‘Hungry Young Poets’ feeds the community
Poetry often relies on observations that occur beneath the surfaces of our lives—metaphors we would otherwise not consider, perspectives different from the ones that we, ourselves, possess. This is perhaps the magic of hearing poetry read aloud: For once, these alternative perspectives and strangely wrought metaphors emerge from the subconscious—the writer’s or our own—and take center stage. And now, we can experience the magic of poetry right here in St. Louis.
The Hungry Young Poets reading series, sponsored by St. Louis literary magazine River Styx, provides an opportunity for us to acquaint ourselves with amateur poets and their metaphors in raw form. Richard Newman, a 1988 Washington University graduate, professional poet and editor of River Styx, described the series as unique, a literal “podium for younger poets.”
The series—now in its 12th season—occurs three times throughout the summer at Duff’s Restaurant in the Central West End and features poets both from Wash. U. and from the surrounding community. The idea for Hungry Young Poets emerged from the magazine’s yearlong River Styx at Duff’s reading series, which occurs on the third Monday of every month and features professional poets.
“We wanted to broaden our scope,” Newman asid. “Most of the people that were reading had been writing since the ’70s and ’80s…we felt that St. Louis needed something for young talent, and no one was providing that.”
On Aug. 17, Wash. U. junior Julie Goldberg and recent graduate Lauren Keeter were among the six poets featured at the series. Goldberg said the reading was “definitely an exciting experience, but definitely [brought on] a lot of anxiety.”
Despite having written poetry since high school and having taken many writing courses at Wash. U., this was Goldberg’s first experience at a professional-style reading. She described it as “fun, because when you read at a reading, you can give all the context that you want.” In between the four poems that Goldberg read, she told the stories that led to her poems, making the subject material light-hearted and forming a connection to her audience.
This, to Goldberg, is what makes reading poetry out loud so special: the enhanced capacity to connect to one’s audience. “I think a lot of people resist poetry because it’s inaccessible and hard to understand. I know I feel that way sometimes, both when I’m reading and writing poetry. But when you’re reading poetry aloud, you can mitigate that to a large extent, if you want…you can explain a bit, or you can deliver your ideal inflections, so it can be like giving an answer to a riddle you’ve created.”
While poetry may not be the first thing that comes to mind when we think about nightlife—especially in college—hearing a poet read his or her work out loud cultivates a mood similar to what we feel when we see the lights go down in a theater: the feeling that we are about to experience literature collectively, communally. Both Goldberg and Newman recognize the communal aspects of aural poetry. “Poetry has traditionally been an aural art form—before the written word came about, people were chanting or singing or speaking,” explained Newman.
Goldberg weighed in as well, saying, “A poet spends time picking each word, putting those words together not only to create some resonant meaning, but also to compose some aesthetically pleasing sound, and these, together, create the poetic experience. And I think that comes through clearest when poetry is read aloud.”
The series invites us into the heart of the St. Louis literary community, which Newman described as “large, diverse and thriving.” Moreover, it invites us to experience the chills of hearing lines like Goldberg’s “my feet flew clumsy off curbs, / into blurred stripes of honking light” as they bounce off dimly lit, wood-paneled bar walls and capture a collective mood. Poetry, at root, is deeply affective, and Hungry Young Poets provides a vehicle for the affect.
While the Hungry Young Poets series concluded for this summer, you can still visit Duffy’s for their 35th Reading Series, where poets perform their pieces aloud.
Information can be found at http://www.riverstyx.org/events/index.php.