A little before 7 p.m. on a Monday, I escaped the December cold into the Iron Post to, of course, hear some poetry. The second Monday of each month, Iron Post with the Champaign Urbana Poetry group hosts Poets at the Post, an event to discover some local poets and storytellers, or to share your own work. Typically, Poets at the Post has open mic and a featured poet each month. Over the course of about two hours, I was able to hear 15 individuals share their work, and hear the featured poet, Aaron Wilson.
Jim O’Brien, a mainstay of the Champaign-Urbana poetry scene, emceed the event, introducing each artist to the stage. Most opted for poetry, and over 40 original poems were read in total over the course of the night. In addition, one poet, Robert Manaster, read Tony Hoagland’s “Achilles,” and Victor Fein told a story about an experience in a sweat lodge with his son after giving the crowd a choice between poetry or a story. The poets represented many of the local poetry groups including Champaign Urbana Poetry, Glass Room Poets, the Quintessential Poets, SPEAK Cafe. The wide variety of styles and themes throughout the night offered a little something for everyone.
Unsurprisingly given the dreary December night, many poems focused on weather. John Palen shared “Remove Card Quickly” that centered on the common winter activity of losing both money and body heat while pumping gas. Luckily, James Engelhardt reminded us all of warmer summer days watching cicadas leaving their shells, contemplating concepts of rebirth in “Corner of Summer.” Of course, Victor Fein turned up the temperature even further when he spoke of a metaphor given to him in a sweat lodge, when he was able to let an imagined bird, and his son, find their own freedom.
In addition to weather, poets covered topics including the current state of politics, cancer, racism, and self-love. Shaya Robinson, organizer of SPEAK Cafe, was a stand out. Her poem, “Dark Girl” was performed away from the microphone with her voice filling the space. As she explored identity, she went from descriptions of picking at herself to an emphatic declaration of “I am the light.” With her journey to empowerment so powerfully presented to us, it was easy to fall in love with her work.
I was unfamiliar with the featured poet, Aaron Wilson, but became a fast fan. A true performer, Aaron spoke with his whole body, using everything from voice sound effects and gestures. Though he sometimes goes by Atrain or A+, he ensured us that we would get Aaron, a more vulnerable side of the artist. His poem “As I Lay” narrates his thoughts as he lays in bed after just waking, the wonderings of what there even is to get up for. This sometimes serious poem is studded with phrases like, “the bed is folding like a bun and I’m the hotdog in it,” offering the audience a bit of comic relief, also offered by the fact that he was indeed, laying down on the stage of The Iron Post.
Poets at the Post is an exceptional example of poetry readings. The bar atmosphere allows the audience to come and go as they please, grab a table, some food, a drink, and enjoy a night of poetry in a (very) laid back venue. The time slots for open mic are limited to only four minutes per artist, so it’s a fast pace turnaround, ensuring that there’s time for poets to read, and a poet for each audience member to enjoy.
If you’re interested in reading your poetry, this is the perfect event to choose. Some poets represented years on the stage, I can vouch for seeing many of them perform in the past. However, others were newer to performing. One poet revealed that it was his second time behind the mic. The casual atmosphere and supportive audience and fellow poets are the perfect crowd to try out some new poems.
If you’re nervous to read your own, but want practice on stage, January may be your month. Next month is slated to be Poetry Karaoke. In addition to the open mic, around 8 p.m. poets will take turns reading a poem from the poem-aoke poem book, or a favorite poem. So, January looks like a good month to hit Poets at the Post and find a new favorite poem, or read an old favorite poem.
Be sure to check out the Facebook page for full details of January’s Poets at the Post, and all future events.
Poets at the Post
The Iron Post
120 S Race St
Meets monthly, sign-up at 6:30 p.m. to read; readings start at 7 p.m.
Photo by Michaela Grady