Sunday, November 20, 2016

Coffee And Connective Moments

This past Wednesday evening, I was the featured poet at an Open Mic event at a coffee shop in downtown Wales, Wisconsin. The event was held at Mama D's Coffee, a quaint, atmospherically beautiful shop right downtown. (Wales is about 15 minutes west of Waukesha.)

Mama D's holds an open mic event once a month where a featured poet reads for the first half hour, then the mic is opened up and other poets and spoken word artists are invited to read. The way they happened upon me was through a writing colleague who had seen me read in Waukesha. She knew of the Wales location and thought I would be a good addition to the monthly featured poet series. It brings people into the shop and provides a venue for the writers, so is really a win-win. 

Anyway, the reading went pretty well. I covered about 18 poems in the half hour allotted. As I've mentioned before, I am getting increasingly comfortable in front of a group, so this was no different. I tried to break up each poem with a little introduction to what went into the creation of it. This gives the audience a glimpse into me and allows for maybe a level of connection that wouldn't happen if I were to just rattle off the poems.

With each of these events that I do, whether it is reading poetry or from my book Dirty Shirt, it becomes increasingly apparent that these are fleeting moments of artistic expression that will never be repeated. I could and will read again at a different location, but the audience's empathy, connection  and response will be entirely different. While I sometimes consider it a stretch to call myself an artist, what I am doing is performance art in every sense of the word. 

This notion of a moment in time performance art is no different than my brother in law acting in a play. The poetry (or prose, or theatrical performance) may have an impact on someone that they'll never forget. I know I'll never forget the first time I saw Michael Perry do a reading. It was a bookstore in Mequon and some of his short readings were so poignant that they took my breath away. The same holds true for some of my brother in-law's play performances. At this event on Wednesday, I got to hear creative poems from a couple of other poets, including a piece based around her grandson and Star Wars by Mary Jo Balistreri, and another by Charlie, who wrote about his emotions while in a treatment center for depression. There was even a memorized poem from a new inspirational friend and writer/poet who just happens to also be blind, Gregg Wandsneider. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things. These are moments I will hold onto.

Maybe it's because I'm a sappy memoirist who has a thing for "moments in time," but that's what these things are - what this night was for me. They are snapshots of the beauty and brilliance of art and the artist and the story they are telling. The stories resonate about the human condition, of love, loss, laughter and life. The telling of them has been going on in the art and literary world since the beginning of time. 

So it is my hope that every time I ask people to be present at one of my events, that my work does justice to taking that time away from something else they could be doing. We owe it to our readers and our listeners to have something worth hearing. And it is nothing short of extremely gratifying when people assure you that you have done just that.

I will keep looking for more of these moments, because they are pretty cool.

Below is a list of the poems I read and the order.


  1. Above Ground Rules (List poem)
  2. An Individual's Medley (Son)
  3. Learning To Fly (Daughter)
  4. On A Road (From the poem series in tribute to Kerouac)
  5. Car Hunting In America (In tribute to Brautigan)
  6. Can't be Beat (Beats)
  7. Wednesday's Child (Dad)
  8. Memphis MN (Dad)
  9. Reciting From Memory (Dad)
  10. Docked (Fishing)
  11. Huffy (Fishing)
  12. Pushing One Hundred (House)
  13. Winter Kite (House)
  14. Galactic Destiny (Wife/Love)
  15. The Start of a Beautiful Friendship (Wife/Love)
  16. Bad Ass Daddy (Mid Life Crises)
  17. Doctor Recommended (Mid Life)
  18. (Closing) Bobby Buzzword (Techno babble)

Blogging off...


2 comments:

Jo Balistreri said...

Jim,
It is very gratifying to hear you write about these gathering, the artistic performance, and making sure we have something to say for the people who have given their time to come.

I can assure you that you did just that. It was a special evening out in Wales, WI--such a cozy place and new people reading as well.
Thank you once again for sharing parts of your life with us. Your poetry is awesome

Jo

Branden Ashton said...

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