Open mike poetry, guitar pickin', a fine evening

 ... Bookmarkit sponsors an unusual but delightful event

by Don Norris

It was a gas!! A blast. Not quite a sell-out, but a rousing good time. That is, if you dig poetry in all shades of philosophy, some very decent guitar pickin' and more downright good stage humor.

At the right is Howie, singer, humorist, story-teller

The event was sort of a non-event, because nobody except the emcee gave a hoot if anybody came or not, so it seemed. In the beginning -- which was an hour late -- there were maybe a half-dozen people there, but by the time the words started flowing, something over 15 people formed an eclectic combination of audience and performers.

It was my first ever open mike poetry reading. And it ain't gonna be my last. I had fun!

It all happened at Melrose's Bookmarkit, at 454 Main Street -- which was featured in this electronic newspaper several months ago. The time was a Tuesday evening, and the reading happens, for the most part, on a monthly basis.

The characters were mildly wild and wooly. There was a real graybeard who recited Shakespeare and Keats, a metropolitan cowboy who beat the daylights out of his guitar, an overweight college guy dressed in all black with sneakers, and a 12-year old aspiring poet from Melrose's Middle School.

From the left are John Sterm, Bob Eggers, and  Barbara Burns, all of Melrose.

That's just for starts. There was a former Broadway guitarist who now teaches music to first graders in Gloucester -- his poetry reading was, in my opinion, the hit of the night. There was a beautiful lady named Barbara, whose home-spun poetry was a lament on the vagaries of life. And there was Howie, a regular, who played his guitar and harmonica, sang neat songs, and had a great monologue. Howie said that he is on a perpetual come-back.

All these people did an outstanding job in providing entertainment, humor, and philosophy, all wrapped in 10 or 15 minute time slots.

Ummmm, most of it was good. All of it was in earnest. Everybody there had a message to tell -- certainly not to sell, but simply to pass along in the form of fresh poetry.

There was also a guy there whom I had seen the previous Saturday night, on the stage at Memorial Hall. He was a baritone with the Polymnia Choral Society, which was presenting its annual Pops Concert. I recognized him, because I was in the pit, shooting available light photographs for this publication. His name is Bob Eggers of Melrose; he has a delightful, strong voice (the Concert) and recites his own poetry with the skill of an experienced actor -- at the reading.

At the right are the featured readers, Ray Soulard and Joe Ciccone.

I tried getting names and addresses, like every good reporter should, but it didn't work too well. First, I was sort of the fish out of water -- a 70 year old retired newsman, casually dressed, but asking too many questions. Most of the readers were very friendly and helpful; a couple weren't -- like, when I asked where they were from, one answered "Nowhere" and other said, "Not from around here."

Ah, dissatisfied youths. One said he was headed for Newark, and when I told him that's where I grew up, I got a blank wall. He did say he was headed to med school there. New Jersey Medical School. Yeah.

The other young man admitted he was from Hartford, and when I allowed I like Hartford, he offered that "It sucks". "But", I said, "it's got a great fine arts museum." And suddenly he and I had something in common. He had taken art courses there as a youngster.

It happens that these two young men -- one in all black, the other preferring cowboy hat and boots -- were the featured readers that evening. They had worked together before, one picking on his guitar as the other read their poetry. And then they would alternate. Their selections were from material that they apparently wrote -- and had published, for they read from printed booklets. The delivery was good, but it was directed at the floor.

That's Ric Amante, the coordinator, emcee, good reader,

The audience took turns reading. That is, most of the audience. I believe there were five there who were, like I, listeners, enjoying the play on words and thoughts. But six folks had signed up to read; four were from Melrose, one was the teacher from Gloucester, and one more from, ummm, somewhere else.

It was a mixed audience. Including me, the age range was wide, from 12 to 70. They were polite, smart, and accepted each other and each others' idiosyncrasies. Like John Sturm of Melrose, the bearded gentleman who read Shakespeare; when others were reading, he was in a nearby alcove, either mouthing his piece or providing emphasis for the current reader -- with much arm waving, for accent. A really nice fellow, and sharp as a tack.

There was Bob Eggers, a handsome man and obviously talented. There was Ric Amante, the emcee and apparent coordinator of this continuing happening. Approaching middle-age, he read selections of B.H. Fairchild.

This is Victoria from the Melrose Middle School, who did a bang-up job in her first appearance.

And there was Barbara Burns of Melrose, who added a feminine touch to the happening, providing grace, beauty and a plea for justice in life. She came with Victoria, the middle-school pupil who discovered poetry in class, tried doing some of her own -- and received a big push from her Mom. She did very well, and later explained that it was her first time at a reading. Mine too.

From memory, only four people didn't read: one, a lovely matron who was very much at home, there. Another was a young lady, who simply sat straight-laced and listened. There was a middle-aged gentleman, and an attractive young lady who came with the Cowboy, going to Newark.

Support for the series is provided by the Bookmarkit -- space, really, to hold the reading. The new coffee shop, up Main Street -- Starbucks -- provided an urn of coffee and biscuits. There are no fees, no collection (that I saw), and the participants run this show strictly for arts sake -- and a chance to be heard.

In spite of my irony, I thoroughly enjoyed the session -- everything but a few bars of the Cowboy's song. He was, ummm, flat. But nobody told him, they clapped and provided encouragement.

So I recommend the readings. It was fun, the people were good to be with, certainly not pretentious -- and it was an enjoyable evening. If you're interested, call the Bookmarkit in Melrose for their Open Mike Reading schedule. You'll enjoy.

Read the original "Bookmark-it" story -- the place where book lovers meet!

July 6, 2001

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