I’ll openly admit that I don’t know much about poetry. I know what I like—a little John Keats, some William Butler Yeats, and a healthy dose of William Carlos Williams—but I don’t expect that kind of quality from poets today. Why? I couldn’t tell you. But then I hear someone like Matt Mauch read a poem about a dream in which he’s palling around with not a bird, but the idea of bird, and even if I don’t know the first thing about poetry, I get it. So later, when I heard that Mauch, who seems to me to be a lord of the local poetry scene, is involved with some type of new bimonthly poetry event at Maeve’s—a new coffee shop in Northeast—even though poetry isn’t my “thing” I went, because eventually I’d like to understand all the things in life that I currently don’t.
Before I talk poetry, I’d like to tell you about something I do understand: coffee shops. I’ve worked in my share, both behind the counter and at a table, scratching out words for money. Maeve’s, having opened just this past September, is on point on all counts. The atmosphere is lovely, the music isn’t too loud, the coffee is fantastic, and the staff is friendly. Also, while I didn’t have the chance to eat anything there, reviews of the food have been great. All of this stands to reason as Mary Cassidy, proprietor, learned the rough ropes of the coffee trade during her ten years as shop owner of Audubon Coffee. So clever, too, launching a new poetry reading series at the time a new shop opens. While I associate coffee shops with poetry—like most of us, I’m sure—Maeve’s wasn’t at all like the bleak and pretentious coffee shops I build in my head when someone talks about a college-crowded open mic night, rather it was akin to walking into the warm dining room of your artsy aunt, who wants nothing more than for you and your friends to “express” yourselves. Business was booming, and Maeve’s doesn’t even sell wine or beer yet.
The bi-monthly Maeve’s Sessions, as the reading series is called, offer to their intimate audiences a selection of three poets, ranging from the up-and-coming to the arrived. Each poet is provided enough time to read an ample selection of his or her poetry, with ten minutes reserved at the end of the evening for an open mic where brave members of the audience may read one poem each. Presented by the Great Twin Cities Poetry Road Show, Maeve’s Sessions 2 featured up-and-comer (and my personal favorite of the night) Gretchen Marquette, “poet-lawyer” Tim Nolan, and Minnesota’s own poet laureate Joyce Sutphen. An impressive line-up indeed, but Maeve’s is not slowing down, with Matt Rasumssen, MC Hyland, and Paula Cisewski coming up in February.
With the addition of Maeve’s and its poetry sessions, Mauch and friends have dubbed the stretch of 13th Avenue that includes the coffee shop and the Rouge Buddha Gallery (where MC Hyland hosts the Pocket Lab Reading Series) “Poetry Row”—with the tag line, “Lest the city list to the Eat Street Side.” What right do the poetic powers that be have to do this? Every right that the muses give them.
Also new to the city is the Great Twin Cities Poetry Road Show, a sister event to Mauch’s other brainchild, the Great Twin Cities Poetry Read. Mauch’s vision for the Road Show is that it will be similar to its bigger sibling, but will hop from city to city, giving writers outside of the Minneapolis/St. Paul area the opportunity to mix it up and read alongside the finest from the metro area. Poets from both the Poetry Read and Road Show will have one of their poems published in the Poetry City, U.S.A. anthologies. Readers from the Road Show open mic will be eligible for publication as well.
Matt Mauch was kind enough to knock a couple of screwball questions out of the park. Questions and answers presented here for your reading pleasure:
What’s your take on clapping between poems?
I think it’s fantastic that people are compelled to show their spontaneous gratitude for the great poems they hear at the Maeve’s Sessions—I really do. That’s what I want to do whenever I read or hear a good poem: show the world I’m the better off for it. That said, I didn’t expect people to applaud after each poem, and, all things considered, I think it may be a better event if folks can hold off on their applause until the each poet has finished reading everything. I’ll make a point to ask for that at the February reading. Those who can’t help but clap after each poem will be able to indulge themselves during the open mic. Tell the Democrats and Republicans that we call that “compromise.”
How do you think the poetry reading has changed in terms of its purpose over the past few hundred years?
Did someone mistakenly tell you I was a scholar? To tell the truth, I don’t much know history of the poetry reading outside of CDs that capture live, early 20th century events—and, of course, the record of what’s happened from the Beats forward. I find that people who don’t attend poetry readings almost all have that Beat-reading image in their heads—people in berets snapping fingers, wearing black turtlenecks, all that. I think those sorts of poetry reading focused on the event, on the culture of it. Nowadays, I think poetry readings focus more on the work and worker—on the poem and poet. That’s not to say that poetry readings can’t be awesome events, too, but I think that’s secondary to the work being shared, to the poets you can discover. I think the Twin Cities are great places to experience both things at readings. A lot of great poets live here and a lot come through, so work and workers are there to be discovered. As well, though, anytime I meet up with two or three friends at a reading, chances are it ends being about the event and the culture, too. The best of both worlds in the Cities Twin.
There was a great turn out at the session I attended—a little light on Minneapolis’s youth, though. Why do you think this is?
It either means that (a) I need to get on Twitter ASAP, or (b) I need to team up with the Pied Pipers of Mpls/St. Paul’s youth—the ladies of Paper Darts. Seriously, though, until you asked I hadn’t really considered the demographics of the audience. Is a poetry reading the kind of thing The Youth show up for nowadays? I saw people younger than me, people my age, and people older than me, making up a pretty full house. I think it’s probably natural that event organizers appeal to those their age and those a little younger and older. There’s a self-segregation that occurs between and among events and event planners that I don’t believe is a bad thing. I think it prevents homogeneity and allows for people to come to work they are ready for when they are ready for it, stretching those boundaries from time to time, by choice. If I want to see what The Youth dig, I go to an event that I know is For The Youth, By The Youth. If I want to see what the Emeriti are up to, I do the same. You don’t feed “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” to folks who want to hear Girl Talk. But sometimes folks want to hear one or the other on a lark, it being a lark because doing so it a solo venture outside of their peer group. They sneak in the side door and expand their horizons. Maybe. Or maybe not. Maybe it’s not time. That’s a kind of cross-pollination that I thinks make for vibrancy. That said, if you think the Road Show needs a Youth happening, I’m all about that kind of collaboration.
Is there a secret war going on between the Minneapolis short story writers and the poets?
If there is, I’ve yet to be enlisted. I am, however, beyond draft age, so maybe the war’s going well and my side doesn’t yet need to conscript beyond those best suited for battle. Maybe Lewis Mundt is out there on the front lines making my side proud with his bravery and valor. Besides, I heard that the short story is dead. Oops. If there wasn’t a war, this may be its Lexington, me having just said that. And it seems that word travels fast in this, the information age. I’m telling you, that fella digging a foxhole across the street looks an awful lot like John Jodzio. This was a setup, wasn’t it? You’re the LBJ of this war!