by Vere McCarty
It starts with having a favorite poet. It may be anyone, from any land and any century – as long as, regrettably, this poet has passed on. If your love for the poet is so great that you would actually like to be him or her, then you are ready to be a Dead Poet.
You choose your favorite poems, study your poet’s life, and write a script explaining how this life led to these poems. You practice and you practice, leaving room for spontaneity, because it will all be different when your poet comes to the microphone and you feel the anticipation of friendly listeners, and you take a deep breath and say, “Good evening, I am…”
The Dead Poets Reading, in its 26th spring-and-fall reincarnation, will materialize on Saturday October 29th, 7:00 pm, at the Creekside Grill in Silverton. It is free (though there is a lonely donation jar that needs attention). All ages are welcome (though there is a bar a few steps away).
Rainer Maria Rilke will be there with his mystique and his rose garden of poems in French. Robert Frost is expected also, having gone his miles and then slept for many snowy evenings. Marosa di Giorgio will take us to the fields of violets of her childhood in Uruguay.
Robin Williams unfortunately cannot make it, and we should explain that the Dead Poets Reading is only distantly related to the Dead Poets Society. No dead poets will die, and none so far has stood up a desk, feeling that the poetry itself is powerful enough to thrill the audience.
It has been observed that a good way to learn a subject, and to learn it through and through, is to teach it. When it comes to poetry, dead poets have discovered an even better way – to be the poet you are learning. In all our 106 embodiments so far, the reader has gone away feeling exhilarated with the experience. The illusion that the poet is here in the flesh may be slim, but the audience values it and keeps coming back.
The Silverton Poetry Association has been sponsoring these happenings since 2002, when the first poet to read was Emily Dickinson. Charles Baudelaire gave the first of many bilingual readings. Macuilxochitl came from old Mexico the following year. Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz and Sylvia Plath have both been here, as well as Goethe and Ginsberg, Sappho and Whitman, Dante and Millay – imagine!
We know that more men than women have had their poetry published, but whether fewer women have created poetry – that is an open question. Every Dead Poets Reading has featured at least one woman poet. Our rhythmic second language has also made its presence felt, with frequent appearances of poets, both muertas and muertos, from the Americas and Iberia.
Why go out to hear poetry? Because, in the words of Muriel Rukeyser, who appeared to us one fall evening at GeerCrest Farm, “Both artist and audience create, and both do work on themselves in creating.”
Vere McCarty is a member of the Silverton Poetry Association and a former Dead Poet.