Friday night’s reading with Kathy Graber went pretty well, I think. The bookstore – Second Time Books in Rancocas Woods – is small, with good quality books. James, the owner, set up a bunch of chairs in a small space at the front of the store. It was cramped and hot, but it was well worth it (and I’ve been to worse spaces for readings). There were about 20 people there, including a few faces we don’t normally see at the readings. Kathy’s reading was wonderful – she read a few poems from her book, Correspondence, followed by Books Six, Seven and Eight from her series of poems inspired by Marcus Aurelius. She also read a few brand new pieces, one of which was a beautiful poem about losing her dog. Her in-between poem banter was self-deprecating and self-aware. I loved the reading.

The open mic was astoundingly good, too. Open mics are notoriously bad – they’re generally filled with local poets who come to the readings not to hear the featured reader, but more to read their own poems. To fulfill that point, they often will try to take more than their allotted time. If I, as the host of the reading, say, “Two poems, please, keep it under two pages total,” they will read their two poems after a 20 minute preamble about when they wrote it, what it’s about, who it’s for, and how the phase of the moon at the time of writing affected the political climate of the day, which resulted in their being inspired to think about cherry blossoms and their relation to the divinity of Christ. Seriously.

Instead, on Friday, we had six pretty strong readers: Dave, lawyer-by-day, beat-slash-jazz-spoken-word-artist-by-night, performed his Miles Davis-backed piece about a couple embracing at the local Dunkin Donuts. Donna read her somewhat surreal poem about a woman’s passing from cancer. Adele, a South Jersey poetry scene regular, brought a wonderfully accurate portrait of Riverside, complete with Brazilian immigrant wearing an oversized tee shirt with the word “JESUS” printed in large block letters across the front. Corey, who joined us after his first day at a new hospital (he’s an oncologist!), read two irrevent, incredibly funny politically and religiously charged pieces. Brian, who faithfully traipses over from Philly to our readings, shared an eerie poem about dumping a body in the Pine Barrens. And Tammy, our featured reader for July, closed out the open with two strong poems that will be sure to have people returning to hear her next month. I was impressed with our lot for the night.

Of course, we retired to the local watering hole for post-reading libations. As usual. The bar was packed with its usual Friday night crowd (including a couple I used to go to church with – I’ve found, in these situations, it’s best to avoid eye contact and pretend I don’t recognize them while they stare awkwardly at me). After shuffling some patrons around to accomodate our eight-person group, the hostess sat us near the bar where we watched the Phillies spank the St. Louis Cardinals (final: 20-2). There was a dude at the bar who would just not shut up, and was seriously the loudest person in the bar (a remarkable feat, considering how loud the bar itself can be). But he was slightly amusing in his earnest declarations of how he was going to kick this person’s ass or beat that person’s ass – standard asshattery, really.

All in all, a productive and amusing evening.

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