Series allows area poets to put a voice to their verse

Crafting poetry can be a lonely discipline.

But the reward comes when poets can share their writing with others, especially when it means reciting one of their poems -- in their own voice -- to a receptive audience.

That's the motivation behind the Lawrence Poetry Series, entering its third year at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 N.H.

"The point of it is just to connect people who do the work with people who enjoy the work," said Jason Wesco, founder and organizer of the event.

"Writing poetry can be an isolating thing because it's not like dance or a concert or sculpture, where you can do it in a public way with other people. This series connects writers and readers and lets people know that they (poets) exist."

The annual event presents a series of poetry readings, primarily by poets from Lawrence and the Kansas City area, on Fridays in April, which is National Poetry Month.

Wesco, a poet who recently moved from Perry to Topeka, typically organizes the series by having two or three different poets read their work each Friday.

This year's poetry series features 11 poets. Readings will be April 1; April 8, 15, 22 and 29. All the readings will be at 8 p.m. at the arts center.

Wesco said he usually requested a donation of $1 or $2 per person.

"Last year, we averaged almost 50 people a night. And the very first night we started the series, we had 70 people. To get that many for a poetry reading is really, really good," Wesco said.

Most of the poets he invites to participate in the series are people Wesco has heard recite their works at poetry readings, or those he knows from the tight-knit community of local poets.

Wesco, 31, is the author of a book of poetry, "Between the Letters," published by his own 219 Press in 2002.

"The poetry series is just something that I really felt was lacking before that hadn't been done (in Lawrence). It adds to the overall richness of the community," he said.

Cadence, rhythms

Several of the poets whom Wesco invited to participate in this year's series said they welcomed the opportunity to read a sampling of their poems and gain some exposure.

"I'm a person who's always willing to read. That's what you write for -- to get your work out there, sure," said Ed Tato, 42, a Lawrence poet.

He is host to one open reading monthly at the Jackpot Saloon, 943 Mass.

Hearing someone recite a work in his or her own voice adds immeasurably to the experience of poetry, according to Tato.

"You hear the voice, the cadence and the rhythms. The words on the page are the words on the page. (But) once you hear the poet, you're more in tune to what the poet is intending," he said.

Tato has published one book of poetry, "True Stories from La Cosa Nostra," which came out in 1993.

Tato said many of his poems were humorous, especially those he selected for readings.

"People are more likely to listen if they're enjoying it. That's just simple common sense. I also want to entertain myself while I'm reading," he said.

Chris Citro, another Lawrence poet participating in the series, said being able to read his work to an audience was fulfilling.

"The most important act of poetry is the act of writing, which is a fairly isolated experience. But the aspect of reading out loud to people and feeling a connection there is extremely gratifying. It's a rare thrill," said Citro, 32.

"It's sort of an immediate sense if something works. I definitely enjoy the act of reading and seeing an audience be affected by it."

He is the author of one book of poetry, "Orbiting the Sundress," published in 2004.

Oral tradition

Hearing a poet read his or her words aloud offers others the opportunity to connect to the work the way its author intended.

That's how Amy Fleury, an associate professor of English at Washburn University in Topeka, said she understands it.

"The origins of poetry are in an oral tradition. It began as an oral art form. I really believe in the verbal experience, the auditory experience of poetry as well as reading it on the page," said Fleury, 34.

"That's always a wonderful opportunity to pick up on the musicality of the language. It's also nice to be able to offer up one's own poems."

Fleury will read a selection of her work on April 29, the last Friday of the Lawrence Poetry Series. She has published one book of poetry, "Beautiful Trouble," which came out in 2004.

Fleury said she tended to write about Kansas and her rural roots in Seneca, "the sort of spiritual and social connotations that come as part of living in the midst of that landscape."

Her experiences growing up in a farm community have inspired many of her poems.

"Whatever sort of consumes you, you tend to write about it," she said. "I like to think the subjects choose the writer more than the writer chooses the subject."


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