Aspen Times Weekly: open mic to open book
The thrilling aspect of attending the Aspen Poets’ Society’s monthly readings is that you never know who is going to show up with a poem — a well-known state poet laureate might be followed by a barista spitting free verse or your neighbor sharing her work publicly for the first time.
Reading the nonprofit’s new anthology, “A Democracy of Poets,” elicits a similar feeling, gathering its strength from its egalitarian spirit and tremendous variety of voices.
The book collects the best work from the Aspen Poets’ Society’s readings — monthly open mic affairs that have been ongoing since 2006 and are currently hosted at Victoria’s Espresso & Wine Bar.
The book’s title is a nod to the small-“d” democracy that guided the compilation. The book’s editors — Marjorie DeLuca, Rett Harper, Kim Nuzzo and Cameron Scott — invited anyone who has delivered a poem at a Poets’ Society reading to submit up to eight works for consideration. They received 327 poems, according to DeLuca.
From there, the committee removed the poets’ names, read their works and voted “yes,” “no” or “maybe” on each, assigned a numerical score to them, then picked the top-scoring poems for the book.
The result is a menagerie of styles and subjects in 98 poems from 48 different poets.
The poets in this volume self-identify as grocery store clerks, teachers, musicians, housewives, fishing guides and trust funders — a microcosm of Aspen.
It includes regulars at the readings, including Aspen Public Radio news director Roger Adams, who has three poems in the anthology, and Glenwood Springs High School math teacher Tony Alcantara, along with familiar local faces like Aspen Police Department administrator Cathleen Treacy and Thunder River Theatre’s Valerie Haugen. The book’s four editors also have poems included.
“This anthology represented as many of these voices as we could solicit from poets who have in one way or another participated in this west-of-the-Continental Divide chorus, at that monthly poetry reading in Aspen that has kept pace with the changing years,” reads a preface by Nuzzo and Scott.
Prominent regional poets also make appearances in the book, including Colorado Poet Laureate Dave Mason, whose “Horse People” offers a two stanza portrait of Comanche Chief Quanah Parker’s mother, and former Wyoming Poet Laureate David Romtvedt, whose “Birds Singing for Jesus” opens “Jesus was a carpenter, / but it’s hard to picture him / hiding nails — mornings at work, / then sharing a sandwich, a coarse joke, / later walking to the olive grove / to take a leak.”
Reading through the submissions, DeLuca says, she didn’t see any unifying Aspen style of poetry emerge, though local scenes and themes did recur in the editors’ selections.
“It wasn’t intentional, but we noticed afterward that we tended to lean toward ones that were oriented to local issues like skiing, or driving down (Highway) 82,” she explains.
At their best, the works in “A Democracy of Poets” that tackle familiar Aspen and Roaring Fork Valley subjects crystallize the things we see every day here and make them new for readers. For example, Scott writes of driving 82 “as Mt. Sopris shifts positions, clouds shift, / the river grade rises and wraps around corners.”
In “Aspen Ski Day,” local ski patroller and rugby player turned real estate agent Ed Cross describes skiing a powder day: “Eight new inches; no need for fear / The snow, deep and soft, / Waiting; a virgin bride.”
Western Slope Poet Laureate Art Goodtimes writes lovingly of the Orvis Hot Springs in Ridgeway, extolling the virtues of being “buck naked / In the Rockies’ wild embrace.”
Released last month at the Karen Chamberlain Poetry Festival, the 250-run first printing of “A Democracy of Poets” was published by DeLuca’s Carbondale-based AGS Publishing. It was funded, in part, by a Thrift Store grant of $1,500.
DeLuca and fellow Poets’ Society members began putting the anthology together last August.
“The whole purpose of the book was as a fundraiser for the Poets’ Society,” DeLuca explains. “In the past we had done receptions and art sales and things. But I suggested, ‘Why not do an anthology, since poems are our product?’”
DeLuca has lived in Aspen since 1974, and her publishing house grew out of her printing company, Aspen Graphic Solutions, which, in turn, grew out of her typesetting business, which typeset advertisements, business cards and the like in the years before computer printing came along.
Past AGS titles include local author Jane Jenkins’ “Harry the Hamster” series and Scott’s “The Book of Ocho.” Released in December, Scott’s book includes 30-plus poems about his time with a lymphomic cat named Ocho.
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