Motion in poetryWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | firstname.lastname@example.org
A bonfire of Hallmark greeting cards, bellowing sickeningly sweet drifts of smoke. Cleveland Indians mascot Chief Wahoo lying in drifts of snow, staring at the great wide sky for the last time. Silent stares of contempt and derision aimed at an unhoused man as he walks the Toledo streets.
These and scores of other images were part of a June 16 poetry reading that featured more poets than audience members.
Toledo Free Press sponsored a stop on the June 16 Art Walk, a signature event of the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo. We opened our warehouse on Huron Street, set up chairs and a makeshift podium and invited a group of local poets to read their works. Michael Grover led an outstanding line-up of poets — Arnold Koester, Jonie McIntire, Greg Peters and Bob Phillips.
With the cluster of activity on St. Clair and Adams streets, there was a dearth of passersby on Huron Street to look in and see the reading, but each of the poets gave it his or her best, reading original material that inspired laughter and reflection to the few people who joined us.
There is a thriving poetry scene in Toledo, but it seems like a backburner element compared to music and gallery arts. Most of my exposure to the scene comes from the published works of longtime Toledo Free Press arts writer John Dorsey, who is producing a body of work that is growing in size and national acclaim.
It’s a tougher challenge at home in Toledo.
Phillips told Toledo Free Press Staff Writer Patrick Timmis, “Poetry’s like the poor uncle of the arts.”
Grover is keenly aware of how some people view his art. He said many people stereotype poetry as bad and boring — epithets he thinks many poets deserve. He said he wants to make poetry fun again, although many of his pieces are dark and questioning.
Grover read a number of his “American Outlaw” poems, making each piece a compelling performance.
Peters read an epic poem about being unhoused in Toledo. After working nearly 30 years for Chrysler, he is waiting for news on his pension while he gets by the best he can. Peters told Timmis he has written 800 poems in the past three years. Reading live, the words tumble out of him in a cascade of alternating anger and amusement.
“Poetry is to make a point and make a difference for someone’s life,” he said.
Phillips, with his shock of Einstein-like white hair, read poetry about his backyard observations and baseball memories. His work is specific and intimate yet universal in its wise evocation of the larger gears at work in life.
Phillips told Timmis he started writing poetry as a child. He grew up in Toledo.
“Most everything I learned was at the public library — the poor people’s university,” Phillips said.
His first poems were humorous, but puberty made his poems angsty and depressing, he said with a smile. When he discovered the Beats at age 11, he felt liberated by their style.
“You always thought a poem had to rhyme and be about flowers or autumn or something like that,” he said.
Poetry has always resided just outside my grasp, not as impactful as music but just as mysterious in its creative process. Words are fluid, live building blocks, but the way a poet shapes them isn’t the way I push them around or the way a songwriter manipulates them. And while many people believe they can be writers (I work just a few blocks from some of the region’s most high-profile failures), truly inspiring works of poetry and songwriting (the two are not the same thing, although some lyrics read like poetry) are intimidating.
In an effort to promote this special art, Toledo Free Press is co-sponsoring the Aug. 6 “Zygote in My Fez Poetry Festival,” from 4 to 10 p.m. at the Collingwood Arts Center. Red Fez and Zygote in my Coffee are the primary forces behind the event, which will feature nearly two dozen poets reading their works. We are also looking to find a more high-profile location for our remaining ACGT Art Walk poetry readings, July 21, Aug. 18 and Sept. 15.
Let’s take the poor uncle and show him a few special nights on the town.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. Contact him at email@example.com.
Since you asked, my single published poem, “Newsstand Love,” was published in a modest college anthology alongside real poems from real poets:
She has a Playboy body,
And a Cosmo mouth.
Her man had a World News sex drive,
But a National Enquirer mind,
And People depth.
She left him for a man with a GQ wardrobe,
An Esquire lifestyle
And a Wall Street Journal career.
But in her bed: Reader’s Digest.
She left him for a man with Sports Illustrated energy,
Rolling Stone hipness
And Vanity Fair ambitions.
But in her bed: National Lampoon.
Now she’s renewed her subscription with her first man.
If looking at the pictures keeps you satisfied,
Skip the fine print.
Tags: Arnold Koester, Art Walk, Arts Commission of Greater Toledo, Bob Phillips, Chief Wahoo, Cleveland Indians, Cosmopolitan, Esquire, GQ, Greg Peters, John Dorsey, Jonie McIntire, Lighting The Fuse, Michael Grover, Michael S. Miller, National Enquirer, National Lampoon, Penthouse, People, Playboy, Reader's Digest, Rolling Stone, Sports Illustarted, Toledo Free Press, Wall Street Journal, World News