Sunday, April 25, 2004
Poetic awareness in Lawrence has bloomed with the tulips and daffodils the past two years.
That's because during April -- National Poetry Month -- area wordsmiths have offered language bouquets in the form of spoken verse each Friday throughout the Lawrence Poetry Series.
Trouble is, widespread enthusiasm for the form seems to wither like spring blossoms at month's end, and poetry once again becomes an underground endeavor, pursued by dedicated scribes alone and in communion with others at coffee-shop poetry readings.
But poet Mickey Cesar, who has participated in 132 public readings the past four years, hopes the growth-dormancy cycle will be broken this year. After all, the four regular poetry readings a month in Lawrence aren't just for established writers; they're also for up-and-comers and those simply interested in soaking up the vibe.
"Poetry is a very accessible art form, yet for lack of publicity, a lot of would-be poets don't do anything with their work," says Cesar, who will read Friday with Beth Dorsey and Matthew Porubsky during the final installment of the Lawrence Poetry Series at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 N.H.
"I would like to both encourage and inspire, if possible. And that's essentially why I do readings is to support those people that write and also support those people that organize. ... That's the purpose in life that I've found recently."
Blind is better
Cesar organizes the First Thursday Open-Mic Poetry Series at Aimee's Coffee House. It averages 10 to 15 poets and draws an audience of 20 to 30 people.
It's a nice change of pace from Cesar's day job. He works as a television repairman in the dark basement office of Audio-Video Services. When he's not busy tweaking TVs, he's almost always writing. His words spring from images and emotions and often deal with identity and sense of place. Cesar says he tries to connect with readers.
"One of my motivations in writing is knowing that each of us individually can feel very alone or cannot express their feelings and experiences," he says. "Through my poems, I hope that readers and listeners can see part of themselves in it and thus be reassured that they're not necessarily alone."
Cesar, a sergeant in the U.S. Army Reserves, is working on an English degree at Kansas University. His work has been printed in Kiosk and his own self-published chap books. He'll be in the next issue of Coal City Review, and Unholy Day Press in Kansas City, Mo., will soon release a Pocket Poets book of his work.
This summer, Lawrence Poetry Series organizer Jason Wesco will publish a collection of Cesar's poems through his Perry-based 219 Press.
Though Cesar is an advocate of poetry readings, he has mixed feelings about putting a face to a poem.
"Sometimes I would rather people not be able to see me," he says. "Not that I want to hide from them, but the way I dress, the way I might stand or the way I look ... might actually detract from the experience they might have just from hearing the words."
'Connecting with people'
Beth Dorsey, a self-described introvert, finds an element of freedom in public readings.
"I end up talking about extremely personal things -- things that I would never say to a stranger, and then I end up saying them to a large crowd of strangers," she says. "It's a way of communicating that I probably wouldn't have otherwise."
Dorsey's been writing "forever," but didn't really take it seriously until KU professor and poet Brian Daldorph encouraged her to spend more time with it. She's been published in The Same and Coal City Review.
She characterizes her poetry as straightforward and often based on a single image or phrase. Family members find their way into a lot of her work, as in "18-Inch Waist," in which Dorsey describes her mother's vintage wedding dress.
She ends with these lines:
"...this is her dress that threatens to rip,
as I try to coax it up over my hips."
"I think for me poetry is just about connecting with people and communicating a moment of time and trying to hopefully find someone who identifies with it," she says.
Poetry as flirtation
For Matthew Porubsky, poetry's all about flirting.
Unlike a short story or a novel, which might paint a very detailed picture, poems don't often give everything away.
Reading a good poem should give you "chills down the back of your neck, like when somebody whispers in your ear," Porubsky says.
He recently graduated from KU and lives in Topeka. He's been published in The Same, Coal City Review and I-70 Review. He's looking for a publisher for a collection he calls "Voyeur Poems."
Like Dorsey and Cesar, he values directness.
"I don't pussyfoot around about something I want to talk about," he says. "If I'm writing about something, I'm not going to hint about it as much as I'm going to put you there."
Porubsky's a big fan of poetry readings, whether it's the Lawrence Poetry Series or the ones that take place year-round in Lawrence coffee shops and bars.
"I can't remember who said it -- I think it was Keats -- that poetry should be felt on the pulse," Porubsky says. "You get that when you're reading, but when you HEAR someone reading, that's when you really feel it."