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Rhyme Tyme

Katie Huston - August 30th, 2007
What makes Poets’ Night Out so special, said founder Sandy Robey, is the wide range of people it attracts. “There’s 12-year-olds, there’s people in their 80s and 90s.”
“You have farmers and lawyers. You have adults from all walks of life,” added co-founder Jody Clark.
Starting this week, the annual poetry contest and reading will accept submissions as it gears up for its 11th year. The Poets’ Night Out event of public readings will be held on Sunday, Nov. 11 at the City Opera House in Traverse City.
Submissions will be evaluated anon-ymously by two judges, and the top 25 poets will be invited to read their work. “It’s a really poetry-friendly crowd. The poets get a lot of positive feedback,” Robey said.
“Writing can be an isolating thing. This gives poets a social outlet,” Clark added.

THE NIGHT OUT
During the Nov. 11 event, the Opera House will be arranged with round-table seating for an intimate atmosphere, with tea, coffee and snacks. Poets sit with the audience when they’re not reading.
“It’s almost like a coffee house. It makes people feel closer and more relaxed, and it isn’t as intimidating,” Clark said.
“It’s a really great experience for people who have never had the chance to go to the Opera House,” said poet Paul Stebleton, who won the first Poets’ Night Out in 1997 and has hosted the event for several years. “And for those of us who are poets, it’s a great opportunity to be able to read there.”
The top poet will receive a $50 gift certificate to Horizon Books. The competition also includes a $50 audience prize, which attendees vote on during the evening.
There’s also a student prize, although sometimes students have entered outside the student category and placed higher than adults. “There’s some really great writers out there who are young, who have a really fresh view of things. It’s nice to see that there’s going to be a future for poetry,” said Stebleton.
Aside from the prizes, the event simply gives poets an opportunity for recognition. “I would say almost half of our people are first-time readers--I call them ‘closet poets,’” Clark said.
Once, Robey said, a farmer was furious that his son had won, but the teacher insisted that he had to attend. “Dad came and walked out a different man than he walked in, because he saw his son being applauded.”

WORDY WORKSHOP
The 25 poets selected to read are also invited to participate in a workshop, held earlier in the day. At the workshop, led by permanent judge Chris Bazzett and Paul Stebleton, each poet receives feedback on his or her poem.
“We try to give them a model so that they can start their own groups, as well as allow them to network with other poets, get some feedback from the judges, and perhaps build up some confidence for their reading that night,” said Bazzett.
The workshop is an excellent opportunity for poets of all ages and backgrounds to mix and learn from one another, said Robey. “One year, we had three professors from Ferris State University. We have 13, 14-year-old kids in the workshop too. it’s a great exchange,” she said.
Poets’ Night out also puts on a poetry reading each April at the Traverse Area District Library to kick off National Poetry Month. Both the contest and the reading have attracted a loyal following. “We get regulars who aren’t related to anyone; they just come,” Clark said.
Last April they held a 10th-anniversary reading, for which they invited poets from all 10 years. “We had a woman whose husband had passed away, and she was back in Nova Scotia, but she came back to read in April,” said Clark.
For some poets, it’s served as a jumping-off point. “A lot of our poets have gone on to do other things, either the kind of art support we’re doing, or they’ve gotten things published,” Robey said.
“It’s really a wonderful asset to the community,” said Bazzett.

Poets’ Night Out will be held on Nov. 11 at 7 p.m. at the City Opera House in TC. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for senior citizens and students. For more information, call Sandy Robey at (231) 932-8500.



 
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