When’s the last time you truly cared about poetry? Was it in fifth grade, when you were required to recite Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken?” Was it the last time you sat in your driveway listening to the closing segment of Garisson Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac in your car?
Maybe you’ve gone your whole life without losing yourself in prose with a hot cup of tea in hand and a sleeping dog curled on your lap. That’s your business. But let me just offer this one little nugget of truth: If you’ve ever connected to a rock song lyric, you are indeed a fan of poetry.
- PHOTO COURTESY KEVIN PATRICK SULLIVAN
- READ HER LIPS: SLO County Poet Laureate Marguerite Costigan will be at the 100 Thousand Poets and Musicians for Change this Sept. 26 at Bang the Drum Brewery.
San Luis Obispo poet Kevin Patrick Sullivan doesn’t care what you think about poetry on the whole. His focus is on the feeling bubbling behind the lines.
The author of Under Such Brilliance, among other poetry collections, banded together with Youssef Alaoui Fdili, a fellow poet and author of the macabre sea-fairing novel Death at Sea, to bring more poetry to local ears. And more music, visual arts, literature, and performing arts.
That’s what 100 Thousand Poets and Musicians for Change is all about: A kaleidoscope of creativity coming together under one roof to honor peace, sustainability, and artistic expression.
“The process of art is about becoming a better human being, and poetry and art and music help us do that,” Sullivan said. “We want to facilitate that change in others.”
The fifth annual occasion will unfold at bongo-strewn Bang the Drum Brewery in SLO Sept. 26 from 5 to 8:30 p.m. This is not a small, isolated gathering, oh no. Part of the magic lies in the fact that—all around the world—similar collisions of art, literature, and music will be exploding simultaneously.
“When we get together, we are talking with each other and educating each other, but we are also enlarging our world because this event is happening all over the world on this day,” Sullivan said. “Rome, Morocco, China, India, Japan—we start to realize we are not alone. We all know art can change us, because it has changed our own individual lives.”
- PHOTO COURTESY KEVIN PATRICK SULLIVAN
- RAISE A VOICE : Songwriters Terry Sanville (pictured), Nathan Spooner, and Dennis Ray Falcon Powell Jr. will perform alongside the band Baywood Jones.
Art has changed the poet’s life. Charles Olson’s manifesto Projective Verse pretty much blew Sullivan’s mind.
“He describes how poetry is built syllable by syllable. That builds lines and those lines build poems, and each poem is shaped by itself through the process of being made,” Sullivan said. “I think people should care about poetry because language is the fundamental tool of connection. It’s the way we connect to each other and poetry is one of the fundamental expressions of language. Making something into a poem is a way of sharing what is artistic in the sense that it is emotional and beautiful and draws someone in, but they can also see themselves in a situation or place themselves within a context.”
When I asked Sullivan to recite some of his work for me over the phone, he wasn’t shy. He recited a few lines of Morning’s Kiss:
“In the mornings when things get busy/listen to the wild/never underestimate the size of the day/ things blossom and change with the light.”
Although Sullivan said his style hasn’t changed much over the decades, he joked “it’s probably gotten better.”
Sullivan’s wife, Patti, is a talented artist and poet in her own right. Her latest collection of poems, At the Booth Memorial Home for Unwed Mothers, 1966, is a stark look at the months she spent in a home for unwed mothers. Back then, unwed pregnant girls were shut out from society, and Patti’s poems are at once sad, darkly comical, and insightful.
“The book is heartfelt; I wrote it in the manner a teenage girl would, simple wording,” Patti said. “Thousands of girls went through that thing in that era. The art reminds you that you aren’t alone. We are all in this together and poetry really does heal.”
Songwriters Terry Sanville, Nathan Spooner, and Dennis Ray Falcon Powell Jr. will perform alongside the band Baywood Jones, and SLO County Poet Laureate Marguerite Costigan and Santa Barbra professor Paul Lobo Portugés will be in attendance on Sept. 26. Although each artist will bring his or her own life experience and thoughts into the mix, one mantra remains: Artists are better together than they are divided.
“You touch people with your art, and it makes them feel better to know that they aren’t the only ones,” Patti said. “It’s important to celebrate our freedom and let others know that we are in solidarity with their right to express themselves.”
Hayley Thomas is forever reading between the lines at [email protected].