Poetry venues in Rockford

Poetry venues in Rockford

By Ron Rehfeldt

Poetry venues in Rockford

Being a new man back in town after some years of gallivanting about the world, I recently decided that I needed to locate local venues where I could share aloud words I have inked on paper (or other surfaces).

Rockford has its plethora of restaurants and bars, of musicians’ scenes, and of other artsy events, but what kinds of settings did it have at which poets might declaim, I queried? In Chicago, we have poetry slams, coffee shop open mics, college and public library readings, art fair stages, all sorts of events at which poets present their works. What gig opportunities does Rockford offer?

So when I learned about the poetry reading event at the Rockford Public Library held recently, I was ecstatic, and before a huge crowd of fellow scribblers, I read my 2002 Christmas greeting, “Trees Like Christ.”

At this event, I learned about a group that encourages writers in their work (I think that’s what they do) called Rockford Writers’ Guild. A man announced that people get together at times and share their writing with one another. “That’s for me,” I thought, but have been too busy with other matters to follow up.

Then I heard about the Divine Cup hosting poetry readings mc’d by Charles Worboys, Jr. Two such events were held in October, and I managed to get to the second on Friday, Oct. 26. The Divine Cup is a quasi-art deco place where young people and old people may sit in comfortable armchairs and slurp coffee and/or soup. We also read diverse verse.

Finally, a couple weeks ago or so, I heard that some kind of arts symposium was being held, I thought, on Wednesday nights at the Water Street Café caddy corner from the Register Star tower. Subsequently, however, I could find no notice of the meeting, not in The Rock River Times, not in the local daily, not on the public library bulletin board. Nonetheless, I sauntered across the river, with some doubts inasmuch as I have never seen the Water Street Café open evenings.

On the door of the café, a flyer announced (with only its capitalization changed here): “The Muse/Acoustic Open Stage/ 7PM Wednesdays/ No Mics! No Amps! To Poets, Musicians and Artisans: Does it do your sensitive artistic soul injury to compete with conversation? Come to the Muse, set a new standard.” Cate Fine was the host. I grimaced at her use of New York Times’ style, then muttered, “Amen.”

So, I thought, Cate Fine is a revolutionary! No mics, no amps? Even the public library’s and the Divine Cup’s events had mics and amps.

Shortly after 7 p.m., the honorable Cate Fine presiding, came into the café, guitar in hand. “I’ll trade you a poem for a song,” I offered. “You mean you’ll read a poem, and I’ll play a song in return?” she clarified. “That’s it,” I agreed.

Cate Fine sang three songs, songs she had composed. Great songs, great chords, great voice. I read a poem about writing poems on the street, a very obscure tribute to my days as a homeless person, a la Godfrey Smith in that luscious film, My Man Godfrey starring William Powell and Carole Lombard.

Also participating in the symposium was Shannon Webb, who read a poem difficult to understand on first hearing, a poem that required, I thought, more than one reading plus some contemplation, as do all worthwhile works of art. I liked the sounds of its words, the sounds of the meanings I grasped. “Write more,” I thought silently. (It is a shame to artists and their works that people shuffle through galleries like penned and prodded sheep to give, for example, Gauguin or VanGogh, superficial glances. Men give “dancing girls” in local bars considerably more scrutiny than they do great works of art. I wonder why that is?)

Finally, Mike Tyler performed as guitarist/composer/singer. His voice was extraordinarily mellow, his guitar playing glistened. He and Cate Fine stabbed at jamming together, and they might succeed better at that at some future Wednesdays.

Cate Fine had started out with the view of establishing a stage at the east end of the café, and it may be that that stage will be re-established at future Muse gatherings, but on Halloween night we tightened our circle around a couple tables at the west side of the room to create a nearly intimate cabaret. We started out as just five persons. A couple of people rambled in later for quaffs of java.

A Cubs’ fan, I excused myself early on the pretext that I needed to get back to my downtown apartment to see Mark Grace hit a home run for the Diamondbacks. I had pretty much decided that Cate Fine had hit her home run, and now all she had to do was run the bases these next few weeks. If you out there want to share some of your acoustics—songs, poems, brief whatevers—meet with us at the Water Street Café Wednesdays at 7 p.m.

Ron Rehfeldt is a Rockford resident and erstwhile writer.

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