On Poetry, Family, and Letting Go

In the academic year 2008-2009, I discovered a small poetry reading in a coffeeshop. It was serendipity. I found out about it while attending a different poetry reading by Norbert Krapf, the Indiana Poet Laureate at the time. The Laureate’s reading was sponsored by Bookmammas, an independent bookstore (remember those?) just off the main drag of a community called Irvington, on the eastside of Indianapolis. A few inquiries about other local poetry readings, and I found myself sipping a soy vanilla latte one fall night in the packed backroom of a coffeeshop called Lazy Daze. I don’t remember much about that night except for one poet, Jason, and his pounding voice as he read his words from the page, hitting me in my gut and engaging my mind at the same time. I thought, “This is what poetry is all about.”

I continued to attend the weekly open mic sessions where I met a number of poets and musicians. As fall turned to winter turned to spring, we learned each other’s styles, interests, strengths, and weaknesses–who was sure to make us laugh (Jeff, Charles) and who was bound to hog the mic too long (me). On blustery winter nights, we tucked ourselves into free spots on the floor when all the seats were filled. In the spring, we sat out on the patio and built a fire in a metal pit before each reading; the smoke wafted over us like incense as we sat and listened. We heckled each other and clapped after each performance, even if everyone knew it wasn’t any good. We supported each other because we loved the art but didn’t take it too seriously. That was thanks to our MC, Ian, whose laid-back attitude and beatnik influence taught me that poetry can be fun even while it deals with serious topics. Mostly, we became a family.

It was a difficult decision to leave my poetry family and pursue graduate school. Part of me felt that I had finally found a place to belong, and that I should stay. But I knew I had an opportunity for a good career–and funding–at Purdue University. So I wrote a poem to say goodbye and left. I dreamed about one day returning, maybe even retiring in Irvington (big picture), and spending my days finding a new family and reciting poetry out into the streets of Indianapolis.

I found out last week that Lazy Daze closed.

It was a sudden death. Something that I was not prepared for. My friends on Facebook and I grieved. We posted tributes. We even vowed to keep the open mic alive. Even though it is gone, I will always remember that year at Lazy Daze and all the people I met and grew to care for. I will always be thankful for the people who listened to my poetry and the advice they gave me–about poetry and about life. And I will always be inspired by the poetry and songs I heard there.

I wrote this as a way to begin accepting that my dream of returning is lost. But I’ve also had to come to terms with the fact that what I was longing for was not a new family and new poems in old Irvington but a chance to relive that year over again. And I can’t do that. Lazy Daze’s closing made me realize the importance of letting some dreams die because they weren’t dreams–they were just impossible.

I do extend my best wishes to Jason for trying to revive and renew the open mic at Irvington. I can’t be there, but I will support you any way I can.

Meanwhile, I am continuing to develop the open mic at Star City Coffee and Alehouse here in Lafayette, just as I did at Buy the Book Bookstore and Coffeeshop (which also closed not long ago). With Lazy Daze’s closing, I have started to wonder if my hope of recreating what we had at Lazy Daze that year has been holding me back. I want to start seeing this open mic as a new venture to discover and enliven the poetry scene in Lafayette–not an attempt to re-create something beautiful I once had.

Which means I need to get back to writing. Writing poems and pieces born out of the experience of this place and this time. And it means I need to work to find more of the local poets here in Lafayette. Because I won’t be here forever.

So I’ve learned.

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