Rhyme, Schmyme: The Rogue Valley Poetry Scene is … Divine
My dad turned 80 last month, and aware that he’d survived this long without whatever crap I could have bought him, I decided instead to write him a poem. After penning into his birthday card a few rhyming verses, I assumed, as all children do, that he would love it because I wrote it. The old man studied my poem with one eye squinted and remarked that it didn’t rhyme—as obviously all poetry must.
“Yes, it does,” I whined, but apparently I’d missed a line or two.
“Reads like a dissertation,” was the verdict.
After recovering from shock, I resolved to get some expert advice about what constitutes a good poem. Surely this great Rogue Valley has some reclusive poets willing to help out fledgling writers, and a few places for wordsmiths to gather and provide constructive feedback.
Say the words “poetry” and “community” together in downtown Ashland and T-Poe Varnado, Rogue Poetry Slam-master, practically pops out of the sidewalk. Although he’s just a generation behind my dad, T-Poe’s ideas about poetry are radically different.
“Sonnets, other forms of poetry, I never studied all of that,” says T-Poe on a sunny spring morning outside Mix Bakeshop.
Starting out with love poems in his youth, he soon undammed a river of words and rhymes dealing with his experiences in Vietnam and subsequent battles.
“Poetry saved my life,” T-Poe admits, and he runs the monthly slams in order to give other poets an outlet for their work as well as a sense of community. “The support and the love we all show each other is totally gratifying.”
Still, the competitive environment of the Slam, in which poets are judged by audience members and compete for three cash prizes at the end of the night, sounded intimidating, so I was glad to learn about Downtowne Coffee’s poetry open mic. For the past eleven years, poets from all over the Rogue Valley have congregated in Talent every third Thursday to read their work aloud.
“It’s not about performance,” says Medford-based poet Carol Brockfield, one of the event’s organizers, “it’s about the words.”
Brockfield, an accomplished poet herself, also heads the Rogue Valley chapter of the Oregon Poetry Association (OPA), which offers poetry education, organizes critique groups, and runs contests open to all local poets. Because getting up in front of an audience, no matter how small or supportive, still scares the bejeezus out of me, I ask Carol if there’s any other way to share my writing locally.
“Sure,” she says, “Do NaPoWriMo.”
To get the scoop on this strange-sounding April tradition, I headed back to Ashland to chat with renowned local poet Amy Miller. She facilitates a local group of National Poetry Writing Month participants, and if you’ve ever heard of NaNoWriMo, it’s the same idea—only it’s poems instead of bits of a novel. To the reclusive writer in me, the best news was that the Rogue Valley poets who take on this challenge do so via Facebook. Within the closed group, writers submit their daily poems, receive and offer feedback.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Amy says. “One person will write about a subject and set off a chain of poems written on that that theme. Right now we’re writing poems about our mothers.”
That’s right. Parents who critique their children’s art should never forget that one day they will be the subject of that very work. In my father’s defense, however, I should add that Amy Miller does have a soft spot for poems that rhyme—“If it’s done well.”
Fellow Rogue Valley poets, I challenge you head out to an open mic, reading, slam or OPA gathering and reap the benefits of living in a place where poetry is a living, breathing part of the community.
Rogue Poetry Slam
Third Tuesday of every month (next: May 17), 7:30 pm
Caldera Tap House, downtown Ashland
OPA’s Spoken Word Open Mic
Second Tuesday of every month (next: May 12th), 6:30 pm
Downtowne Coffee House, Talent
Poetry Reading with John Witte and Allan Peterson
Saturday, April 30, 7:00 pm
Bloomsbury Books, Ashland