Spring may have arrived cool and soggy this weekend, but at Grace Episcopal Church in Georgetown it was greeted with the warmth of poets sharing their poetry.
The readings on Friday and Saturday night were organized by Robert Goldberg-Strassler, a transplanted New Yorker who works for the United Mine Workers. Wearing a San Francisco Giants baseball hat (the Giants may have left New York when he was a boy, but loyalties formed young die hard), he greeted an early visitor and explained how the event came about.
When he lived in the Big Apple, Goldberg-Strassler attended similar readings at St. Mark's in the Bowery in Manhattan's East Village, but after he left, it was "awfully expensive to travel." With the help of the Committee for Poetry at the Folger Library, he organized the first annual Spring Celebration of Poetry.
The evening was informal. As people who wished to read arrived, they filled out cards and were called to the microphone. About 20 read and another 40 listened.
Near the hymnals and Books of Common Prayer, bridge tables were covered with magazines called Bogg and Vision and small-press volumes of verse. An advertisement for a place in Virginia called Nethers offered poets an organic "involuntary poverty" in which they could pursue projects. One can either apply for a residency on the basis of merit or "self-select," a poetic metaphor for booking a cabin in advance.
The styles of poetry were as varied as the poets who wrote them.
Robert Sargent sat quiet and erect and explained how he started to write verse. He spoke in the courtly, soft accent of his native Mississippi. A retired engineer for the Department of Defense, he used to sit around and talk about poetry with a neighbor. "Then he got cancer and died." Sargent wrote his first poem in memory of his friend. "I liked the feeling of writing and one thing led to another . . ."
A political sensibility was brought to the gathering by Kyanna Mtima, a student "somewhere between Howard and UDC." She chanted a paean to the blues trumpet that began with a sardonic riff on the old southern favorite, "Dixie." Mtima definitely does not wish she was in the land of cotton.
Chasen Gaver approached the microphone and placed a stick of incense on it, then shot fire from a device he held in his palm and leaped into the audience playing maracas and chanted his poem "Magic." Paralegal by day, performance poet by night, Gaver said he has appeared in places as varied as the Folger Library and the City Council chamber.
In "Sooooo . . . Jaded," Gaver explained that he felt "like an 80-year-old voyeur/in a 27-year-old body" and declared that "soon there'll be no promise in promiscuity."
At the end of the evening, someone noticed that the first annual Spring Celebration of Poetry had had no pieces celebrating spring. He asked Gaver for a poetic sentiment on the new season. "Spring," Gaver ruminated. "Spring . . . Spring is the time when I need Sudafed more than anything."