Poet Annie Christain was the featured reader at the October edition of Poets Speak Loud, and it was my first chance to hear her work. It was also my first opportunity in a long while to attend the monthly series. There’s no way for me to say this without sounding like an old lady, but “I don’t get out as much as I used to.” When I first started participating in the local poetry scene, I was able to attend 1 – 2 readings per week. While I was getting my MFA, I dropped out almost entirely. Currently, I’m only making it out to about one poetry reading a month. This month, I headed downtown (oh, how I miss downtown!) and found the poets where they always are on Poets Speak Loud Mondays: tucked in the backroom of McGeary’s, drinking their drinks (Guinness in my case) and grabbing some grub.
I read a couple new poems early in the first open mic set and settled in to hear everyone else read. It was a comfort to hear familiar voices during the open mic sets: I knew who was going to rhyme, who was going to be humorous, who was going to be tender. They did not disappoint.
There were new-to-me voices, too, including the feature. Annie read a batch of intriguing persona poems from her book (Tall As You Are Tall Between Them, C&R Press, 2016), which I bought from her after the reading. I’ve read a few poems in it since then. The lines are long. The poems are long. They’re large on the page. They’re heavy with allusion and references to pop culture and world culture. These are not complaints. They are observations that mean, for me, I’m going to have to work a bit at each one: they represent an entirely different style of poetry than I write, different, even, from what I typically read. I gravitate toward poems that play primarily with images and sound; narrative poems are much more of a challenge for me.
But I am attracted to Annie’s poems for the incredible imagination that’s clearly behind them. It’s presence is so prominent it gives the work a sci-fi quality. The poems are wildly quirky, and that’s a good thing… even though that’s another reason I’m going to have to put some work in as a reader if I want to gain entry. And I do. There’s a lot more to the work than quirkiness. There’s a massive underbelly. I’m fascinated by what the voices may really be saying. Listen to these lines:
She remembers it all,
even when NASA tinted her red
so others would find her inhabitable.
(from “We Do This to Simulate the Function of Digestion”)
The woman who conducted the experiments,
I loved her in that way boys
must never love their own mothers
I’m looking forward to spending more time with this collection.
Right now, though, I want to get back to the moment we were in Monday night. I added a photo into the post just now. It’s Annie reading from her book. It takes me right back to McGeary’s: Can you see how delighted Annie is to be reading her work? And all of us were happy to have the mic for a few minutes.
*That’s* the point of all of this — delight! — and it’s good to be reminded. In 2016 I finally returned to the task of submitting my manuscript and individual poems to presses and journals. I don’t have much to show for it. Rejections (around 30*) have far outnumbered the acceptances (2 or 3), and that’s just how it is. It’s how it works. I’m still “at it,” but it’s disheartening. Monday, seeing Annie and the others revel in getting up to the microphone to give their creative work a voice was really good medicine. There are others out there. Others who value the making of art from our most intimate encounters with the world. Others who value the moment when art is shared. Others who see the courage and rebellion in getting up to the mic. There are others.
I also noticed, for the first time, the vast network that makes it possible. It’s easy for me to get caught up in an inner dialogue about how hard it is to get out to events like this (for reasons, as the kids say. The world conspires against us!). But for each of us in that room, there were several behind the scenes who helped open space and time for us. The generous bar manager who gives us the room. The organizers who bring the mic. The friends, family members and partners who say, “Go. Go.” Those behind the paychecks that help us afford a night out. OK, maybe that last one is a stretch, but you get my point: there are many who help us step into the room. There are many.
Annie just returned from an Arctic Circle Residency. Think of what went into that. Think of how many others worked in service of the few writers and artists who took that journey. Granted, most of us will never have an opportunity like that (in my case: darkness, ice and rough seas? No thanks!), but look for one moment at everything that had to come together to make that happen. Imagine the ship captains and crews. Imagine all the official documents. Imagine the babysitters. Imagine the meals, the gear, the international waters.
We’re so used to lamenting the tiny space poetry occupies. But on Monday, I entertained the notion that it’s vast in its own way. The impulse to make art and get it out there and say, This is who I am (with a smile and without apology), is far stronger than we acknowledge day-to-day when we’re exhausted, when we’re up against the limitations of our budgets and schedules. And we’re permitted to romanticize it if we want to. It may even be necessary to do so once in a while. And so I’m going to allow it: the space for us — our art, our voices, our quirkiness — is bigger than the backroom of McGeary’s, though sometimes, even that’s enough.
* Yes, 30 is a relatively small number, and I shouldn’t sweat it. It takes lots more than that to get out there in the world, and I’ll be submitting lots more in 2017. This year was my getting-warmed-up-again year.