It seems like every other week there is a new article or blog post announcing the death of poetry or the dangerous proliferation of MFA programs, but no one seems to have told the Dolly Lemke and Stephen Danos that poetry is in danger. Dolly and Stephen host an amazing reading series in Chicago, IL called The Dollhouse, and it takes place in Dolly’s living room. I had the privilege of reading there this past weekend with Daniel Khalastchi and Fred Sasaki. Dorothea Lasky joined us via Skype. Dozens of people arrived with six-packs, took off their shoes and coats as the signs requested, made sure the cats didn’t escape out the front door, and got comfortable on the living room floor.
I have been lucky enough to read in a variety of places—colleges, libraries, book art centers, art galleries, book stores—but there’s something different about reading in your socks right next to a stranger’s bedroom while a cat cautiously inspects your big toe. Sure, some things are still the same—picking poems to read, getting nervous, saying something foolish in between poems—but it also feels comfortable, intimate, strangely safe. In between readers, there was a break to grab another beer and talk. People seemed to either already be friends or making friends. Rather than a space where people experience the same poems separately, it seemed like a place that was forming and reaffirming a community.
Rather than seeking out a venue, arranging for keys, lighting, sound equipment, promotion and all the other technicalities of a reading, all that was needed was a living room and a tumbler. Sometimes I talk myself out of ideas I have for poetry because I say I don’t have the time or the energy for that idea. And reading series take work. Lots of it. But it doesn’t have to. Poetry should reach as many people as possible in as many ways as is possible—including on couches with a good beer in hand, and perhaps a cat or two. Whatever creates space for fellowship and language.
Here in Kalamazoo, MI, a group of local poets have started a poetry salon. We rotate hosting duties, bring over bottles of wine or snacks, and sit around and read each other poems. There’s no definitive structure or schedule, just good poems and good company. Naturally, we end up talking about lots of other things concerning our lives and/or poetry, but what brought us together is what keeps us together, and what keeps us coming back to each other’s living rooms—poetry.
Traci Brimhall is the author of Our Lady of the Ruins (forthcoming from W.W. Norton), selected by Carolyn Forché for the 2011 Barnard Women Poets Prize, and Rookery (Southern Illinois University Press), winner of the 2009 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award. Her poems have appeared in Kenyon Review, Slate, Virginia Quarterly Review, New England Review, The Missouri Review, and elsewhere. She was the 2008-09 Jay C. and Ruth Halls Poetry Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing and currently teaches at Western Michigan University, where she is a doctoral associate and King/Chávez/Parks Fellow. Visit her website at http://www.tracibrimhall.com/