Reading at the Old Mission Santa Barbara

The Mission in 1876

I had a wonderful time reading poems alongside Barry Spacks and Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer this afternoon as part of the Mission Poetry Series. The series is a collaborative labor of love between Sr. Susan Blomstad, osf and Paul Fericano, who provide gorgeous free broadsides, homemade snacks, and a magnificently serene setting to unite poets and poetry-lovers in “Clare‘s Place,” the library nestled in the heart of the Mission.

Rosemerry is a force to reckon with, effortlessly interspersing a cappella folk songs with dramatic poems spoken from memory. Barry was the first poet laureate of the city of Santa Barbara and is a much-loved teacher. He is avuncular and charming, savoring poems that dance between whimsy and pathos, encouraging us all to look forward to our seventies. (“It was a good decade for me,” he twinkled.) I was filled to overflowing with admiration for them both.

Yet having, in essence, bared my soul, then witnessed two other fine poets do the same, I found myself somewhat disoriented when audience members approached me after the reading. Readings in this way sometimes feel like a double life. Though a musician can pour herself into a piece, the audience does not necessarily come away knowing much more about her as a person. And although the speaker in a poem should not be conflated with the author of the piece, audiences often assume that the person who steps away from the podium is going to at least be very similar to the person who just read poems. It is understandable.

Yet for all that I may come alive with the joy of words when reading, I am an introvert. Combined with the sometimes dizzying effect of giving my all into the microphone, I usually end up at a loss for words when people approach me after a reading. Hopefully “thank you,” said from the depths of my disarmed heart, is sufficient to let them know how much I appreciate knowing I reached them with my work. Hopefully it will suffice now as well–to Rosemerry and Barry, Paul and Sister Susan–for the generosity and courage that brings me to my knees before the power of a poem well read. Thank you.