being a little lost in purpose.

The trouble was I was trying to be the most important person in the room. Not in terms of ego, but in terms of always making the important decisions, always knowing what to do. I was trying to build a legacy, make big decisions that seemed to be expected of me. All the while, the venue was getting a little unwelcome. I had inherited bad seeds, people who thought they were the most important people in the room (because they didn't listen to anyone else). If I wasn't catering to my ego, I certainly wasn't catering to theirs.

People could come in feeling this hostility. Years of entitlement is what I ended up calling it. I came to the idea that I was irrelevant. I wanted to pass on things to people who were younger and seemed to matter more than me. That's what I thought at the time.

Then I started meeting some amazing people from other venues, younger groups, other readings I attended at the urging of my girlfriend. Eventually I invited the young people at these shows to my venue as feature poets, which changed everything.

This included the older audience, who didn't want to work as hard at being listened to and didn't take to this younger crowd, diverse and eager to talk about real issues. Too bad. It included some amazing new people like Jonathan J. Joseph and DiDi Delgado, and people returning to the scene after an absence like Navah the Buddaphliii (look them up please).

People boycotted, some silently, some otherwise, all went quietly away in the end. Because what were they complaining about in the end? Change? More voices? Waiting your turn? And those who did stay are loving every minute of the new sound on the open mic.

With the poisonous people gone, I have no idea who is going to come through my doors anymore, or who told them to come check the place out. It's led me to my new catchphrase near the end of every spectacular show: It could be like this every night, people. All we need is you.

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