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Open, Mike

April 19, 2002

“Open Mike.” It’s not an invocation like “Open, Sesame!” It means “open microphone,” and the library hosted one for the opening night of “Poetry on a Platter.”

As the audience drifted in, a young boy asked me if he had to “read” a poem off a piece of paper. I said that he was welcome to recite it from memory if he liked. So, when his turn came, he slowly walked up the aisle to the podium. It must have felt like walking the Last Mile. He was very nervous.

He was wearing a shirt that said “Panic * Button,” and someone in the front teased him about it. He laughed.

He struggled to compose himself and introduced the poem. And then he began.

“A soul within a soul …”

Whoa. It gives me chills to think about it. I couldn’t believe a child was saying this. It was a beautiful, short poem, and at the break I thanked him for reciting it. He said he had intended to recite longer one, but he was so scared he didn’t think he would remember it all.

The whole evening was delightful this way. It was a small crowd of about twenty-five, including the fifteen readers. Our two visiting poets — Luis Lopez and Carol Bell — were there, and they commented on each poet’s work after he or she was done.

They did not critique. They pointed out things they liked, such as a powerful image, or a beautiful line, or a striking insight. This was not only good for the open-mike poets, but it served to make the entire audience more attentive and appreciative.

The poetry was good and enjoyable, too. The young man mentioned above was the youngest, but we had an eighth-grader, too, who is already a serious poet. Luis and Carol were impressed by the quality of poetry and the commitment of the poets in our community.

After the readings began, a young woman in high school came quietly down the stairs. She asked if it was too late to get on the list. Of course not. As she sat in the audience, I noticed her writing in a notebook.

When her turn came, she explained that she had come to the library to work on a research paper and only then had seen the sign about the poetry. And she was exasperated, because it was the first time in a long, long time that she had gone anywhere without her journal, which was full of her poetry. So, while waiting, she had transcribed a couple from memory to read.

There were familiar faces and experienced readers, too; long-time poets as well as novices. One gentleman from the Front Range arrived a little early and — judging a book by its cover — I took him to be an impatient, hyper-critical intellectual.

In fact, he was simply focused and anxious. He has been writing poetry for a long, long time, but this was the first time he had ever read his poetry for an audience. I hope it was a good experience, and I hope he’ll do it again.

Luis had started the “open mike” by reading a poem by Marianne Moore: “Poetry : I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond / all this fiddle. / Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one / discovers in / it after all, a place for the genuine.”

A perfect beginning to a genuinely delightful evening.

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