- FILE PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
- POIESIS : Ellyn Winslow’s monthly event, the SLO Favorite Poems Project, celebrates its one-year anniversary in February.
In February Ellyn Winslow’s SLO Favorite Poems Project will celebrate its one-year anniversary with a second love-themed poetry reading at the Steynberg Gallery. But before that can happen lovers of poetry have the opportunity to read their favorite nature poem—written by someone else, of course—on Dec. 6. And, on Jan. 3, the topic is science.
Winslow has been pleased with the size and enthusiasm of attendees the past 10 months.
“We have quite a few regulars,” she said. “And there’s just kind of always new people drifting in. Because it’s monthly there’s no pressure on people. They can come and go. Real life can intervene.”
Initially she had to explain the premise a few times. Readers were not to select their own works, but instead, turn to such old friends as Robert Frost, John Dunn, Emily Dickinson, Percy Shelley. The event is organized as a sharing of favorite things, an intellectual and literary show and tell. Thus far, no one has violated this premise by reading their own poetry. (“I think we’ve come close a few times,” admitted Winslow.)
A few poets—like Mary Oliver—keep coming up. Sometimes readers bring the same poems. At last month’s event, featuring the topic of mortality, Winslow practically engaged in an arm-wrestling match with Beverly Boyd to determine who would get to read a particular John Dunn poem. And two people wound up reading Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress.” But redundancy, which Winslow—who was apprehensive about becoming a repeat guest from month to month—dreads, hasn’t been an issue.
As part of her vision for keeping the project fresh, Winslow takes theme ideas from the audience. November’s theme of mortality was an overwhelming crowd favorite when she was shopping for ideas, so she decided to pair it with Dia de Los Muertos. December’s nature theme is intended to take the edge off the heavier topic that preceded it.
The regulars should be familiar faces to anyone acquainted with the poetry scene in San Luis Obispo. By Winslow’s recollection Don Wallis has attended every reading. Kevin Patrick Sullivan, and his wife Patti, come frequently as well. And Nixson Borah, when his schedule permits. Bonnie Young, Jane Elsdon, and Joanne Rush are regularly in attendance.
“We’ve had some of everything,” said Winslow, who always selects a poem to read. Sometimes it’s a recent, and unexpected, discovery. Sometimes it’s from a poet she has known and read for some time. “Whatever seems pressing and important and lovely at the moment,” she explained
of her selection process.
This month, for the first time, she’s altering the format ever so slightly. In the past, she’s always booked two scheduled readers, each of whom were given 15 to 20 minutes of mic time. Other readers are limited to five-minute selections. But that set-up often left Winslow staring at her watch in the final minutes to make sure that the event did not go past its allotted two hours. Instead, Jerry Smith will be December’s lone selected reader, leaving more time for additional readers. Smith hosts monthly poetry readings at Coalesce Bookstore in Morro Bay on the second Sunday of each month.
December’s event is a choice opportunity for first-time readers to get their feet wet. There’s no shortage of nature poems in the world, and Winslow points out that it’s also an opportunity to play with the theme. Nature could refer to the earth, to human nature, or any number of other possibilities. But if you’re short on time, and prefer a literal interpretation of theme, consider the Romantics. ∆
Arts Editor Ashley Schwellenbach has imaginary gardens. Send real toads to email@example.com.