Words and music

Fan Ogilvie
Fan Ogilvie, who teaches poetry at Featherstone, took the floor as the first guest poet of the night. Photo by Ralph Stewart

By Tamar Russell - June 7, 2007

Thursday, April 26 was a day of firsts for me; my first poetry reading since my college days and my first visit to Outerland. I wish I hadn't waited as long as I did. Gigs Bistro, last year called the Dock, was caramel-lit, just the right color for the season opener of Outerland's Poetry and Jazz series.

The crowd was a bit meager, but these poets don't need a huge audience to perform. Music by The Groovers held the mellow, chill mood. The trio could be headliners.

Michael West, co-host with Linda Black, opened the first poetry set. Mr. West read three pieces with his "academic style," as Ms. Black called it. His reading style was powerful and full of feeling. His pauses were perfect. The small crowd was held in silence.

Ms. Black followed Mr. West's reading with three pieces in a "family theme." Her pieces gave us images depicting her family roots in Ontario. Her pace accented by her urban glasses and sleek black style infused deeply-held feelings and movement to the still room.

Michael West
Co-host Michael West opened the evening with some of his own work.

The two guest poets, Justen Ahren and Fan Ogilvie, both of whom teach at Featherstone, came next.

Ms. Ogilvie started her set with a spring poem that she dedicated to a couple in the audience. Dressed in riding boots and trousers, she held the room with her steady, stable voice. Her second piece, called, "What the" was more lengthy, racy in movements, and pulled a laugh from the audience on the line, "I've never been in Mississippi, when it was not a day too long."

She followed with three more poems, saying, "I love mayhem and poetry is such a great place to put it." She ended with a final poem on spring, stopping with the wisp of air that, "everything is changing."

The final poet, Justen Ahren, who just returned from a one-month residency at The Julia And David White Artist's colony in Ciudad Colon, Costa Rica, started by speaking briefly about description. He said he is moved to describe, to create an atmosphere with feeling and express that feeling. "I want the audience to feel," he said, adding that their understanding is not the goal - their feeling is. His poems came from a compilation called "The Snakes."

In a voice that was insistent, with short clipped phrases moving in and out of shady, sensuous, South American pools, his cool mood just smelled like Costa Rica. His use of Spanish in the poems clearly gave us a view of the influence he received there. Mr. West called his work, "excellent stuff, provocative." It was for sure an understatement.

Justen Ahren
Justen Ahren, just back from Costa Rica, presented some of his recent work with a Latin twist.

Intermission poetry

During the intermission I had the pleasure of sitting with the poets as they talked about their art.

Ms. Black, Ms. Ogilvie and Mr. Ahren spoke about the emotion in their work, and how it sometimes impedes them from reading. Mr. Ahren said if something is too emotional to read, then it is not finished. Ms. Ogilvie said it requires, "practice to get the shakes out."

Ms. Black told the story of a piece she had written about her brother's death. He had died in October and she attempted to read it in February and could not - the emotion was still too great.

They all agreed that the reading makes the poem. Some great poets cannot read well, and that is a pity. Ms. Black, for example, practices a great deal and knows her work intimately.

"The work should be in your body," said Ms. Ogilvie quietly but firmly. "You must embody your word," Fan said firmly in her quiet way.

The Groovers
The Groovers - Don Groover (right), Tauras Biskis (not pictured) and Eric Johnson (left)- filled the room with jazz between poets.

The conversation switched to a poet's need for time alone, and their ability to socialize. Fan said, "We can compartmentalize, and be social." They do always hope someone in the audience "gets it."

Mr. West interrupted to ask who would be willing to read another piece. He busted out the black-rimmed glasses, miming a professor, perhaps. He was serious, but the interaction was hilarious. Ms. Ogilvie frantically searched for what to read. Ms. Black seemed ready, and Mr. Ahren had one more, so he went first.

Ms. Ogilvie finished with "Jackson Pollack," which ended with "yippee!" Ms. Black read a breathy "Incarnation." And Mr. West ended with "Plain Speaking," which was nothing close to plain.

The marriage of poetry and jazz is maturing steadily at Outerland and is well worth an evening's investment.

Jazz and poetry nights will continue Thursday, June 14, Monday, July 23 ($10 cover), and Tuesday, August 28 at Gigs Bistro at Outerland, Airport Road, Edgartown. For more information call 508-693-1137 or visit www.outerlandmv.com.