2014 has showcased snow storm after snow storm. The Furniture Press Poetry Reading & Open Mic was initially scheduled for December, but snow happened. And what do you know, but there was snow for the rescheduled day, too. Not too much snow this time, enabling attempt 2.0 to go down without any problems at Tellus360 in Lancaster, PA. Organized by The Triangle and Furniture Press Books, the event placed poets from Lancaster, Baltimore, and New York on the same bill.
As a venue, Tellus360 provides an excellent atmosphere. While their standard events tend to be live music (particularly folk/jazz), they host a variety of non-musical events as well. One of their stages is set up near the bar, in front of large, curtained windows overlooking King Street. Tellus360 is comforting; the way they’ve crafted the bar/dining room area brings to mind a fine restaurant with a surprisingly casual attitude. It’s a fine line that they’ve done a good job of balancing. This atmosphere contributed to the reading, with seats at the bar filling up, forcing people to sit on the grand staircase and gather in the back. Not a bad turnout for a Saturday afternoon with a lazy snowfall…
The event was split into two sections: an open mic reading and then five featured poets: Andrew Sargus Klein, Christophe Casamassima, Iris Marble Cushing, Daina Savage, and Jennifer Hill. Poetry events in Lancaster sometimes seem to cater to specific demographics, but it became obvious during the open reading that this event was different. There was an interesting cross-section of area writers who shared their art with us, creating an exhilarating effect. This variety showed itself through the topics presented, the styles written, and the reading voices used. Each person who stepped on stage brought something new and engaging to the table.
An open reading will highlight general local talent, however the featured performers are where an event really flexes its muscles. The first headliner was Andrew Sargus Klein, a Baltimore-based poet who infuses his poetry with pop culture. His poems flowed in a stream-of-consciousness way, allowing ideas to naturally follow one after the other. Klein has a keen eye for the little quirks that we take for granted. In bringing these out and highlighting them, we, as an audience, were confronted with new perspectives on everyday life. There were points where he’d interrupt himself mid-delivery to give a little anecdote or explanation before relaunching into the piece. Although that stream-of-consciousness made Klein’s poetry a bit hard to follow, his confident delivery helped to make each line compelling.
Daina Savage has been a stalwart figure in the Lancaster poetry scene and was named the second Poet Laureate of Lancaster County. Her poems revealed a sense of somber wonder, creating a more serious tone than the other readers utilized. One of the strengths of Savage’s reading was the way she used similes to bring about new ways of examining life. Using a polished, intentional wordplay that matched her reading style, Savage spun a beautiful array of images. Her pacing was slow, giving each word the attention it needed. Pauses helped give and reveal layers to what she was saying.
The editor of Furniture Press Books is Christophe Casamassima, another Baltimore-based poet. A bundle of energy on stage, Casamassima demanded audience attention from the outset, both with his reading voice and his penchant for requesting input from the audience. Yet the requests often came off as rhetorical, as Casamassima didn’t allow enough time for the audience to grapple with the question before he was bounding off to something else.
The fourth featured reader, Jennifer Hill, is a Lancaster-based writer and all-around arts/performance icon. Hill read with a crystal-clear voice—she knows how to make a sentence sound amazing. There was a wry quality to Hill’s work that made it feel like she was addressing each audience member directly. This talent for communication flowed naturally into using the audience in her performance. Hill wanted (and expected) engagement from the people listening to her, and had us standing and shouting at specific points. It’s was a level of interaction that few poets could have pulled off, but Hill quickly gained the audience’s trust and guided us in order to remove our sense of embarrassment.
The event came to a close with Iris Marble Cushing of New York. Cushing’s poems—and her performance—created a dialogue with the audience. Although the audience didn’t participate with her the way they did during Hill’s performance, Cushing’s level of engagement provided that same sensation. She conveyed ease at being on stage as her eyes casually drew everyone in to catch every word. Cushing told stories that were easy to comprehend, due in no small part to the flexibility of her voice. Some of it was the tone and quality, which switched between smooth and measured to a more natural speaking voice, but a lot of it had to do with how she made use of unexpected pauses to allow lines and words to linger in the listener’s mind. Other times she’d draw words out or dance over them. It was a hypnotic effect.
While only a two hour event, the Furniture Press Reading and Open Mic delivered a wide selection of poetry styles and reader aesthetics. It’s the sort of event that makes you happy at the time, while lingering long after the event is over.
Thank you to Bruce Bakker for creating the above video highlighting the Furniture Press Reading and Open Mic event at Tellus360!