‘Live, old life! play the part that looks back on the actor or actress!
Play the old role, the role that is great or small according as one makes it!’
Walt Whitman, Crossing Brooklyn Ferry
I asked Marc Janssen, Why do we need poets? He replied, ‘Intentionality in language. Poetry makes people think about life in ways that are different to the way they thought before’. In October 2015 the Salem Poetry Project held its first poetry reading. Over one hundred poets later, the Salem Poetry Project is leaping ahead. The poets who read there are mostly from Oregon but some originated in other states as well as other countries such as Chile, Columbia, Peru, Australia, Central America and Mexico.
It’s important to Marc Janssen that the project is inclusive and welcomes all writers from different walks of life, different cultures, languages, genders and place. One might imagine the poet as a lonely soul, gazing at the stars, reading Edgar Allen Poe and drinking absinthe by the fire. Actually we are all poets, in our own way, and you might be surprised to find that your brother or sister, boss or employee is, secretly, a poet. That said, poetry is a technique, a craft and it can take a lifetime to master; finding ways to put emotions into words that impact the reader or listener in such a way that moves them.
“If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry” writes Emily Dickinson. Poetry also gives voice to people and subjects that otherwise might have no opportunity to speak, it offers human understanding. Often through listening to the words of others we come to a place of recognition; ’I’m not alone’, ‘oh you too!’ The enduring nature of poetic language connects us all.
Marc’s very first experience of reading poetry was in Ventura California twenty-four years ago. The coffee house was packed to the rafters, standing room only, people sitting on the stairs and Marc was next in line to read. The poet before him, Tobias, had a tattoo of a lion on his face, and proceeded to rant at the crowd until the climax of the poem where he pulled out a gun and put it to his head screaming ‘do you want me to kill myself!’ He then slammed the gun down on the lectern and that was the end of the poem. Marc not only survived but has kept his deep love for poetry all that time. Every week on a Thursday night from 7 pm to 8:30 pm. you can hear the carefully sculpted words of poets at the Ike Box on Cottage Street.
The Salem Poetry Project welcomes everyone and is supportive of new poets. Despite popular images of poets as solitary creatures, the poets of Salem are a caring, communal, and interesting herd.
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Story by Jade Rosina McCutcheon