Reading, Pennsylvania has had its ups and downs. Recently, it made the national news for the sad distinction of being the poorest city in the USA. But like many struggling cities, it also has its share of citizens who are devoted to keeping the city not merely afloat and economically viable–a tough task in tough times–but also vibrant culturally. Where rents are cheap, artists can find studio space. Colleges can expand because there’s vacant space for parking garages and buildings ripe for re-tooling. Reading’s been host to quite a few poetry events lately, as a result of the aforesaid artist spaces and college expansions. (See GoggleWorks for one example of studio & performance space: http://www.goggleworks.org).
I spent the day at the Reading venue of the global event “100 Thousand Poets for Change.” On this overcast but mild day, there was a little disorganization at first, not uncommon for new festivals…but the poets found one another, and before long there was a lively little crowd seated and standing near a performance space for what was billed as a series of featured readings with musical interludes but which became an open reading with music as background. And train sounds as background. And car and crowd sounds, and it didn’t matter because the audience members were paying attention to the readers.
At intervals, I wandered away and bought food from the vendors. Reading has some good ethnic food establishments, judging by the Vietnamese spring rolls and the falafel and such.
I sat on a park bench with my friend Marilyn Hazelton, a tanka poet and practitioner of haiku and haibun, and we discussed the young performance poets and the uses of structure in poetry and in life. We had a moment envying the young for simply being young and energetic, and then we spent a few more moments on what we’ve learned and the value of aging. Both of us are teachers, as are Craig Czury and Heather Thomas, two poets who were instrumental in putting the poetry aspect of today’s gathering together, so we also talked about teaching. Sometimes a quiet talk with a good friend revitalizes me. After our conversation, I felt energized enough to read a few more poems to the crowd. A man my son’s age shouted “Good stuff!”
All in all, a good way to spend the first Saturday of the autumn season.