It's an unfortunate fact, but not all great authors are great readers/performers. This, however, is not a statement you will think if you get the opportunity to attend a reading by any of the quartet that read at the Detroit Artists Market last night. The title of this post comes from third reader, John Rybicki, who noted that at great readings like this you just need a break, that poetry is a form of prayer and has the ability to overwhelm you and because shit just keeps coming and coming at you, you need a bit of a break. Fortunately, last night, none was to be had.
Norene Smith was first up, after a quick intro to the evening by Nancy Sizer, the DAM Director, and then an introduction of Norene by Peter Markus. I've had the pleasure of reading Norene's work and seeing her read in the past and enjoyed it, but last night she transformed into something truly amazing. Peter's introduction included bits about magic and a whale, and a huge grin broke over Norene's face and she noted how strange it was that Peter would mention these as they encompassed two of her planned topics. She began with a quote from Alan Moore about magic and literature and then proceded to weave some magic of her own, sharing poems, stories about recent visits with Bhuddist Monks and chanting, and the poems these visits have inspired and a poem about a recent visit home by her daughter. Again, I've seen Norene read before and enjoyed it, but last night she seemed more confident, to enjoy the experience more, and again was simply mesmorizing.
Anna Clark was next up and she had possibly the most difficult job of the evening. While later reader, Peter Markus, also writes fiction, the stories he would read are typically under five pages and frequently only 1 or 2 in length. So, where the others were reading short works to fall into and get captured quickly, Anna read a longer short story, which is truly hard to pull off. She was also the new girl to the crowd last night--most there had seen the others read their work, were maybe more familiar with it. Anna had to win over the crowd that for the most part may not have known all that much about her. And to her absolute credit, she did just that. Reading a story about the making of a fairy tale that felt like a fairy tale itself, everybody in the crowd hovered on every word. It's a story I look forward to seeing in print soon.
Next up was John Rybicki and why he isn't a Poet Laureate of something huge I have no idea. John ranted and raved for the first ten minutes of his time about stories from his past, the greatness of Peter Markus, and many other things and each story was so personal, so impossible not to feel the passion behind it--he's what I think a Poet Laureate should be. I'm one that comes to poetry dragging my heels, not always feeling I get it and why spend time doing that if there's a work of fiction I'll dig right under the poetry collection on the pile. John Rybicki had me coming home looking for a poetry collection to read. He's a writer that peels back his own skin to let you see what's inside and makes you want to come back over and over. I cannot imagine how exciting it would be to have him for a teacher.
Last up was Peter Markus, and as he began to read stories from his new work, We Make Mud, I was sent back in time to a reading at Book Beat. I'd gone to see another writer, and in fact had never heard of Peter Markus. He pulled out this big yellow satchel with scores of paper in it and read four or five stories of these wonderful brothers, and this dirty river, and their dirty river town, and a girl, and fish, and stars and the second he was done I more or less ran to the podium and asked him where he was published, where I could find more of these stories to swim in. Beyond writing simply incredible and unique work, Peter may be the single best reader I've seen. He's so in tune with his own writing, which beyond the words on the page have an acoustical life to them, that you can't help being caught up in every word, every rhythm, every syllable.
What brought these four particular authors together? InsideOut Literary Arts Project. Each of these four is teaching poetry or fiction to students in Detroit through IO. If they are nearly as good in the classroom as they are in an art gallery, those are some lucky kids.
Overall, it was the type of reading that makes every one that wasn't quite what you were hoping for worth attending for a shot at a an hour and a half of this type of enjoyment.