by Marc Janssen
Next up… Hands shaking, a voice that is searching for heart-hurt words, eyes listing from the screen of a dying cell phone.
Next up… A slight senior woman, in precise staccato, tours her springtime garden. Next a man praises his first car, next a mother explores her youth, next the reader strikes a pose and moves into a sing-song voice, next another voice and another voice. It is open mic poetry in Salem.
Thought #1: I don’t want to go to a poetry reading because I don’t have a tight black sweater and beret. Because I don’t like to snap instead of clap. Because I don’t want to be bored.
Neither do we. See, you are just like us.
Poetry readings are a horse of a different color, that is for sure. It is very strange that someone would seek out unpaid public speaking engagements. But that is what a poetry reading is like, with all the variety and depth you can find at a TED talk, and all the silliness of a night of improv. A poetry event is unpredictable, and that is part of the attraction.
Thought #2: It is rare to hear the writer of a newspaper article read it aloud. You would not expect an essayist or a short story author to read to you from his book. Poetry however has always had an oral element. Even the most modern free-verse has its own inner music that sings its way to your ear. You can purchase a book and read poems, and some poems are designed for that experience. But there is also an expectation that poetry is to be read aloud or recited. Back in Plato’s day there were recitations of Homer; the Greeks had been reciting prose for generations. The idea of attending a poetry reading in 2016-Salem is a tradition extended to us from the ancients, a tradition that you can be a part of—pretty amazing.
Thought #3: If you wanted to go to an open mic, what would you do? You can find out about readings at the Oregon Poetry Association website, the Salem Poetry Project FB page, and local newspaper events pages. Or just go to the Salem Poetry Project open mic, happening every Thursday at 7:00 p.m. at the Barrel & Keg on the corner of Broadway and Market.
You might not want to read, of course. But if you do, bring a few pieces to choose from, and learn from the organizer how long you have. We are fairly open about content, but other readings may have stricter guidelines. Read your own work or something from a favorite poet. Luckily the poetry scene in Salem is a pretty friendly place.
Sit back and listen. Maybe take a turn at the mic and see what it feels like. Good luck.
Marc Janssen organizes the Salem Poetry Project. He is regularly published in periodicals such as The Rio Grande Review, Off the Coast, Cirque Journal, and The Ottawa Arts Review as well as the anthologies Manifest West and Green is the Color of Winter. One of his poems was selected for the September 2016 Liars League PDX.