"With the certitude of a true believer, Vellya Paapen had assured the twins that there was no such thing in the world as a black cat. He said that there were only black, cat-shaped holes in the universe."
-- Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things

Saturday, October 5, 2013

We, the Poets

One year ago this weekend, I participated in the Texas Poetry Calendar reading at the Georgetown Poetry Festival, held in the beautiful Georgetown Public Library.  Just before the reading began, I was in the restroom, washing my hands and trying to calm my nerves.  (Reading my poems aloud in public still gives me a tinge of fear and excitement, and I am grateful for that.)  The restroom was crowded, and somehow I got into a conversation at the sink with a woman in her sixties.  I asked if she was going to the poetry reading and she said no, she didn’t know about it, and I told her where it was and what it was for.  She wished me luck and then turned to go.

Almost to the door, she stopped, turned and said, “It really caught me off guard when my mother died…” (pause) “…and I found some poetry that she wrote.”  Then she told me the story.  She never knew her mother wrote poetry; she’d never shared it with anyone.  But after her mother’s death, she found a beautiful poem her mom had written about her life.  She said, “We had it read at her funeral.  But it needed an ending and I tried and tried to think of what it should be.  Then one night at 2 a.m. God gave me the ending and I had to get up right then and write it down so I wouldn’t forget it.”

I heard a lot of beautiful poetry that day, but nothing as beautiful as the story I heard from a stranger in the restroom.

This picture of the Georgetown library
does not do justice to how gorgeous it is inside.

Today, I was back at the Georgetown Public Library for this year’s Texas Poetry Calendar reading, and I found myself thinking about the woman I met last year and her mother.

I don’t know anymore what people think of when they picture poets.  I’m fairly certain that the idea of berets and snapping fingers has started to fade by now, but I can’t be sure.   Now that I have joined ranks with the poet world, I no longer even remember what I used to imagine when I heard that word.  Poet.  All I know is that, whatever it was, I was wrong. 

If any specific and clear-cut image comes to mind when you picture poets, then you can be sure that you’re wrong too, at least a little bit.   Because the only one-word description that aptly fits the poet community is people.  Poets are people.  They are everyone.

When I typed "poet" into Google,
this is the first image that popped up

Today, I listened to over twenty poets read their work.  They were young; they were not-so-young.  They were grandmothers; they were single men.  They wore shorts and t-shirts; they wore dresses and had tattoos.  They read poems about cancer and teen suicide; they read poems about mermaids and cold showers.  They read poems in Spanish and poems about Indian monsoons and poems about cows in tiny Texas towns.  Halfway through the reading, Mike Gullickson, who organizes the Georgetown Poetry Festival with his wife Joyce, stepped up to the microphone and brought the audience’s attention to the tables that had been brought into the room for the luncheon following the reading.  He pointed out how they had been delivered in such silence that no one even noticed their arrival.  He said, “I thanked the guy who brought them for being so careful and quiet, and he said, ‘It was too beautiful to interrupt.’”  Mike’s voice choked with emotion when he spoke.

I don’t know what you think of when you picture poets.  But I’m here to tell you that you might be surprised to find out who we really are.  That woman I met in the restroom last year certainly was.  

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