Taking time to reflect and listen, to focus and think, to imagine and realize, this is what a poetry reading is all about. Poetry, after all, requires time and patience. At the Arts Café Mystic it is also about the time spent together with the poet.
The atmosphere is relaxed and congenial in the main gallery of the Mystic Arts Center. Tables are set throughout the room surrounded by white plastic chairs, like a garden party, with portraits and landscapes lining the horizon in all directions. The poetry and the art are a good match, and combined with java and juice provided by local eateries, make each Arts Café a treat for all the senses.
The most recent event featured Stephen Dobyns, an accomplished poet, essayist, and fiction writer, who now resides in Westerly, RI. Preceding his reading was Co Co Beaux, an all-male a cappella singing ensemble from Connecticut College, and local writer and poet Daniel Gula.
Arts Café organizer Christie Max Williams said the mix of music an poetry was part of the original idea over ten years ago, and still works. “The idea was to present nationally prominent poets and writers, and give local writers an appropriate forum, and combine it with music,” Williams said.
The idea seems to be catching on. As the evening progressed more and more chairs had to be pulled from the back room to seat latecomers.
The evening began with Williams acting as MC, welcoming the crowd and making introductions. He reminded people about the donation baskets raising funds for the young poet awards that would be granted in the spring, and made announcements regarding upcoming poetry events in the region, encouraging continued support and attendance.
When the series was first imagined, Williams said, 'There was a little poetry movement out and about the region.” An opportunity like the Arts Café, bring accomplished poets to the area to share their work, seemed a good fit. “There is a core audience,” noted Williams, and he has been encouraged that the community around the series continues to grow.
One new face in the crowd this season is that of Ryan O'Connell, a junior at Ledyard High School and a budding writer. “I've always been attracted to the poet reading their own work. I can take the words as I hear them.” O'Connell was seated next to his creative writing teacher from school.
O'Connell noticed during his first visit to the Arts Café earlier this season that he was the youngest person there. He is sometimes frustrated by his peers disregard of poetry, “They don't have time to read a poem.”
With an evening like the Arts Café O'Connell believes that younger people could be drawn by the poetry/music combination. “There's the opening poet, then the music wakes everybody up, and then the featured poet who everybody comes to see, and you're really listening.”
After the reading O'Connell approached Stephen Dobyns, shook his hand, and presented the honored poet with two volumes of poetry, one crisp and new purchased that evening at the book table, and the other bent and dog-eared. Dobyns graciously signed and returned both to the aspiring writer, speaking a few words before turning his attention to the next patron standing nearby.
O'Connell stood with his books, “I've always been attracted to things on the page. It's something physical, you can take it home with you.”
That sort of exchange is part of the Arts Café experience said Williams, “You're going to encounter poets who are accessible to their audience.”
It was interesting to watch Dobyns take to the podium. A substantial man with thinning white hair, he had to bend a bit to get near the microphone. Sifting through marked pages, he read to us without looking up. Far from being a showman, Dobyns spoke with restraint, allowing the words and the images they conjured to do the work.
Williams put it this way, “I think the Arts Café can be viewed as one of those out of the ordinary adventures. If you ask somebody out to a poetry reading it says something about you.” He added, “It's a relatively inexpensive destination. Cheaper than a movie.”
Between the music, the poetry, the art, and the cookies, the Arts Café Mystic proved to be a good Friday night out. While the event seems simple, it is actually a lot of work sustained by a host of volunteers.
“It's fairly involved,” said Williams in his understated, breezy manner. The committee does a lot of reading to discover possible poets, there is booking and travel arrangements, finding appropriate music groups, setting up and taking down the tables, selling tickets and greeting people at the door.
The Arts Café Mystic will present a trio of poetry/music events in the spring, including recognition of young poets from the region. Additionally, Stephen Dobyns will be conducting a talk on the creative process of writing on November 30th at the Westerly Library.
Williams is committed to the growth of the community around the series, and that the experience of hearing poets read their works remains inviting, “The words are transformed and magnified when we sit in a common room together.”
For more information and schedules contact The Arts café Mystic at the Mystic Arts Center, 9 Water Street, Mystic, CT 860-536-5680, www.mystc-arts.org.
The Westerly Library call 401-596-2877 or toll-free 1-866-460-2677.