Shaken & Stirred by a Poetry Reading
Where I live, up in the mountains, I usually find that when I’m driving along the highway I’ll pass a loooong coal train snaking next to the road. It’s a line of ugliness because each coal hopper is usually tagged by aerosol vandals, creating a monotonous frieze of contorted letters.
Aerosol mural painters are a huge step up in terms of art and beauty. In the upper mountain town of Katoomba, some of these artists were invited to create murals along an alleyway. Their work turned a forgotten passageway into a colourful art walk. Katoomba also has other large art pieces on the external walls of buildings, bringing colour to its main street.
A friend sent this photo of a street mural in Charlotte, North Carolina.
I’d love to see more public places where visual art is combined with poetry. To have poems infiltrate public spaces—shaking us awake, reminding us that there’s more to life than the humdrum of shopping, picking up library books, looking for a parking space.
The verse in the photo is by Robert Creeley. He was the first poet I heard reading his own work out loud. As an English major at uni, I was immersed in American and British poetry from Anglo-Saxon times to the 19th century. I also bought slim volumes of contemporary poets. But I’d never had the opportunity to hear a poet reading their own material to a live audience.
So when I saw a flyer on campus advertising a public reading by Creeley, I went to see what it was about.
When he came out on stage, looking quite ordinary, I was a little disappointed. He didn’t look like a poet, I remember thinking.
There was no discussion, no interview. He simply adjusted his microphone and began reading. And it was wonderful.
Later, part-way through one poem, he broke off. He explained that he hadn’t read it ‘correctly’, and he started again, a few lines back. He must have felt he’d nailed it that time because he continued to the end.
Why do I remember Creeley’s mistake? His action—stopping, correcting—identified that he emotionally owned that poem. And that its precision, its rightness, was important. To him obviously, but in some flattering way, to us his listeners, people he’d most likely never see again.
That experience of being in an audience that was being read to left me shaken and stirred, and I began reading more poetry and writing some myself.
Even now I enjoy the poem a day app, although I wish it included voice as well as text. I don’t like every poem I read, but The best ones show me a new, different perspective, at least for a few minutes.