Poetry readings can be both emotional and educational. This was definitely the case Saturday at the Rainbow Bookstore Cooperative, when two local poets shared their works, demonstrating the depth and variety found in poetry and discussing different uses of poetic elements.
Poets Ari Banias, currently the Halls Poetry Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, and Amy Quan Barry, a creative writing professor at the University of Wisconsin, read their works as a part of FELIX: A Series of New Writing. FELIX, which began in 2003, is named after Felix Pollak, a former UW librarian. From the attendees of the reading to the cat roaming around Rainbow Bookstore, spirits were high and the energy was flowing.
Banias started off the reading with nine poems from a mixture of old and new works. Banias combines serious and humorous tones in many of his poems, leaving listeners chuckling and humbled using analogies to animals, with sheep being a common one. Many of his poems also look at what it means in society to be a man. “At Any Given Moment” directly defines a man as being a strong man. His reading of “Your Wild Domesticated Inner Life” had the crowd contemplating life in between bits of humor about pet lambs sleeping on your head next to Banias telling the readers “don’t be a fucking doctor about it.”
While listening to Banias read his selected poems, reading-goers were able to hear how he wants his poems read. There was a rhythm to his voice that couldn’t be missed, even by the numerous St. Patrick’s Day partiers passing by the window who stopped to look in. Ironically, this image of looking through a window was reflected in this poem “The Men,” a revision to an earlier poem he had previously written himself out of.
After Banias left the limelight with a roar of applause at Rainbow Bookstore, Barry was up. Reading poems from her newest book, Water Puppets, as well as a collaboration set titled “Loose Strife,” Barry was filled with energy. Many poetry readings have podiums set up for the readers, however at Rainbow the poets are free do to as they please, leaving Barry to walk up and down the aisle of chairs — creating a hype in the atmosphere. She started the reading off by explaining her reasoning for writing her poem “effigy.” “We are who we are, but we always want to be someone else,” she explained. Many of Barry’s poems reflect troubling times in places she travelled to. Her readings of these poems leave listeners moving through the heavy images depicted in the poetry.
Throughout Barry’s reading, the audience was transported through the White City of Peru, to Vietnam and Cambodia, as well as Antarctica to see who can spot the B-15 iceberg first. Barry uses her poem “The Lord Be With You, But Not Also With You” to play on the words of how Catholics changed the wording of Mass to a less poetic form. Throughout her reading, the audience was taught a bit more about poetry. Her explanation of a guzzle prior to reading “Loose Strife” taught listeners about different writing styles. This particular installment of “Loose Strife” used a guzzle by taking the words “parrot dies” and recreating it at the end of each line to sound like a different word — paradise, pair of dice and parrot dies are a few used in her poem.
Between Banias and Barry’s styles of poetry, each and every person in the audience could find something to relate to. And for any aspiring poets, Banias gave the advice to “read as much as you can” and to “read hungrily.”