These are the Moments that Poetry Brings
As some of you may know, I run a monthly open mic poetry night in Warwickshire. For many of us, the organisation of such an event is a labour of love taken on not for financial gain but for the joy of spreading, sharing and encouraging the appreciation of poetry for whomever should walk through the doors, be they amateur, artist, admirer or …at the wrong venue. Our August date was one to remember, largely due to a completely unexpected moment mid-way through the evening when the room was, as one, moved to tears.
Some of our poets are regulars, some newcomers, some brought in as friends of friends or perhaps after seeing a promotion on social media. Almost all have at least some connection to somebody else there so it is very rare that we have a total stranger turn up to perform their work, someone unfamiliar with the area, not there through association with anybody else and not planned in any way. In August we had one such visitor; an American who was in town for only two or three days, had wandered into our café venue that very afternoon and, at the suggestion of our enthusiastic venue host, had decided to pen a poetic contribution and come back that evening to be part of our open mic experience.
So that evening when I invited him up to the microphone for his slot, I was in the unusual position of knowing nothing whatsoever about this chap other than his first name. He started with an earnest plea for our forbearance as he was “no poet really”, but also with some backstory that he had found the writing of this poem, that very afternoon in the café right there, to be an extremely emotional journey for him and he was uncertain of his own ability to deliver it without at least welling up, and quite possibly breaking down all together. His poem, once he began, was deeply personal and seemed to stir emotions within him about his life and family that I felt he was possibly discovering for the first time. He more than welled-up, but he soldiered on, and proceeded to lay a tiny portion of his soul bare to a room full of complete strangers, who empathised, cried with him and gave one almighty cheer for him when he had finished.
What other art form invites such a personal connection between artist and audience? He was not acting, we were not expecting this to happen, but there was so much warmth and love in that room, it was a supreme testimony to everyone present that he felt safe enough to do what he did. I hugged him afterwards, as did others as he re-took his seat. I am sure he will have taken something from his experience that night, we will never know for sure as he has gone back to his US homeland and indicated his return here any time soon to be unlikely. Whatever he took away I like to think it may have been something very important for him, but what he left behind was an enormous feeling of pride, privilege and delight amongst the forty or so other people who had shared that experience with him. Moments like that cannot be recreated. It happened, we all felt it, it’s over, it will never happen again like that.
Our special guest poet for the evening Antony R Owen commented afterwards; “One of the most memorable readings I have heard and I've heard hundreds. It was what poetry is all about. A stranger from America until he became a friend for a reading. It was charged.” Another participant at the event, Ali Dodds said “You could have heard a pin drop everyone was so still, intently listening..I think I was holding my breath at one point! Very brave guy to share such personal anguish and emotion. I was also moved to see how we showed this visitor to our town such support and love. Wow, it was quite an evening!”
These are the moments that give us enthusiasm, the moments that reassure us that, yes, it is worth all the hassle of booking venues, arranging guests and promoting events. But more than that, these are the moments that remind us of our fragility and our humanity, and that most people, inside, are lovely.