Glass City Muse: Community ResponsibilityWritten by John Dorsey | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Recently, someone came up to me and said that what Toledo’s poetry community really needs is a good strong voice of dissent, which leads me to my next topic, community responsibility. I’ve been thinking about this a lot since the closing of the Ground Level Coffee House.
To me the word community means more than going to the same local reading every week, the same university sponsored workshop where everyone tries way too hard to be nice to each other, the same blog, internet radio show or even the same local newspaper column. Community means supporting as much as you can regardless of race, gender, geographic region, economic background, or academic standing. Toledo, like most literary communities across the country, and I’m sure around the world, falls short in every area.
How many readings have you been to where poets will drop in just to listen to others? I’d wager to guess, not very many. In fact, many poets won’t even come out if there isn’t open mic, because they’re more interested in the sound of their own voice than something new or potentially inspiring.
How many non university readings do you see students attending? Again probably not very many, because there is no professor there to grade them or for them to suck up to and professors are too tired to come out in many cases, after having to spend countless hours reading papers that offer very little creative energy.
Let’s also talk community on a grander scale. I was at the Downtown library a few weeks ago and a rather prominent member of our literary community said that poets from other cities have nothing on Toledo. Well, that’s true. Poets are doing the bare minimum all over the world and we’re no exception. Many of our poets don’t even want to know what’s going on outside the county. They have no sense of a larger community. Not that they’re alone in that. I recently returned from an out of state reading trip, where attitudes were much the same. In fact, I’ve had that same experience countless times over the years. So how do we fix things?
Well, I could tell you that building a strong poetry community both at home and on a national and international level, begins and ends with you, but you know that already. The true answer isn’t so paint by numbers. If we look around there are plenty of reasons to skip the open mic down the street, like work, family obligations, social anxiety or just plain being exhausted. These are all valid reasons to stay home. I’ve used them myself at times. There are however, alternatives to the local coffee house, things like internet radio or online book clubs, but really I want you to venture out. We need to meet up. Have to spend time with the kids? Take them with you. Sure, some stuff at poetry readings isn’t always family friendly, but then the same could be said about the evening news. Just get involved however you can. A local poet once asked me whether poetry is dying in Toledo and my answer remains, of course not. These things always come in waves. Something does need to change though; we need to think of poetry as being vital to our day to day lives, not just a hobby. In a country where the economy is in the tank, and more people seem to be medicated every day, who couldn’t use a little beauty, just to keep going? I know I could.
So, could we as poetry patrons, have done anything to save a literary venue like the Ground Level? Maybe, maybe not, there are always a number of factors that come into play when you’re talking about small business. The real question is — does it matter? Are these venues vital, not only to our economy, but also to our hearts? Let’s hope so …
Until next time…keep your pencil sharp.
John Dorsey resides in Toledo’s Old West End. His work is widely published and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.