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Poetry in the Park

August 12, 2011

Last Saturday I went with my friend Katie, one of the inspiring women of my writing group, to the Poets’ Picnic at Benicia City Park. The Poets’ Picnic was an event where poets laureate from various cities in California came to read their poetry and poems by others attending the event; people could bring their own poems to place in a picnic basket, and each poet laureate would pick one from the basket to read.

Poets Laureate of California at Benicia City Park

Katie and I arrived a little over halfway through the event and found a shady spot towards the back of the assembled audience. Most people had brought chairs and set them up in a half-circle around the microphone, but we settled in on the sleeping bag my family traditionally opens up for picnics. It was a truly gorgeous afternoon—I always envy Benicia weather, with the lovely breezes that I don’t get so often at home. The only thing to mar the setting was the occasional rumble of a motorcycle that drowned out a line here or there. Otherwise, it was the perfect spot.

Unfortunately, we arrived too late to get any poems in the basket. I had brought four because I couldn’t decide which one I wanted before I left home, and I figured I would choose on impulse when I got there. Katie and I considered devising a distraction so that I could sneak up and add my poem to the basket by stealth, but I’ve never been very good at sneaking. I don’t consider it much loss not to have any of my work read because I got the opportunity to experience pieces that were new to me. My favorite, and I think Katie agrees, was one read near the end of the event, a piece called “God’s Clearing House” by Maria Rosales.

Poetry is a thing that ought to be experienced out loud if at all possible. A poem can be a very physical, tangible experience. Speaking poetry gives it a depth and power that it doesn’t possess when it’s merely on the page (although conversely the visual shape of a poem’s lines and stanzas can contribute meaning that the ear can’t hear). When I read poetry, I prefer to read it out loud than to read it silently, but this was the first time I’ve had both the opportunity and ability to go to an actual public reading in a long time. The last time I attended a reading was a somewhat poorly attended opening for an art exhibit at DVC’s gallery several years ago.

I don’t know if it’s just because poetry isn’t as much on my radar as fiction is or if poetry events are simply harder to find, but the Poets’ Picnic reminded me that I’d like to make poetry a bigger part of my life again. Poetry doesn’t need to be a solitary pursuit, and the Poets’ Picnic shows how it can be something for the community to join in and experience together.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. August 12, 2011 8:40 am

    My favorite poem from Maria Rosales was:

    The nature of Tigers
    On the attack at SF Zoo, Christmas Day and the assassination
    of Benazir Bhutto, December 27th.

    On Christmas Day a tiger died
    Because she was a tiger.
    A young man dared her
    to be a tiger.
    She took the dare.
    They shot her.

    Today, another tiger died.
    She could have stayed in exile
    but she returned
    to be a tiger.
    She took the dare.
    They shot her

    I’m not a huge fan of free verse because I think a lot of what other people write in free verse isn’t poetry. Of course, I write in free verse too. [:-)] I think free verse works best when it’s short (not TOO short) and broken for emphasis (such as above), OR it’s long and uses vivid imagery and other poetic forms (alliteration, simile, etc.).

    Should we have a group poetry blog? THAT would be fun, too! What shall we call it?

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 12, 2011 4:42 pm

      Hm, I’m not sure I want to do a group poetry blog, but I have been toying with the idea of organizing a little poetry reading at some point.

  2. August 13, 2011 5:17 pm

    I want so badly to go to a poetry reading! I think it’s generally harder to find poetry stuff than it is to find for fiction (at least it’s been harder for me to find), which is sad.

    • Anita M. King permalink*
      August 14, 2011 7:39 pm

      Unfortunately, I sometimes get the impression that poetry is often seen as an amateur form of writing, something for angsty teenaged girls but not for “real” writers. A lot of people seem more embarrassed to admit to poetry in public than to admit to prose.

  3. August 17, 2011 7:37 pm

    There’s a poetry center on campus here at SF State. I can get a calendar for you and you can come hang with me.

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