Sunday, February 9, 2014

Day 273 - Attending a Poetry Festival


I have never been to a poetry festival. In fact, I can’t recall a time in my life I actually attended a live poetry reading. Although I am a fan of the literary form, up to this point my enthusiasm has resulted in no more than quiet readings of T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, and others within the confines and comforts of my home. Realizing such restricted exposure to poetry likely prevented me from experiencing the full depth of poetic works, I decided I would set aside time to attend a live poetry event at some point during my “I have never...” year. Fortunately, a little research into such events in the Madison area resulted in me stumbling upon an annual winter event in the city, the Madison Festival of Poetry, which gave me a perfect forum for gaining a broader experience with the written form. As a result, I resolved to make the festival a part of my “I have never...” year, which ultimately set the course for today’s new experience.

With the poetry festival scheduled to begin at 2:00 today, I worked my way downtown as the morning pressed into afternoon. Eventually my path guided me to the location of the event, a Madison bar and restaurant called The Fountain, which was surprisingly quiet when I arrived. Concerned I had somehow misread the location of the event, I traced my way through the establishment until I came upon a dining room area tucked off to the side of the building’s rear entrance. There, a moderate crowd of people sat making small talk at their independent tables as they waited for an event to begin.


A quick check of some nearby signage revealed I was in the correct location for the festival, which spurred me to find a seat among one of the few empty chairs in the room. As I acclimated to the space around me, a man took to a small table at the front of the room and shifted a microphone stand to face the audience. After checking a few things in the area around him he welcomed the crowd and provided a brief introduction of the poetry festival and the presenters attending the afternoon event. Speaking softly into the microphone, he assured everyone the gathering would provide a full experience before calling the first poet to the microphone. The host’s confidence in the quality of the agenda made me hopeful my first experience with live poetry would leave a meaningful impact. I was unprepared for exactly how deep that impact would be, however.

Ready for the experience!

The intro
Over the next two hours I sat and listened as a variety of poets from around the Madison area took to the microphone and recited a breadth of poetic works from classic and modern poets alike. In what I found to be the best part of the event, each poet included examples of their own work in each presentation, which offered a direct connection to the intent and meaning of each passage. With expressive force each of them framed every line of text with personal meaning, offering insight and perspective beyond the words on the page.

A bit of poetic humor from Richard Merelman

Life perspectives in the work of Fran Rall

As I listened to works covering the beauty in life, the passage of time, and the often overlooked significance of the passing moments in our lives, I found myself enveloped in the words and caught somewhere between present and buried in introspection. There was real, thought-provoking power to what I was observing, and it lifted me through the afternoon. In the best moments of the event, an older gentleman, R. Virgil Ellis, presented a poem tying his observations of a quiet experience in nature to his assessment of the life he had lived, and a young woman, Linda Voit, recited a poem about a passing moment in a Crate and Barrel store inspiring hope for progress in the world her young daughter would inherit. The former made me reflect on my own struggles with time and the meaning of the life I ‘m living, and the latter pulled me into an emotional state powerful enough to draw tears to my eyes. I was witnessing raw, expressive beauty in its purest literal form, and it more amazing than I ever could have imagined.

R. Virgil Ellis

Linda Voit

By the time the main presentation of the poetry festival drew to a close, I found myself stuck in place recounting the poems at the heart of the event. Pensive, I sat in my chair and sipped at the last part of my drink as the room around me stirred to life. For some time I thought through the day’s experience and the meaning it carried. While it was easy to determine I need to attend more live poetry readings, the real takeaway from the experience was the impact that came from the words of each poet. I had been lured in by the cadence and symbolism of their words and spun into a reflective state by meaning I found within them. There is no question today’s experience was a beautiful one. I don’t know why it took me so long to experience a live poetry reading, but after this experience I’m glad it finally came today.

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