Where Words Come Alive

Verse comes to life in Sandpoint's developing poetry scene

Reprinted from Sandpoint Magazine. 1273 words

And it was at that age ... Poetry arrived
in search of me. I don't know, I don't know where
it came from, from winter or a river.
-- from Pablo Neruda's poem, "Poetry"

By Jane Fritz

Jessica sits on a stool, spotlighted, with her back to the audience. Her floor-length, pink gingham dress is pulled up just above her ankles revealing black high-tops. Between each poem she reads into the microphone, she takes several drags on a cigarette to calm her nerves, she says. Her shyness belies the strong voice in her poetry. This 20-something woman is a gutsy, tell-it-like-it-is writer.

Will, all decked out with wide-brimmed hat and heeled boots, fingers his red beard as he belts out cowboy limericks as lyrically as the flowing of a mountain stream.

Reciting mostly from memory, Greg does a classical poem by Francis Bacon in a fine theatrical voice that makes me wonder if he does Shakespeare, too. Then the Bard arrives on the scene courtesy of the Blues Brothers Jack and Roy doing their interpretation of "The Merchant of Venice" in song with blues guitar accompaniment: "In sooth I know not why I am so sad / It wearies me, / you say it wearies you ..."

Julio reads his poems as well as those of Garcia Lorca and Pablo Neruda in Spanish, while Larry and I read the English translations. This ethnic seasoning garners rapt attention; you can hear a pin drop in the crowded pub.

No, this eclectic poetic scene isn't New York or San Francisco. It's Sandpoint, Idaho.

To be exact, it's Eichardt's Pub, Grill and Coffee House on Cedar Street, and it's "P/M (Poetry/Music) Tuesday." The latest in literary offerings in the area, P/M night is held every other Tuesday night. Local poets and raconteurs take the stage at Eichardt's and share their work or the work of someone they admire, feeding an audience that seems hungry to experience the spoken word.

Jack Flannagan, also known as Bert Jackson, and Roy Manning are co-hosts and originators of P/M Tuesday. Roy scurries from table to table soliciting those in the audience to step up to the microphone and share some creative expression. Meanwhile, Jack captivates the listeners with several of his serious, full-of-feeling poems which speak of love and society's many faces.

"Poetry is magic, a combination of language and voice that is the oldest form of oratory," Flannagan says. "Listening to poetry requires slowing yourself down long enough to really listen, not only with your ears, but with all your other senses to the shared images, metaphors and a sense of place spoken by the poet. It creates emotional arousal, touched by the sweetness or the ugliness of human experience. It allows connections to feelings that we all have within us."

The two hours go by too fast. Cigarette smoke fills the air. Mugs of microbeer are empty. After awhile, you find yourself wondering what poetry and courage you'll bring along to the next P/M Tuesday, and whether you might sit, stand or croon away on stage.

But, let's just say the Bohemian ambiance of a pub is not to your liking. You'd rather have biscotti, mocha java, a quieter, more intimate atmosphere and clean air to breathe. Then your kind of poetry place might be The Coffee House on Fourth Avenue near Church Street any Friday night, beginning at 7 p.m. Although this venue is just getting its poetry gig rolling, owner Bill Lewis says there are plans this winter to bring in other Idaho writers and well-known regional poets as special entrees to the local fare.

Ginny Robideaux, director of the Pend Oreille Arts Council, expects that The Coffee House's kind of presentation will really draw people out. In fact, since requests to do more in the literary field have been pouring in recently, POAC has been tossing other ideas around, seeking new ways to support local presenters and writers.

"There's a renaissance of the literary arts happening nationwide, so it's timely that some people in Sandpoint are finding ways to expand and enhance what's available and bring it to the whole community," Robideaux says. As part of POAC's commitment, they plan to host a workshop Nov. 16 in Sandpoint co-presented by Diane Josephy-Peavey from the Idaho Commission on the Arts (ICA) and Robert Sheldon from the Western States Arts Federation in Santa Fe. The idea is to help nurture the growth of literary appreciation and opportunity in the greater Sandpoint community.

As literature director for the ICA in Boise, Josephy-Peavey is excited about coming to North Idaho. "There's a tremendous explosion of interest in literature statewide, and clearly Sandpoint has not been left out." One of her goals is to see this underserved art form called literature develop more strongly. "Now is the time for people working with words to talk together," she says, "and to network and dream, because it's dreams that create reality."

Sometimes a poet's dreams of creating and sharing art does, in fact, become reality. Larry Keith used to deliver mail. Now, while he works when he needs to, he devotes as much time as possible to delivering poems. His four self-published books of poetry are professionally produced. Keith took his latest work, Dream Fragment 19, out on the road recently, to do readings at bookstores and coffee houses throughout the Northwest. He's excited about the opportunity to now stay closer to home and share his poetry in places like The Coffee House and Eichardt's. And, he says one of the joys of doing readings is the inspiration of meeting other poets. (For a selection of poems from his book go to Dream Fragment 19.)

"To hear so many different styles, so many different kinds of work, and see how the local venues welcome people with open arms, how everyone is made to feel comfortable ... it's a great way of doing it," Keith says. "What I personally get out of these readings is the broadness of what poetry is and what might surprise me and challenge me that I will take back to my own work. There's that incentive to try new things, that sharing ... is such a positive experience for anyone."

Gloria Ray of the East Bonner County Free Library District agrees that poetry, in particular, speaks to everyone. Ray is responsible for organizing several literary projects in Sandpoint over the years, co-sponsored by the Idaho Humanities Council. Discussion programs like "Poets in Person" and "Poets on Tape" brought dozens of people to the table to talk and hear about contemporary poetry under the guidance of University of Idaho professor of literature, Ron McFarland.

"But you don't have to be an expert in the literary arts or even want to be a poet," Ray says, "to have poetry add another dimension of appreciation in your life. People always come away with something, enriched in some way. Poetry speaks to the creativity in everyone."

Jane Fritz of Clark Fork is former editor and publisher of the Idaho Arts Journal, and is now a radio producer for KPBX in Spokane.

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COPYRIGHT 1996 by Keokee Co. Publishing, Inc., of Sandpoint, Idaho. Reprinted from the Winter 1996 edition of Sandpoint Magazine. Sandpoint Magazine is published twice a year, in Winter and Summer editions, by Keokee Co. Publishing, Inc.  Call 1-800-880-3573 to subscribe.