Poems and wings, occasionally a burger. Let’s be honest, occasionally a burger AND wings AND poems.
Holler Poet Series found me when I’d just begun to transition from writing bad slam poems to the shorter personal poems I’d learned about in Dan Howell’s and Erik Reece’s poetry classes.
A piece by Tom Eblen for the Holler’s fifth anniversary drew me to the series for the first time. Frank X Walker and Mitchell Douglas read their poetry. The crowd, rowdy and engaged intimidated me.
Ten months after first going to Holler, I would get my first opportunity to be a feature on the stage. In that time, I discovered the strength of Kentucky poetry and the power of an egalitarian opportunity to share your work. Anyone, and I do mean anyone, sometimes anything (who remembers the trippy costume-clad space aliens?), could sign up for the open mic and share a poem for 3 minutes.
I was still a college student, about to study secondary education. I’d like to say I was confident, but I’d go and listen to the poets, usually sitting on a corner on one of the cracked vinyl seats.
Bars not really being a place that I frequent, my stress prevented me from ordering even something to drink or eat. The eventual solution to this problem: arrive early enough to order when the bar wasn’t busy.
Right before going on stage for the first time during the open mic, I dashed to the bathroom. That this bathroom had no urinal didn’t register to me. Nerves pumped my heart rate into reckless territory.
When the door opened and tina andry and Nicole Wilson came into the bathroom, the only thing I could think to do, from the stall, (whose wall did not extend up to the ceiling. (Why are bar bathrooms so terrible??)), was lift my chin and say “Wassup? Guess this is the girl’s bathroom.”
To their credit they mostly laughed at me and went about their business.
Your Holler Debut on the open mic began with Eric announcing to the audience you were a first timer. One of his many small touches of inclusivity, as if he were saying listen, a new voice. And typically, the bar got extra quiet for that poet.
Some years later when Holler turned 94, I would get to feature a second time. Nearly Perfect Photograph had just been released and a friend of mine had committed suicide. Strange bedfellows for a poetry reading, but I decided I needed to mash these topics together as a way to grieve. I shared the stage that night with Crystal Wilkinson. When I finished reading my poems, people unexpectedly stood and clapped.
Passion is contagious. And Eric Scott Sutherland’s belief in poetry as a vehicle for personal and social change was matched only by his commitment to doing the work of organizing the event month after month for 100 months.
I can see him standing on that stage, tall and wild-eyed, shouting down the bigots and crooks destroying our communities and our natural world and then quietly he would nonchalantly slip a poem of his own in between passing the mic to others.
I’m grateful to Eric for that energizing passion and commitment to poetry. I personally discovered so many amazing poets and myself as a poet at Holler. I miss it.
Eric’s newest book, Earth Is My Church just released for Accents Publishing.
I can’t wait to read it and recommend you do the same!