The Council for the Arts in my hometown of Jacksonville, North Carolina is the place where I want to be, especially on a Sunday afternoon four times a year. That’s the time when poets congregate to share their works at an Open Mike Reading. When Director Connie Wenner found that we had no place to go in order to read our writings on a regular basis, she opened the doors for those of us whose specialty is the Literary Arts. She gave us the opportunity that we sorely needed.
Standing at the podium for five minutes per round, each person pours out bits of his life experiences to the audience. Some non-writers have come to simply be entertained and admit that it is always an enjoyable two hours. Attendees clap, and the general mood is respectful, a mixture of lightheartedness with somberness, depending on the topic. Everyone including the Director is inspired by the soul-filled creations.
Standing at the podium in May were poets from their twenties to their seventies. Poets with diverse backgrounds, some had read there at open mike before: a man who once built submarines and now makes ship models and writes about old soldiers; a woman born in Cambodia who taught high school French and writes Haiku; a young man on crutches who performs Spoken Word about love and friends; a middle-aged community college English teacher who writes about artists and poets; a young woman who writes about her mother. I read a free verse poem that I have never read anywhere before, the one about how historical houses were destroyed when they revitalized downtown.
While sitting in the art gallery, one is surrounded by original paintings on the walls, where featured artists’ works change as well as competitions. Through July 26, paintings by Karen Cowan Edwards are being shown. Her work comprises a lot of sea paintings from her travels.
Besides the gallery, there are several rooms where various art forms are available for sale: pottery, wooden items, paintings, and many others. A rack holds books by local writers, and in 2008, the Council for the Arts published a collection of poetry and short stories, New River High Tide, by some of those writers, and five of my poems were included. Books for sale include my poetry chapbooks, Union Point Park Poems, and Through A Weymouth Window.
In a separate room, art and writers’ workshops and classes are held at long tables. Among the easels, people of all ages make their own kinds of masterpieces. Many benefactors have donated relatives’ art book collections, which Connie allows patrons to borrow. Literary Trails of Eastern North Carolina (A Guidebook), by Georgann Eubanks, is the one that I am reading now.
The Council for the Arts will again host our event in August. Our next poetic get-together is something that we all look forward to with anticipation.