Some think of poetry as something you do alone. The "single genius" idea.
Sometimes it is. But, just as often, poetry is a communal thing - as it will be, in Philadelphia and environs, throughout April, Poetry Month, and on down the year.
"This shows you that the Philly poetry scene has a big heart," says Joanne Leva. She's referring to the third annual poetry festival, starting at noon April 27, a free poetry Woodstock at which 22 diverse poetry-centric people and groups will read and talk poetry at the Central Library of the Free Library of Philadelphia. Leva is co-organizer of the event, coordinated by the enormous cat stampede appropriately named the Mad Poets.
"No money is involved," Leva says. "The library donated the auditorium for the afternoon, and everyone's volunteering their time. It's a community effort, to give people all this free poetry, to be with our peeps, who write and think and walk and talk like we do. That's how we help change the world, together, through poetry."
Like many places all over the country during April and the 11 other poetry months, Philadelphia and environs will host myriad gatherings, open mikes, festivals, bonfires, barn dances - OK, not barn dances, but hanging out on the porch. Just last Sunday, at the Arts Bank, they had 100 Poets Reading, which is what really happened. In the coming weeks, among other events, there are:
The Spring Awakening Poetry Slam, hosted by Mahogany Browne at the West Windsor Arts Center near Princeton (3 p.m., Sunday). A "slam" is a competitive poetry reading at which the audience helps (if that's the right word) with the judging.
An Evening with Distinguished Women Poets (7 p.m., Wednesday), at the National Museum of American Jewish History, features poets such as Kathryn Hellerstein, Lynn Levin, Taije Silverman, Elaine Terranova, and Eleanor Wilner.
Emily August, public programs manager, credits Lynn Levin with the idea. "The museum celebrates women who have made literary contributions," August says, "and this is a chance to focus on poetry in a way that makes great sense for us. Lynn came to us and said, 'I'm part of this cohort of women Jewish poets in the area. It could be great.' "
Will the poets read poems about Jewishness? Depends on the poet. Levin says, "I do sometimes engage my Jewishness directly in my poems, via my sense of humor, my awareness of history, even in prayer forms I use in poems." She sometimes invokes a figure from Judaica, such as the creative/destructive Lilith ("I think she gets a bad rap"). But Wilner says, "I'm not sure my Jewish background intersects with my poetry that much. This event is a communal thing, inclusive, coming together with these other lovely poets."
At open mikes, all comers can perform their verse and listen to fellow poets. A whole lot are coming: at the Bubble House (3404 Sansom St., Tuesday), Liquid Charm (1207 Race St., Wednesday), Kelly Writers House (3805 Locust Walk, Wednesday), the long-running open mike at Dowling's Palace (1310 N. Broad St., Thursday and April 25), Big Blue Marble (551 Carpenter Lane, April 26), and InFusion Coffee & Tea (7133 Germantown Ave., April 26).
The aforesaid Philadelphia Poetry Festival includes winners of the Young Poets Poetry Competition, in which bards from grades one to 12 will read their winning work. Special non-kid guests include Philadelphia poet laureate Sonia Sanchez, along with her mentees Siduri Beckman and Jaya Montague.
The Drexel University Week of Writing, May 20-24, is replete with marathon readings, open mikes, and, on Friday, a slam event, Slam, Bam, Thank You Ma'am!, hosted by the Painted Bride Quarterly, the longtime Philly lit mag.
The Painted Bride is 40 this year. "We were going to throw a birthday party in May," says editor Kathy Volk-Miller, "but so much has been going on we've put it off till the fall." PBQ lives at Drexel these days, and Drexel students, such as desktop editorial assistant Brittany MacLean or editorial assistant Hannah Gitler, work on the staff.
MacLean handles "all social media, Facebook, Twitter," the Web; Gitler stays in touch with writers who send in their work. "It's awesome to think that my vote, a lowly undergraduate, actually counts," Gitler says. The Week of Writing is part of the way Drexel now trains writers. MacLean says it "gives kids experience and relations they wouldn't have had otherwise, contacts and confidence to get started in the writing world." Gitler, a poet, says being on staff at PBQ "really shows me how things work - and how much harder I have to work."
Like the outdoors? The Mad Poets Spring Bonfire is at Ridley Park, Newtown Square, June 1-2. That's right: You can bring a tent and camp. It's free, but all in-tents poets must RSVP ahead of time.
A little further into the summer is Fox Chase's Poets on the Porch, in which 17 poets will read at Ryerss Museum and Library (7730 Central Ave., July 13, 1 p.m.).
That's just a taste. Poetry is a thing people do, often in large numbers, together. Near you. And have a great time doing it.
"There's nothing better," says Leva, "than bringing poetry to people and people to poetry."
| Calling All Poets
Unleash your inner bard! To celebrate Poetry Month, we invite readers to send in their work for the second annual Inquirer poetry contest. The winner will be published in the Arts & Entertainment section on April 28, and other submissions will appear on philly.com.
To enter, go to: philly.com/poetrycontest.
One poem per poet. Maximum length: 20 lines. All poems must be your own original, unpublished work. Deadline: Noon, April 20.EndText