Poetry in the Botanical Garden, popping up like the first buds of spring, and that’s what we were on this balmy Saturday afternoon, as we joined Bob Holman and Marilyn Nelson in presenting the poetry of Emily Dickinson, along with original work. Bob had invited us to share his time and add a little something unexpected to the mix.
We got there just as the reading was starting, and planted ourselves at various spots throughout the courtyard. The crowd was intimate, and the smell of too many sweet flowers to name drifted in on the breeze. But looking around at the subdued crowd, I knew they were not ready for what was about to come their way.
Marilyn Nelson started the reading, presenting a group of Dickinson’s poems, along with several of her own which referred to Dickinson or touched on her themes. As the gentle applause died down, I looked over at Samantha with a twinkle in my eye. Who knew what was about to happen? We had a few things planned, but as with any PUP event, we knew the magic would unfold in the improvisation of the moment.
Bob took the stage and read the first few lines of Dickinson’s “I reckon.” Suddenly, Samantha and I popped up to join him, creating a chorus of voices. The audience gasped. Who were these women, not on the program? As we finished the first poem, Bob made the announcement: “Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to introduce you to the pop-up poets, PUP, Poetry in Unexpected Places! Careful. You might be sitting next to one of them right now!”
The crowd giggled nervously, and everyone gave a curious glance to their neighbor. The reading continued. Bob read several of his own poems. Then, another surprise. John Murillo took the mic and began to beat box. Ed stepped to the stage and brought his b-boy stance, and Samantha Bob, and I traded lines on Emily’s poem “Answer July,” where the poet interrogates the month of July, which in turn interrogates, May, which interrogates the Bluejay…
Where is the Bee-
Where is the Blush-
Where is the Hay?
Go ahead. Read it to yourself. It’s almost impossible to avoid the rhythm. Who knew? The crowd was stunned. This was not what they were expecting at a tea-time Emily Dickinson reading!
We continued, and although the audience knew to some extent what to expect, we kept surprising them, like when Ed came out with his cult favorite “Alien Registration Number.”
And Bob read from his new chapbook Box, of which he explained when he was finished reading, “The book is in the shape of a box. That’s the point!”
The last poem was Dickinson’s “Wild Nights,” which we performed as a group piece, circling the audience repeating the phrase “wild nights” as Bob and Samantha recited the verses. We ended by getting the audience to join in, shouting “wild nights” into the early evening spring air.
Sweet, sweet. The Botanical Gardens will never be quite the same. Thanks Bob! Thank you Emily! Here’s to more wild, poetic nights…
Elana, blogging for PUP
PS- After the reading we fielded questions from audience members wanting to know when they could catch the next PUP/Pop up poet event…
Coming soon to a _________near you!