Why hello, amazing cafe poetry reading!

Posted on 27 May 2011

When I was in Portland for work last week, I took myself out to dinner one night. My table was against the wall shared by the cafe next door, where I could hear brief and periodic bursts of applause. I figured it had to be a poetry reading, right? So after dinner, I headed next door to check it out.

The cafe was fairly large and was packed with young hipsters.  A scrawny guy in a red t-shirt and red shoes was reading a  poem and everyone was completely transfixed. No one spoke or moved. The baristas weren’t selling coffee. I listened and when the poet was done I went to buy a cup of decaf — I am now officially old and cannot drink coffee at night and still fall asleep — and the girl very apologetically told me they didn’t have decaf. Oh, Portland. I should have known better. She made me something tasty and I managed to find the last seat in the place, a comfy arm chair in a corner so remote I couldn’t see the poets, but at least I could hear them.

As I listened to each subsequent poet, I became more and more astonished. While not every poem was my cup of tea, overall, they were good. I thought this had to be some kind of record. I mean, who hasn’t attended a charmingly terrible open mic night at a cafe? (Or, to put it another way: who hasn’t participated in a charmingly terrible poetry open mic night?) I later found out it was a special poetry event and not just an open mic night, but still. I couldn’t believe my luck at discovering it at just the right time.

The writers kept coming one after the other and I became more and more impressed. Their words and their enthusiasm filled me with both joy and a little bit of despair. These poets weren’t trying to market themselves or find more twitter followers or sell anything (at least, I don’t think they were). They had written those words for the fun of it, for the love of language, and then they came to this crowded cafe to read to their friends and strangers who genuinely appreciated what they were putting out there. There was such freedom in their poems that I felt humbled and almost stilted in comparison. What they were doing represented exactly why most of us start to write.

When the event was over, most people went streaming out of the coffee shop. I was still a little overwhelmed, just thinking of all the talent in this one place, and in Portland itself, and in the entire country and beyond. So many of us, writing our little hearts out for the off chance that some out-of-towner will stumble in alone and stay for the rest of the night, transfixed.

Photo: ramsey everydaypants


2 responses to Why hello, amazing cafe poetry reading!

  • Lyra says:

    “They had written these words for the fun of it, for the love of language…”

    Yes, yes, yes! When you spend so much time in the thick of submission/acceptance/rejection land, how wonderful to bring it back here. You gave me such a lovely visual for a Friday morning. Thank you.

  • Averil Dean says:

    Can you believe that I’ve never been to a poetry or book reading of any kind? I wouldn’t even know how to find one in Vegas. Or how to find an independent coffee shop, for that matter. Next stop, Portland.

    I’ve been a little jammed myself, Laura. It’s a good time to read some poetry, and remember the fluidity of our language and its creative capacity. I’ve been doing writing exercises all weekend, trying to break through the crust.

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