You are cordially invited to hear the spoken word today, April 2nd, at 2 p.m. at a locale where, most times, patrons are required to be quiet and experience the word only on the page.
Which is to say, White Buffalo — comprised of poets Melissa Fite Johnson, Adam Jameson, Al Ortolani and yours truly — has been scheduled by our favorite reference librarian, Carol Ann Robb, to kick off National Poetry Month with a live reading at Pittsburg Public Library. Don Viney will join us to share his original songs as well.
It will be a lot like a program you might have attended here in Pittsburg a hundred or so years ago. Back before people started listening to performances on radios, records, TVs, the Internet and smartphones.
What’s more, it will be poetry and song set to themes right here on the plains of Southeast Kansas, taken from “Ghost Sign, our new collaborative book published last November by 39th Street Press in Kansas City.
We’ll be sharing about strip pits, auctions, coyotes, baseball games, funerals, thunderstorms, weddings, marriage, hod carriers, quilting, bottle rockets, fried chicken, hobos, truck stops, convenient stores, churches, teachers, football games and, of course, love.
In fact, the book has been described as a love letter to Southeast Kansas written from four distinctive perspectives. Another reader — a former resident now living in New Mexico — described it as having the ‘fragrance’ of Southeast Kansas. Another said it has the fingerprint of everyday life.
Here’s a little sampling:
“I walk to the corner store to eat Frito pies / with the asphalt boys and dump truck drivers. They are my kind of people—dirty jeans, hands / calloused and covered with nicks and cuts / from work, open to the wind.” — Adam Jameson, “Routine”
“Waitress rolls a nickel from her tip pocket into the juke, punches in her selection, slides wearily into a booth, puts her feet up, and lights a Pall Mall. Elvis begins to sing. She closes her eyes and mouths the words, Are you lonesome tonight? Do you miss me tonight? Are you sorry we drifted apart?” — J.T. Knoll, “Graveyard Shift At Ace’s Truck Stop”
“At home we drank not from iced tea glasses, / fancy with their frosted horizontal stripes, / but from simple Mason jars—pints of orange / juice before school, tap water at dinner. / Fridays were special. We ordered pizza, / rented a movie, were allowed one glass of pop. / Even now when I visit Mom for dinner / and could swig moonshine that most belongs / in this jar, I choose pop. I savor that Friday / privilege in both hands, swaying slightly to hear / the faint music of ice cubes clinking against glass.” — Melissa Fite Johnson, “Ode to a Mason Jar”
“One night Mike and I blew our allowances / on packs of baseball cards. It paid off. I found / a Mickey Mantle wedged behind the gum. Mike / unwrapped a Roger Maris. We danced in the shade / of the elm behind the concessions. Grimaldi / and Ferns were coming up to bat. We ran / behind the left field fence with about 20 other / Pony Leaguers and waited for the long ball.” — Al Ortolani, “Mickey Mantle as a Longshot”
We will, of course, have copies of “Ghost Sign” on hand for purchase. In fact, some of you might have already purchased it online from Amazon or at Pallucca’s in Frontenac or in Pittsburg at Root Coffee House or Paradise Mall. Or checked a copy out at the library.
If so, I hope you’re enjoying it. But if you want to pump your enjoyment up a notch, come hear our poems and songs read and sung aloud, live and in person.
For, you see, the slightest change in things like rhythm, inflection volume, tone and perspective can change a poem dramatically.
Take, for instance, the line “I love you.” Try saying it three different ways, with emphasis on each word. Then shout it dramatically! Then whisper it seductively. Then say it as a question. Then sarcastically. See what I mean?
The same goes for Don Viney’s finely crafted song lyrics, which he performs accompanying himself on acoustic guitar. Another form of throwback entertainment — the human voice accompanied by a wooden stringed instrument that dates back 3,300 years.
But be warned: you may hear a taut, intelligent, heart-gripping poem or song that explores the darkest places in the human psyche followed by a hilarious, whimsical one that deals with aging, religion, malls and cell phones.
I’m willing to bet, thought that at some time during the course of the afternoon, you will be entertained, enchanted, persuaded, hypnotized or cured by the spoken word.
It sounds a little like a scheme, I know, but I’m willing to bet you a free copy of our book that it’s more than you’ll get sitting at home in front of the TV.
— J.T. Knoll is prevention and wellness coordinator at Pittsburg State University. He also operates Knoll Mindfulness Training & Consulting in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 231-0499 or firstname.lastname@example.org