Sharing words at two monthly reading events
There is not a particle of life which does not bear poetry within itGustave Flaubert. As the 19th century French mastercrafter of words might have added, there is no such thing as a community that is not inhabited, however subliminally, by poets. In Chico, one of the ways that population manifests itself is through public readings, two of which have gradually created a foundational outlet for local wordsmiths. On the third Thursday of the month, there’s Poetry Reading at The Bookstore downtown, and one or two Sundays a month it’s Poetry in the Park at the Campfire Council Ring in Lower Bidwell Park. Both gatherings are loose, informal affairs, open to the public, and welcoming and encouraging to new readers.
At The Bookstore readings, organized and hosted by local poet and painter Bob Garner for the past three years, participants and audience gather in a space set up in the middle of the store, and the setting, surrounded by row upon row of ceiling-high shelves filled with books, is a bibliophile’s comfort zone—conducive to both reading and listening.
At the most recent event (June 22), participants presented a series of memoir pieces, including Christopher Barry’s “Brooklyn, Coming Off Ship, Weekend Chronicle,” an evocative medley of stream-of-conscious images interspersed with lyrics from classic blues songs. Gary Cooke read from his short story, “A Piece of Sky,” effectively portraying the circumscribed reality of small-town life.
Garner usually invites a few people from the local writing community to come read, and then leaves a few spaces open for other attendees to share as well. “It’s fascinating,” he said. “You never know quite what you’re going to get.”
The setting of the Campfire Council Ring readings is a circular concrete stage surrounding a fire pit situated beneath the branches of a huge, marvelously twisted oak. Sitting there recently, I was reminded of Kahlil Gibran’s poetic observation that, “Trees are poems the earth writes upon the sky/We fell them down and turn them into paper/That we may record our emptiness.” But among the 15 to 20 mostly younger poets at last month’s reading (June 16), I sensed not so much emptiness as a willingness and readiness to accept each other’s versions and visions of their individual realities.
Whether reading comfortably and confidently or fairly inaudibly and bashfully, from hand-scrawled scraps of paper, bound journals, smartphone screens or memory, each poet received concentrated attention and sincere applause.
Series organizer Kate Wright said the motivation for creating the Poets in the Park group was to carry on the tradition of readings that began at the now-defunct Café Flo several years ago, “providing a safe space and open community” for local poets.
André Williams, a regular at the gatherings who often serves as emcee, is a good example of how the community has developed. “I used to just come and never read, but now I really like reading and talking to people at the readings,” he said. “I think it can help the shy ones and inspire them to feel like it’s OK to share their feelings by reading themselves. Participating draws both them and me further into the community.”
Another regular, Piper Josephine—who can often be found selling poems, love letters, etc., written on the spot at the Saturday farmers’ market—added, “Reading is performance. And writing is private. I love exploring the palette of emotions. The shared emotions and the diverse interpretations that reading poetry evokes inspire me.”