This past Friday I was part of the quarterly AllWriters Friday Night Free For All. It is put on by the AllWriters studio and features five different writers all reading some of their work. The cool thing about it is that every writer reads a different style. It features poetry, nonfiction, short story and novel. They always have a "featured speaker" at each one, someone who either travels, is outside the AllWriters circles or a recently published author.
This event featured Cristina Norcross a poet, from Oconomowoc who also is publisher of the Blue Heron Review, a beautiful publication featuring national and sometimes international poets.
The theme for this event was "Never Give Up." Because writing for publication or any kind of recognition or even personal enrichment is such a difficult thing at times, this gathering was built around writers who had all had books accepted in the past year. Because mine was a poetry collection, I was asked to do the poetry. The other writers were Lila Schwenk, Susan Huebner and Kathie Giorgio.
As with any public speaking event, I always wrestle with pre-event nerves. Public speaking is not my favorite thing, but as I've done more of it for Dirty Shirt, I've gotten more comfortable with them. On this night I daresay I even had a good time with it. I always keep my presentations light and sprinkled with humor, because that's who I am. My poetry reflects that humor if you've ever read it, you'd know that. (If you haven't, let me know. I know a guy who can get you some.)
At the same time, some of my work can be quite heavy and heartfelt too. I always say that I like to hook people in with humor and then hit them in the chest with some emotional gut punch. I have a friend who is the funniest guy I know, but his deal was, that he said that sometimes people never knew the real him. They couldn't get past his constant joking to see that he was a human being with much greater depth.
That's why I try and mix my work up a bit when I read. I'd like to think that people know me as someone who just writes funny little poems. Don't get me wrong, I love that side of me and I feel it's a gift in it's own right. But I also feel the craft allows for so much more. Cristina read some poems that just about took the crowd's breath away - as did some of the other readers that night. That's what writing, good writing, does. It makes people react.
The other thing that I took away from this event was that each and every one of these readings is an artistic expression - albeit a temporary one, as much art is - that everyone there is a part of. Something that cannot be recreated. I used to lament that I couldn't be part of the Beat generation - that time in the 50's and 60's when poets, writers and dreamers were reshaping the way we looked at literature. What I forget is that this is my chance to be part of that same experience in 2016. We're dressed differently, we're in a digital age, and most of us aren't living the Bohemian life that those men and women did. It's my chance to try and evoke an emotion, to entertain and maybe even in some small way, change the world for the better with my words.
So that's what I aim to keep doing.