Matt Mauch, the founder and host of a yearly blowout in honor of National Poetry Month, calls the Great Twin Cities Poetry Read a celebration of community and of poetry, “although I’m not sure in what order. It’s what the poet Lucille Clifton called ‘a gathering of the tribe.’” And based on what I saw this weekend, that’s no overstatement. A full house turned out for the third annual “gathering of the tribe” this Saturday; there were easily more than 250 people in attendance, many of them writers themselves (including Minnesota’s poet laureate, Joyce Sutphen). Frankly, I’ve rarely seen a poetry reading by and for locals draw so well.
We all convened in an atmospheric, third floor meeting hall at Hamline University in St. Paul to hear 30-some poets take turns reading a single, original and unpublished poem of their choice. Most of the writers on hand were Minnesotans, but a handful of neighboring Upper Midwestern states were represented as well: Iowa, Wisconsin, North Dakota. The poets sat in a line facing the audience, at the front of the room, and waited for their names to be drawn from the “ceremonial beaver skin hat.”
Listening to such a motley selection of poems in rapid succession like that, you can’t help but be whiplashed by the variety of voices: some were sober, others silly; poems were wry, sad, perverse and, occasionally, downright startling in their candor or insight. And a couple of them were truly horrible, but that’s as it should be in a free-for-all like this. One of the readers toward the end of the line-up gleefully called the night “a pu-pu platter of poems;” that’s seems about right. There was a growing summer-camp sort of camaraderie in the room as the evening progressed, a sense of playfulness and, above all, solidarity. At the end of each poet’s reading, I half expected to hear an “amen” from the corner.
As I glance through the list of past and present participants, I’m not surprised to see a who’s who of notable local scribes that have gamely stepped up over the past couple of years. The Great Twin Cities Poetry Read is a hoot — what poet wouldn’t want to be part of this? I am taken aback by just how many of these writers are wholly new to me.
Mauch says in the three years since they’ve started the annual celebration, there haven’t been any repeats: “Every year, we ask the participating poets to recommend a couple of others they think would be good, poets we can hit up to take their place next year. So far, we haven’t had any trouble getting enough people to participate. In fact, I think we can go on like this, without any duplication, for at least another couple of years.”
Since the beginning of the Great Twin Cities Poetry Read, all the pieces read aloud at the annual event have been anthologized and published by Lowbrow Press in the series, “Poetry City, USA”. Volumes one and two are now out and available for sale; “Poetry City, USA: Volume Three,” including all of the poems featured in this year’s Great Twin Cities Poetry Read, as well as essays, interviews and reviews written by participating poets and friends of the effort, will be released in time for next year’s event.
Even if you missed the big reading this weekend, the Great Twin Cities Poetry Read extends far beyond the annual celebration: you can hear some of these poets read their work in the related “Road Show” around the state and every other month at “The Maeve’s Sessions,” a bi-monthly reading series-cum-open mic night at Maeve’s Café in northeast Minneapolis. The next “Road Show” reading (with Sean Hill, Paula Cisewski, LouAnn Shepard-Muhm and Mauch), hosted by the Bemidji Community Arts Center, will take place on May 11.
Find more information: http://www.greattwincitiespoetryreadandroadshow.com/.