I had the privilege to attend a poetry reading this past Thursday night. These are my thoughts on it.
Tonight was one of those nights where I got back to my apartment and felt like I should make a cup of tea, or do anything really that might prolong the sophisticated feeling that I had left with after attending my first Poetry @ Tech event. That’s not to say that the poets I had heard acted stiff and lofty, as one might associate with a poetry reading, but rather, I left feeling as though they, as artists and story-tellers, had somehow passed on some of their worldliness to me through their craft and their experiences, and I wanted to extend that sensation for as long as possible. Dan Veach evoked this sentiment best when he said during his reading that “all poems are the translation of our imagination and experience into words.”
Immediately, at the start of each reading, I was surprised. I was at a poetry reading for Laura Newbern, Dan Veach, and Thom Ward, and each one of them devoted some of their mere twenty minutes of allotted time to reading the works of other poets as well, other writers who have inspired their writing in the past. It felt like a homage of sorts, and listening to their inspiration made me feel moved and encouraged, proving that all great poets have to start somewhere.
The first poet to read was Laura Newbern whose work Thomas Lux described as “quiet and sparse” when introducing her. Those words extend to more than just her work though. She was meek and soft but not in a way that was detrimental to her work. In fact, her humble attitude helped evoke the sentiment and life of her poems, especially those from her book Love and the Eye. She expressed that she was on an “errand of love” and that her poems were not so much a love story as a “longing story,” a fitting phrase given the nature of her voice—every word felt deliberately chosen and the way she articulated her verses felt like she was making love to the words.
Second to read was Dan Veach who began his poems by speaking of far-away places and adventure, almost as though he were setting the stage for the rest of his work where he spoke of similar journeys and undertakings. The first of his poems that he read, and also the title of his new book, “Elephant Water,” articulated themes of wisdom and a life well-lived as he describes an elephant’s “wrinkled dignity,” and how life doesn’t permit half-attempts—it’s “full immersion or nothing.” Having been given the opportunity to hear Dan Veach read, I am so glad I got to hear him read his own work as I’m not sure I could have given the same voice to his poems had I just been reading them to myself.
Last to read was Thom Ward who easily held his audience captive. His poems, containing a combination of light and darkness, were uninhibited and slightly immodest, but a more restrained tone would not have conveyed the same meaning that his works bore. Slightly outrageous in personality, Ward had his audience laughing every few lines of his work, even the ones that were more serious in nature as he overlapped his slightly grim poems with a humorous texture that created a humane juxtaposition—he laid out his poems just how a person might have a regular conversation with someone. It’s this kind of witty cleverness that made Ward succeed in his bombastic approach to writing and highlighted his apparent intelligence even though he proclaimed himself to be not much of a student in high school. Also, it’s clear that he draws inspiration from everywhere—he works nursery rhymes into his poems and borrows lines that he’s heard from his children, and even as he interrupts his own poem to say something to the audience, you get the feeling that every word he’s written is just for you.