Shelley Widhalm

A (theatrical) poetry reading

In National Poetry Month, Poetry, Poetry Readings on April 17, 2016 at 11:00 am

PoeticGeography4 2016

I just love poetry readings—not only the sharing of my own work but hearing the work of others.

It’s exhilarating to find out how other poets approach the same subject or format and see how they perform their words.

During the first ever Poetic Geography: Mapping Loveland poetry event April 14, I read one of my poems, “Cranky Town.” Nineteen poets read one poem during the hour-long event at the Loveland Museum/Gallery in Loveland, Colorado.

Poets submitted their poems, which three judges selected for the reading and a booklet, about Loveland’s buildings, streets, art and places to visit to help create a poetic geography of Loveland.

That night, I realized I love being on stage—something I suspected before—and acting out poetry. The written, literary art, for me, became a sort of theater.

The poem is about a 20-something woman writing home to her mama about her change in direction. She went from drinking too much in the big city to doing espresso hopping, working at the library and walking quarter-mile laps around the city lagoon.

My poem basically was a letter and a story. As I read, I saw poetry isn’t just the words but can be embodied with gesture, pacing and tone, so that the words have stage presence. Act it, be it, tell it.

Afterward, a few people asked me if I had theater experience.

Not at all. I grew up incredibly shy and didn’t know I liked to give life to my words. I thought I just liked writing them.

But as I do more and more readings, I’m realizing that a poem isn’t just for the page. It can be a dialog between the poet and the audience, a way of expressing what’s internal into a conversation. It can be turned from one form of art into another through performance.

The performances we all gave returned back to the page. Some of the poems that didn’t get selected and one or two poems from the poets who read that night became part of a poetry booklet called Poetic Geography. Both of my poems “Cranky Town” and “Snow Cougar” are included in the booklet.

So, it was poetry on the page, poetry on stage and back, full circle, representing a neat kind of celebration of National Poetry Month in April.

(Note: the photo is posed after the event, because the lighting was poor.)

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