The intensive arts week described in my last post continued on Saturday. As promised, I made an annual poetry pilgrimage. I was not alone.
Every year for the past 20 poets and poetry lovers have converged on the Woodland Pattern Book Center in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood for the annual marathon. It’s always in January, the dead of winter, when the air outside is frigid. The warmth never dies inside Woodland Pattern, however. For 15 hours straight, from 10 a.m. until 1 a.m., poets take turns reading in order to raise funds to support the continued existence of an endangered species: the small, independent bookstore.
It happened last Saturday. I sat through three consecutive hours myself and was thoroughly delighted. No one who can raise the $35 in pledge money that admits you to the podium is turned away (until all ten slots per hour are filled up, which happens early for the popular hours.) Which means that the quality of the poetry can be a bit of a crapshoot.
But hey, during the three hours I listened, no fewer than two poets laureate of Wisconsin were among the readers. And if one or two of the others were of less stellar stature, none lacked earnestness. For every one who read with hesitation or garble the delivery there were three or four who commanded the packed room with power, poignancy and humor.
Some read from published works, some from frayed loose-leaf paper. This year there were laptops and tablets, too. A few emoted from memory. Some eschewed poetry in favor of prose or even music. The room was full of attentive listeners and spirits were high. It’s the poetry marathon and it has a devoted following.
If your spirits drag in the icy weather or if the incessantly negative news has you down, the poetry marathon is an antidote. A bud of hope that spring will come. And even, perhaps, that peace in the world is possible.
I had my point and shoot camera along and snapped a few of the poets while they read. I’ve rendered the images with a bit of artful brush stroke and I offer them to you here. Antler and Susan Firer are the two who, as I said, have served as Wisconsin poet laureate.