Your Poems Do Matter & Why It's Important To Read Your Poems in Public: A Memoir

Emmett Wheatfall, Kelli Russell Agodon, & John Sibley Williams at Birdhouse Books, Vancouver, Washington. 

Last night I drove a very long way to give a poetry reading. While I was doing this, the thought crossed my mind, Why am I driving 4-hours to go to a small bookstore to read poetry? I thought, will anyone even be there? Why do I say yes to readings that aren't close to home? I said yes to this reading because I am huge fans of the poets I'm reading with-- John Sibley Williams & Emmett Wheatfalll. So I reminded myself, if no one shows up, at least you've hear some great poems.
I arrive to Birdhouse Books which is the coolest bookstore run by the nicest people Sara and Lucas. They have artwork of poets all over the store by poet (and artist) Scott Poole. The bookstore was a full-house of engaged audience members and packed.
We decide to do a "braided" reading or what I call a "living anthology" where one poet reads, the second follows, then the third and so on. It's a great way to create energy in a reading and you can't have a "set" playlist because you end up responding to what one poet read with one of your own poems. Which is what happened.
John read a poem and talked about his kid, which made me read a poem I wrote to my non-binary kid called "Love Poem Where Nature is Non-Binary & Uses They/Them Pronouns." I was not planning on reading this poem tonight at all—it's not in Dialogues with Rising Tides, so I had to pull it up on my phone from Dropbox.
During the reading, I saw one younger human really leaning in and after the reading, they came up to me and said, "You have a non-binary kid, I am a non-binary kid." There are some humans that you run into that you see still move through the world with only love and connection, it's as if all the things that could harm them have bounced off their love force-field. This person was that circle of love.
We talked for a bit, they shared their new name, and then they said, "I would like to hug you, may I?" As a mom, when a teenager/preteen asks for a hug, the answer is an absolute yes! (Though actually, I don't think I've ever refused a hug to anyone.) I told them what I believed--that we have so much to learn from non-binary & trans humans who *know* who they are and who are brave enough to speak it and claim it.
This beautiful person's mother was there, and she was crying. She said, "We weren't supposed to be here, we dropped in to say hi to the owners then you read your poem and honored my child." We all hugged and I realized immediately that was why I was there--that poem was for them.
This was exactly where I needed to be. Poetry readings have a magic to them that I've forgotten after 2 years of no in-person readings. And to think, when I was leaving the house today, I was thinking--this is a long drive for nothing.
Understand, we do not know who our poems will touch. Quality over quantity. For me, this was a moment that will always stay with me. Love your humans and support them. This child had a mother who supported their journey and their whole self. And I so appreciate those who honor their non-binary/trans children. I loved how supported this young non-binary human was. I wish all trans/non-binary folx had this love and support--they all should. 🏳️‍🌈🏳️‍⚧️
Oh and John & Emmett, were AMAZING! If you ever get a chance to hear these two in person, please go and see them read. They both lead from the heart, with compassion, love, and kindness and truly write and read the most inspiring poems. This was one of the best poetry readings I have ever been to.
Anyway, every once in a while I remember what poetry does, it connects us and it makes us feel seen and/or less alone. I am thankful for being reminded of this and for continuing to learn from others in the world as I stumble through my own journey myself. ❤

~ Kells

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  1. What a beautiful reminder of poetry ability to speak to another person's core.

  2. Thanks for this insight. I'm gearing up for my first readings/interviews ever, and your understanding of the purpose of these has helped me feel a little less nervous about it all!

    1. I'm glad that was helpful, Paul! When someone told me--you're just the vehicle to get your poem out--it took away a lot of the my public speaking fear because it wasn't about me, just the poem. Congrats! And thanks for the note!


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