I just got back from Hot Springs, Arkansas, where I was the featured poet at Wednesday Night Poetry (WNP), a weekly open mic event at a great little coffee shop, Kollective Coffee + Tea. It is the longest running open mic in the entire country, begun February 1, 1989. I read for it often after it went virtual during the Covid pandemic but decided to drive down to Hot Springs and read in person, since it’s not too far away from Springfield, Missouri, where I live. Kai Coggin, the charismatic leader of WNP, invited me to be the featured poet, which meant I could read several poems for 20-30 minutes and offer my book for sale.
I enjoyed it, and it was good for me to stretch myself a little. The coffee shop was packed, and they were so receptive and welcoming. It made it easier for me to not be so nervous. A friend went with me, and we spent an extra day just being tourists. There are two bath houses still in operation, and we tried one out. It wasn’t my cup of tea, but I’m glad I had the experience. We shopped and ate and enjoyed the company of each other and the wonderful audience a WNP. We also stayed in a great Airbnb, the Owl House. It was extra clean and bright and located in a beautiful area.
The visit was subdued, however, by news of the terrible school shooting in Texas. Kai teaches poetry to children in the Hot Springs schools, and she described the difficulty of teaching on Wednesday. I hadn’t planned on reading a poem I wrote several years ago, but I inserted it into my program at the last minute to focus for a moment on that tragic event. Even though it is an older poem, maybe dated, it shows that, unfortunately, not much has changed in the ensuing years. I am including a slightly updated version here:
For days we sat unmoving
watching the body of the Murrah building
in Oklahoma City,
its arteries gaping.
For days we witnessed
the spirit of Columbine
in Littleton, Colorado,
scarred by those with feelings of alienation.
For days we watched
the search in the rubble
of the glittering Twin Towers
in New York City
after they were massacred and
fell into their own dust.
Beyond our comprehension, we watch
our clubs, restaurants and theaters;
the streets where marathons are run
and people stroll on sunny days;
schools where children learn and play;
and churches open to whoever wants to enter
fall to guns and bombs.
We cannot shoot our way through our outrage
and expect it to repair the damage.
Slamming our doors shut is not the answer.
Thoughts and prayers are not a cure.
The answer lies within our conscious will
to disarm evil.
How are you dealing with the tragedies afflicting our country right now?
Reflect on these events and how they affect your day to day life.
What do you think the answers might be for stopping the violence?