For two decades, the Mad Poets Society has been showcasing poets and writers all over the Philadelphia area, and every second Thursday of the month they bring their love of writing to MilkBoy Acoustic Cafe in Bryn Mawr. This month featured two poets and an essayist. Poet Sarah Spath recently moved to Philly and has joined the writing community while established poet J. r. Bouchard will be leaving for Dallas to pursue teaching opportunities. The evening was a little bit of a welcoming and a farewell.
Mad Poets Society founder, Eileen M. D'Angelo and Autumn Konopka have been discovering talented writers and promoting them through this series for almost 10 years. One of the major challenges they have recently faced has been funding cuts on the arts. Several years ago Mad Poets was able to pay readers a small fee for their work, but not anymore. Despite that, artists still come out. One of the factors that drive people to the reading series is the amount of presence the Mad Poets Society has in the area. Mad Poets runs many events throughout the Delaware Valley. Along with MilkBoy, they hold readings and events at The Big Blue Marble Bookstore, Kelly Writer's House, several local libraries and they even hold their critique circles at a law firm in Media. They also have bonfires at Ridely Creek State Park.
Speth was the first reader for the evening. By day she works as in education administration, but by night she is a poet. Her work is based on personal experiences and observations; the tone is lyrical but narrative. Speth can pick up on easily missed intimate details like noting the "red behind his ears" when describing her husband. The descriptive nature of her visuals make her work come alive. For example, "The amethyst fits in my palm like forget-me-nots."
It's difficult for most people to be able to write poetry that is extremely personal, but writers have an extra challenge because they need to share their work in order to become successful. Speth has an interesting take on how to overcome this obstacle.
"The vulnerability I feel in presenting my work is paradoxically mitigated by that presentation--a necessary means to pull me out of my head and into a community. One of my favorite educational theorists, L.S. Vygotsky, came up with the idea of the 'zone of proximal development'--the notion that children can do more in the presence of others than by themselves. I think that continues well into adulthood--sharing in the exchange of writing elevates us all," explained Speth.
Bouchard was the second poet for the event. Her work is also very personal and has complex dynamic that forces the reader (or listener) to stop and absorb her words. This can be seen in the line "you hold centuries in your mouth" describing her boyfriend's knowledge of Yiddish. Since moving to Philadelphia to attend the MFA program at Rosemont College, Bouchard's work has been published in the Mad Poets Review and Word Riot. Bouchard has participated in many writing workshops and helped develop the reading series for Rosemont College. Her work is part emotion and part academic; she understands and focuses writing as a process.
"Don't be afraid to revise. Listen to comments, yes, but see revision as a type of healing. Without the layers, the poem has no dimensions. I think it's so helpful to step aside from the work and come back to it. Every minute you're growing, and every minute away from the text is needed," Bouchard advises.
Thursday's final headliner was teacher/writer Matt Jordan, who has had work published in Philadelphia Stories. Jordan writes memoirs, personal essays, and short stories. He finds that his personal struggles create for strong tension on the page. The work he presented that evening varied. One story was a humorous but thought provoking narrative about the difficulties of a student in his class. The other was a melancholy tale about the connection to his father by going through a collection of records. He also feels honesty is key to good writing.
"I find that being honest about my own foibles has allowed to me to produce some of my best writing," he explained. "This is especially difficult when it’s someone I care about. Usually, my solution is to try to disguise the person’s identity in some way. Jordan feels this approach is a little more difficult when writing a memoir, but in the end he values the relationship more than the writing.
Konopka ended the evening with an open mic as they always do. Writers of all types are invited to take the stage; guys in ties, slam poets, and a dad with two little girls in the audience read their work. She highly encourages writers, not just poets, to come to the event. The blend of talent and styles always makes for a wonderful evening of art.
Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled one of the poets' names. Her name is spelled Sarah Spath.