Gathering Audience: Blackbird Academy’s Coffeehouse Reading

No Telling

In the beginning is the word, and we write for ourselves. Secret notebooks stashed in backpacks, odd scribbles on napkins or the back of a shopping list. Sometimes a string of words so bright we repeat and repeat them hoping the glamor of it won’t fly off before we can net the wild thing on paper. That’s how it begins.

Then we gather large stories in small rooms, tentatively sharing what we’ve written. That’s the next step, and the one that binds us to each other as writers. We grow into our voices and become fearless on the page.

Finally, we go out into the world. This time, family and friends in a familiar place so all this bravery has elbow-room and a soft place to land. There’s a certain alchemy in hearing your voice read aloud the words you’ve written, and to see an audience rapt. For you.

Next time, we’ll fling poems and stories even wider, because we can.

Top, left to right: Jennie Strange – Blackbird Academy executive director, Amy Ness – art instructor. Middle, left to right: Laura Craig, Hannah Laws, Mary Margaret Hambuchen. Bottom, left to right: Amy Ness, Tara Walls – dance instructor, Jennie Strange, Pam James.

Special thanks to Something Brewing for welcoming us and for having iced coffee on such a hot evening.

I Heart Scribbling Students who Read Poetry Aloud for the First Time

No Telling

You know, the ones with the secret notebooks who sit there at the poetry reading flipping raggedy stained pages over and over, listening to the brave one up there reading, and thinking, hey – my stuff is this good, I’ll do this. But the chair they’re sitting in is too far away or the clapping quits too soon or goes too long and the time they semi-rise to take the moment they’re beat by by some other sweaty-handed poet. There’s defeat and safety in that second when the butt hits the bottom of the chair. Exhale.

See, what happens then is they make the decision to close the notebook or just take the goddamn room like a poetry-slinging Visigoth, and when the clapping stops for the last one I can read it all over them in bold, black, Sharpie slashes under their eyes, boiling warrior adrenaline and ready, I tell you, ready.

So when they finally do lift off their seats there’s no looking right or left, just the stark front of the room where the distance between teller and crowd is a coliseum staring you down, harboring literary expectations, demanding: Don’t. You. Dare. Suck.

And they don’t. Much.

After, the body still pumps hard-wash through them. Glazed eyes and fingers crazed, wringing that sacred notebook until the covers go soft, curl to fit in a fist. The next poet is on the floor but the last one is still blood-pressured, eye glazed, sweating into a t-shirt and writing in his head the better one for next time. When it’s over he’ll write for hours scratching cheap ballpoint pens on disfigured pages and that chemistry homework will just have to be late.