Open Mic Night at Book Culture

Kerry Henderson of Book Culture, one of the organizers of Open Mic Night

National Poetry Month was inaugurated in 1996 by the American Academy of Poets.  Book Culture’s Open Mic on April 19th showcased 19 poets, many from Columbia University and a few more established poets, such as George Spencer and Moira T, Smith.  One of the readers was an editor of Columbia New Poetry and another works for the Columbia Journal of Literary Criticism.

Andy Nicole Bowers, "Learned languages of stone."

I was the second person to read. This is fortunate because I had less time to feel nervous.  I plugged Beyond Belief, Cami Ostman and Susan Tive’s anthology in which I have a story, Swan Sister.  My first poem, Full Moon, which I wrote about my brother when I was 18, is related to this story.  The other poem, which I wrote more recently when I cried on my computer and the mouse got stuck, is not. 

Moira T. Smith, "Why do all men want to be whipped and belittled?"

The funniest poet of the night was Moira Smith.  Dressed in bright red and yellow, she spun through pages of truisms, such as, Every man’s wish is to be guided and corrected by the right woman.

Then she started shuffling through her sheaf of papers.

“I’m looking for the one,” she said.

“Aren’t we all?” said someone in the audience.

George Spencer, reading from Unpious Pilgrim

And maybe we were all looking for the one, except perhaps for poet George Spencer who held hands with his partner, Anoek, also a poet.  George Spencer’s poem moved me tremendously, although I didn’t really understand it. 

“It’s a sestina,” he said.  “I can read this here because you’re all from Columbia and you know what a sestina is.”

“I don’t,” I said. 

Becca of Columbia New Poetry, "My body is a dusky polyp."

As I learned later, a sestina is a 39-line poetic form consisting of six stanzas of six lines each, followed by a three-line stanza. lists 34 different forms of poetry, the most popular of which were pantoums and prose poems at this reading.  I learned that found poems are like word collages of things seen and heard. I put together some bits and pieces I remembered from the reading to make a found poem of sorts, all words written by the poets at the event.

Catherine demonstrating her brother with a rack of lamb

Hands that trace the blue path of her nerves

With dark arithmetic

Pink rose petals put in my mouth

My voice is maroon,

He had a squid tattoo on his left shoulder

A million atoms of dark blue

Illuminated flowers

The womanly showcase as expected as breath,

Like solving an equation.

"Something is stable. I waver and the ferry does not."

With ereaders dominating the market, bookstores like Book Culture are becoming fewer.  This event provided something one can’t find when shopping for books online: a sense of community and living words.

TIC Toastmasters

Some people enjoy public speaking.  I would like to be one of those people.  I’ve had moments during public readings or radio interviews when my heart beat so fast I could hardly breathe.  I had a television audition during which my mouth became so dry that I couldn’t separate my tongue from the roof of my mouth. 

I learned about Toastmasters from Mike Dooley’s book, Manifesting Change. Dooley’s first Toastmaster speech was on the topic, “Thoughts Become Things.” He is now a professional public speaker. 

I went to my first Toastmasters meeting last Wednesday, along with several other first-timers, most of them students at nearby Columbia University.

Presiding Officer, Vic asked all the guests to introduce themselves.  Then Toastmaster, Carole, introduced the word of the day: motivation.  Next, two speakers presented speeches.

Thomas talking on the Year of the Snake

Thomas, a Toastmasters regular, gave the first speech, “Happy Year of the Snake.” He used the floor space and aisle, asking listeners, “What do you associate with the snake?”  Thomas explained that the lunar New Year means a lot more to him than January 1st.  He said the snake is good for money and flexible so we could expect a good year of change and financial fortune.

Vic talking on Privilege and ResponsibilityNext, Vic spoke on the topic, “With Privilege Comes Responsibility.” Vic recounted his defining moment, when as a child in India his bicycle broke down on the way to school and a young boy helped him fix it.  The boy said proudly, “My elder brother goes to school.”  This boy was working in a garage to help his brother study.  Vic realized then how privileged he was and determined to use his gifts to help others.

Next came a section called “Table Topics” during which Vice President and Topics Master, Rory, called on attendees to speak for two minutes or less on various topics, including the Superbowl electrical malfunction, whether the New York Times should continue in print, whether St. John the Divine Cathedral should sell abutting land for tower blocks, and whether many children or a single child is better in a family. 

Me talking about Wine Pairings

I was asked to speak about what I would choose if I were on an important business meeting and asked to select a wine to accompany fish.  My knowledge of wines is so poor that I admitted I would have to request assistance from someone in the know.

After an anonymous vote, prize bookmarks were awarded to Vic for Best Speech, newcomer, Nora, for her 46-second Table Topics answer to the family size question, and Thomas for best evaluator.  

All speeches are timed and measured by an Ah Counter for the number of sounds used as a crutch.  I expected my Ah Counter to be off the charts, but it was zero.  Toastmasters is such a relaxed environment in which to learn confidence in public speaking, I’m actually looking forward to giving my first speech.