Betty Duffy

Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Poetry Reading!

The marquis on the old movie theater on town square said there was a poetry reading tonight. So what do you know, I went, even though I’m not a poet, though I try to write poetry, but I’m really too hormonal for that good work.

Among the folding chairs in the theater, I took the only available seat, next to the organist at my Church. Didn’t expect to see her there, nor anyone really. I thought a poetry reading in my small town would be about as popular as… my blog (which enjoys a local readership of zero—as I like it). My organist’s husband held a tidy little packet of his poems, typed up on a word processor. His hands shook, holding his poems, maybe because he was nervous, maybe because he’s eighty years old.

Turns out there was a keynote reader, Dan Carpenter: liberal-Catholic-Democrat columnist in the Indy paper, whose name was not on the marquis, but whose columns have made my Dad irate every Sunday after Church for many years. My organist and her husband looked at their watches during his turn at the mike. They wondered loudly if they should go home or if Mr. Carpenter would read forever.

He didn’t read forever, and soon it was time for the peanut gallery to take the stage. First up, Mr. Serious Indianapolis Poet, who I’ve seen at other writerly events, who has won several local writing competitions, who writes in earnest, and who does whatever it takes to get his words out there, even readings like these. He read like a real poet, with a lilting voice. He writes in the cadence du jour: a staccato word ("Maize" for instance), then an elaboration or description engaging that word ("Which is also known as corn"), and repeat. Frankly, he made everyone else look like amateurs.

But everyone else had a good time I think. Among the readers were a local high school teacher and his students who came for extra credit. You have seen this teacher before, as he is young and cool, and his students love him. He’s me, actually, ten years ago, playing Sylvia Barrett to the troubled students, as not only did I literally play Sylvia Barrett in our high school production of “Up the Down Staircase,” I was released after college to practice my empathy on living, breathing high school students who may have sought an education in their high school English class, but instead found a friend who let them dissect the lyrics of their favorite rap songs. Many a profane little muse has been born under such circumstances.

Like the hairy, scruffy boy who wrote a poem about the serial killer and how he has a kinship with the alienated and depressed people of the world. And the black boy who wrote about how people in this town expect him to be a drug dealer, but he’s not a drug dealer, he’s a Christian. And the boy you would never notice whose poem exposed his parents for the phonies that they really are. And the girl who is not her daddy’s little girl anymore because she just lost her virginity. And the plump, pimply class clown who made the crowd groan merely by standing up. He read a self-aggrandizing poem brimming with F-words and pimps and hos.

My organist whispered loudly, “Am I missing something?” because the Class Clown’s poem wasn’t funny. It was shameful, and he should have been embarrassed to have read it in front of old people, but he wasn’t. The organist’s husband had read a poem about honoring the flag and the soldiers who died so that we might fly it. The Class Clown should have been ashamed, but he walked smilingly back to his seat.

And then there were the women, the sensual women, the women who feel alone in this town but who moved here with their husbands in a fit of agrarian idealism, and now write poetry in order to survive. They are over thirty years old, but under fifty. They might have been creative writing majors. They might have won awards. They were A students back in the day, and they still write secret, ironic poems about their fluctuating libidos, their existential moments, and about coming undone. Here’s me now—which is why I didn’t read—because there are so many of us—and we are so predictable—and I was sitting next to my organist from Church.

But, Gosh, I wanted to make friends.

One of them had a New York accent and was really pretty, and I followed her down the street afterwards looking for a moment when I could ask her if she was from around here, and did she want to be my friend? But I was shy. And I walked too slowly (probably on purpose) and she was in her car by the time I reached her so I just walked on by like I was going to my car, even though my car was two blocks behind me, and I’d already been there before I decided to go out stalking for friends.

So I didn’t talk to anyone (excepting my organist, who said she wished I’d read a poem because anything had to be better than what we heard—she was a touch grouchy about it). But the little rain cloud of disappointment that started to grow over me actually illuminated a need I didn’t know I had, and may have been the subliminal reason I went to this poetry reading: I was looking for a kindred friend in this small town, as Pedge and Irene live in Indianapolis, and I only see them once a week. And while I might come off as a melancholic at times, I’m really a sanguine person who becomes morose on my third day of isolation. I probably need to go back to the MOPS groups or else be satisfied with the children and old people who populate my life. Grouchy organists and their husbands are good country people. And children have their charms, of course.

I got pulled over on the way home for driving without headlights because I was in my husband’s car and his headlights aren’t automatic. That beats all.


bearing said...

Love this post.

wv: = "unded" ha.

Emily J. said...

Not Dan Carpenter! What a surprise! A celebrity! Does he still have the same aging hippy haircut? Is he still writing self-righteous columns?

Oh dear, I apologize for being snarky. But after listening to Dad fume for so many years, it feels kind of liberating to think DC might google his name and see this remark.

I hope Mr. Cool Teacher Man stood up for civility and refused Class Clown his extra credit for being so disrespectful. Why didn't someone cut him off?

Dawn Farias said...

I wish I was there to be your friend.

TS said...

Fwiw, from my journal:

Betty Duffy's husband, a wood worker whose hobby is building beautiful tables and shelving, is sort of inspirational simply in the seeming need for a hobby like that for good mental health.

One of the folks in Walter Kerr's "The Decline of Pleasure" was a man who would have to go off every couple/three months for a 3-4 weekend bender, an alcohol-soaked trip. The trips and drinking didn't end until he became a devoted wood-worker. I wonder if it's in the male DNA.

BettyDuffy said...

Something in the DNA, for sure: the addictive personality. Not just a male thing though.