The promised wine was a single bottle of grocery store white for the whole room.
The lights were overly bright and killed all mood, all illusion we were anywhere other than a well-lit storefront during regular shopping hours.
It didn’t matter.
It didn’t matter the promised wine evaporated between a roomful, it didn’t matter the bookstore was as bright and moodful as a 1990s Toys ‘R’ Us. It didn’t matter that the door gave a loud electronic ding whenever real shoppers came in, making a meerkat moment of a dozen heads swiveling at once to scout the new intruder.
None of that mattered because we were there to rule the world.
We ruled through words, through our thoughtful listening to the poets before us. We ruled by being oh so clever. Oh so attentive. Oh so literary.
That’s all a reading/gallery opening/poetry slam/three-act play is, really. A chance to be bigger, better, smarter than.
For the worst, it’s a chance to be bigger, better, smarter than the others outside who don’t go to events cultural and sublime.
For the best, it’s a chance to be better than they were a few hours before.
An Iranian-American poet stood to read seven poems from a recent compilation of Iranian poets. Each was from a different writer; I didn’t know if he was one or if he had been the translator.
Some were good, some were bad, one made a few in the audience wonder what Persian phrase had become “ooh la la” in the translation. An idiom that in English means “big farter,” the poet/translator would say after the reading.
The Korean poet came next, reading a line at a time in her birdsong language, each stanza read back by her translator in my comparatively guttural tongue.
We in the audience smiled and laughed and golf course clapped when appropriate. I was transfixed by the Korean women and one or two of the lines from Iran. Others had different responses. The permutations of who liked which of a dozenish poems and thirtyish attendees are too many factorials to figure for a pleasant night of birdsong verse.
A woman a row up from me wrote long passages the whole time in a bound journal of bespoke handmade paper and a scrawl so tiny and perfect it looked like a font.
Others squirmed and fussed. Others sat rapt.
Others still eyed the room, seeing who was there to see that they were the type to go to readings. This was the minority, and a few cut out early. The room was mostly full of love and a genuine desire to be there.
They wanted to hear poets’ words, and poets who don’t get poeted very often in this country. A Korean woman wrote of her whorish way with a pen along the banks of her hometown river. Persians from Tehran to South Bend shared their scattered words and lines, busting the big farter notion that all from a country must think and act as one.
And for a moment these words all tumbled together into the same spot. For a moment, a bookstore in Logan Square was the conflux where the languages and cultures swirled together to, for a moment, create something new and precious and, after a moment, gone. Evaporated to the room like a bottle of grocery store white.