The poet's words, and the feeling with which they were delivered, could have made you cry if you didn't already have sweat pouring down your face.
I asked him to explain
He said it was a game....
Am I a really fun game?
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Am I Sorry?
Because that's what you keep telling me.
—"Game" by Chelsea Pini
It might have been 100 degrees in the shade, but some Wichita poets turned out Saturday at Central Riverside Park to clean up the grounds a little and then recite some of their work under an old shade tree.
It was the second of four phases of the Community Poetry Festival sponsored by Poetic Justice Cafe and the Wichita's Park and Recreation Department.
About 25 people gathered to grill hot dogs, recite poetry and listen to music, and do some picking up around the park.
"I'm going to put my big-girl voice on because there aren't any mikes out here," Chelsea Pini announced before reciting — and gesticulating to — three of her poems by heart, speaking of the beauty of a mother's love, the absence of a father, and the anguish of a boyfriend's cheating, the latter described by a clever litany of board-game names.
People arrayed on the toasty grass listened to Travis Johnson recite his stirring poems to the sirens of a fire truck, a noisy pickup passing by and the call of a bobwhite. A bit of a breeze lifted the words.
"Why do you run
And love it so much?"
... It helped me forget
The attention I never got.
—"The Reason" by Travis Johnson
The poetry festival was a bit of a practice run for Pini and Johnson, two of five Wichita poets who will be going to Boston in August as the first Kansas team to attend the National Poetry Slam Competition. Poetry slam is performance poetry —"really bringing it to life so you really show the emotion behind the words," said Chris Hill, who also is a member of the team. It was his idea to have the poetry community do some community work, and the park cleanup/poetry festival was born.
"We do poetry everywhere we can" to introduce it to more people, Hill said. The group hopes to do some flash-mob-style slamming in the middle of a mall sometime, too.
The poets can often be heard at Poetic Justice Cafe, a coffeehouse for poets, musicians and their listeners at 300 S. Greenwich Road. (The cafe is closed for July.)
There has been a steady interest in poetry at the cafe, which opened in 2009, said Victoria Mouchilison. She owns the cafe with her husband, Ahmin.
"There's a range of young poets and old poets, and people who are just interested in listening, so it's always changing, which is good," Mouchilison said.
Another event for poetry lovers is the coming to life of the Kansas Poets Trail, where poetry will be recited from 6 to 8 p.m. July 29 downtown in the WaterWalk area.
And there will be two more Community Poetry Festivals — Aug. 27 at A. Price Woodard Park and Sept. 10 at Linwood Park. The cleanup takes place from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and music, free food and poetry will be from 1 to 5 p.m.
The heat put a little crimp in Saturday's cleanup, which involved wearing plastic gloves and toting plastic trash bags. The amount of pinata-paper-and-candy-wrapper pickup that can be accomplished when the heat index is 110? "About 35 minutes' worth," Michael Culter, Victoria Mouchilison's father, said.
"And you'll notice it's a lot cleaner under the trees than it is out here," he said, waving his hand toward the sunny areas.
Love the zebras
Love the giraffes...
Love one God
Love one man.
—"Love God" by Chris Hill