So you want to fit in at a poetry reading

So you want to fit in at a poetry reading
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Admit it. You haven’t been partying from sunup to sundown in frenzied celebration of National Poetry Month. Fear not, April isn’t your only chance to join the fun. For three years, Vin Master Wine Shop has served as a gathering post for poets on the second Thursday of each month.

Based on the April 9 Poetry Reading, here are your poetry immersion imperatives:

Know the destination. Vin Master in South End at 7:00 pm. Located at 2000 South Blvd., #610, Charlotte, NC 28203. The next reading is May 14.



Arrive early. Fifteen minutes gives you a good head start; there are black squishy chairs to snag. But if you lose out, there are straight-backed seats and high swivel stools, too. Position yourself to face the microphone looming in the center of the room.

Really, just don’t be late. The bell over the door jingle-jangles when you open it. It’s not subtle. It’s awkward. Everyone will look at you.

Don’t stress about the dress. Wear anything from casual to classy. But skip the gym shorts.

Pick your poison—and munchies. Note: you just pay before you leave—there are no tabs to start here. Skim the bottled selections along the right side wall when you walk in, or head to the bar in back to check out the daily picks for a glass or a wine flight, categorized by characteristics such as “crisp,” “creamy” and “spicy.” Sort through snack options too: they include hummus, olives and chocolates.


Be warned. There is a piece of paper and a pen circulating through the room. If you’re itching to read a poem you wrote or to spout out an impromptu haiku, then slap your name on that sheet, baby. Otherwise, back away.

Know who you’re near. This is a congenial mix of nearly 30 people and somehow everyone seems to fit in. Owner Chris Woodrow hovers quietly at the back bar, taking notes with a pen and pouring wine. The people assembling themselves are a blend of seniors and middle-aged locals, plus a smattering of young professionals. They come from poetry groups or they come with groups of friends. One local interior designer (and open-mic poet), Jenny Van Stone, sipped a Malbec in the corner. “I like the idea of supporting local writers and enjoy listening to the variety of styles here,” she said. “It doesn’t hurt that you get to drink wine at the same time.”


Shush. At 7:00 pm, the buzz of chatter disintegrates into silence, and maybe one sided conversation courtesy of people who don’t know how to whisper. Lend your ear for an hour and a half. Let the vacillation between silence and one person’s words wrap around you, starting with Jonathan Rice. Rice, the editor of Iodine Poetry Journal, hops in front of the microphone to welcome everyone. He co-hosts these readings with his buddy Scott Douglass, publisher/managing editor of The Main Street Rag. Rice, who started organizing poetry readings in the Queen City in 1999 at (the now defunct) Jackson’s Java on University City Boulevard, reported that poetry in Charlotte is “very much alive.” And as for what he’s trying to accomplish with these monthly readings: he angled himself toward the wide-open room, stretched his arms and said, “You see this? This is community.”


Clap after each poem. Unless you’re commanded otherwise. Featured poet #1, Lynn Ciesielski, who traveled from Buffalo to read from her book Two Legs Toward Liverpool, was perfectly cool with the intermittent clapping. But featured poet #2, Gail Peck, asked the audience to hold the applause until the end, because, she said, “I ain’t used to it.” The local poet read from her book The Braided Light.


Don’t panic. If you can’t bear to sit still after being wedged in your cubicle all day and you start to feel fidgety, there’s hope. Rice will cue a stretch break slash drink refill opportunity after the featured speakers have spoken. Shake it out and shake it up—grab a different drink. Then settle in for the open-mic segment, with poets standing to read one work each.

Don’t fight it. You will get lost in the words, in the rhythm, in the meaning behind it all. You will be blissed out. You will cup your chin in your palms or clutch your wine glass with both hands, all the while gazing at the poets like a lobotomized mental patient. But you won’t care because you’re so happy it’s all happening to you. Feel something. Let it wash over you and through you…

“I wash your shirts, to satisfy my need to breathe your scent, to touch the hairs left on your collar. Our lives have become a lattice.”

“If I were God, I’d let you in the back door of Heaven, the place where they keep the mops.”

“This is her canvas, and she too will make something lasting. She separates the thread and the needle touches cloth. Lavender and blue, until a garden grows.”

“For now it’s spring, and there’s no thought of long sleeves, of dying young.”

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