Most of us think of poetry as reading material or perhaps food for thought more than performance art, but the program last Sunday at the Normal Public Library, featuring three local poets reading from their own work, clearly succeeded as all three.
Tim Hunt, Kathryn Kerr and Kathleen Kirk displayed different voices through their poems, with subject matter and points-of-view varying among them, although they shared a certain warmth and humor that was very appealing. (They've also all had cover art from photographer Ken Kashian, who happened to be in the room, which was a nice bonus. That's Kasian's work above, on Kathleen Kirk's LIVING ON THE EARTH.)
At this Normal occasion , I found myself laughing along with some poems, nodding in recognition at others, and in general, quite enjoying these diverging views on where poetry lives now, right among us, whether we know it or not.
Hunt is a professor of English at ISU, while Kerr teaches writing there. Kirk is well-known in this area as an actress and writer, and her performance training stands her in good stead, whether highlighting the fragility of a spider web or the piquant joy of an avocado refrigerator. And because poetry is an intensely personal medium, Hunt and Kerr do very well fitting their delivery style to their words, as well.
Hunt (who has a website that tells you a lot more than I can about his distinctive voice) used a kind of dark, whip-smart, folksy wisdom to tell us about Jimi Hendrix, truck stops in Kansas and the value of REDNECK YOGA, which just happens to be the title of his new chapbook from Finishing Line Press. As David Amram says on that website, "Tim Hunt paints us a portrait of our surroundings and makes you want to celebrate life and write a poem yourself."
Using her Finishing Line chapbook, TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN, as her guide, Kerr made it clear that the turtle at the center of those poems is her alter ego, whether that turtle is having lunch at a fancy tea room or riding down the highway in her red shell of a car, blasting music and singing out loud about the joys of romance with younger men. Kerr's self-deprecating humor and everywoman demeanor brought her turtle to life nicely.
I've seen Kathleen Kirk perform her poems before, and she is always in the moment, charming and fresh, with work that tells a lot about life in the Midwest, flowers, laundry baskets and the small moments that make life beautiful. Her poem, Cornfield in Winter, which appears in LIVING ON THE EARTH, the chapbook pictured at the top of this post, was especially poignant to me at this performance. We are heading toward a Central Illinois winter. I will soon be seeing the picture she paints. And it is beautiful.
Cornfield in Winter
I am in love with the evidence
of what has gone before us
and what we are now: long stretches of golden time
piercing the snow in pools of blue shadow.
I know how dangerous they are.
the cornstalks not yet plowed under,
but I am in love with them anyway.
They are beautiful.
I am in love with the big blank sky.
the blue gradations and the high small moon.
I love the moon for its integrity
I am in love with the whole picture:
the small and dubious actions
of men and women, farmers and astronauts,
photographers and poets;
the way the sky goes on and on, a clarity extended beyond our view;
beneath us, the earthworms and hidden ants
holding us all together;
the way the complexity of the list
requires not just commas but semi-colons
and a nearly full stop of moon.
I love it all: the balance.
the composition, the chaos, the grammar.
It is all beautiful.
Now don't you wish you'd been there to hear this out loud?
This poem is reprinted by permission of the author. You can buy (or pre-order) copies of LIVING ON THE EARTH, REDNECK YOGA and TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN at Finishing Line Press. Kathleen Kirk's books are also available at Babbitt's Books in Uptown Normal, and you can see how to purchase Hunt's books at his website. If you scroll down, you will see information on Kathryn Kerr's books here.