If memory serves me correctly, I once saw Tremont near the top of a list of artsy hotspots. The blog claimed that the little Cleveland pocket of culture could be “the next Williamsburg” which I read as “safe haven for entitled hipsters” – a premonition I hope never comes to fruition. Danielle and I drove to the little art district the weekend before Cinco de Mayo and found the streets littered with porcelain white teenagers and twenty-somethings swimming in culturally insensitive ponchos and sombreros, doing the Mexican St. Patty’s Day bar crawl. I shook my head in mild disgust and re-focused my attention to finding the sign for Literary Café.
The Writing Knights are a small Cleveland press that holds events all over the city. This day, I was visiting the WK crew to feature as an opener for one of their most interesting and ambitious round tables. Write Club, an obvious punning of the Palahniuk novel Fight Club, is a monthly freeform workshop hosted by Skylark Bruce and Azriel Johnson of The Writing Knights and held at Literary Café on the first Saturday of every month. If the premise isn’t self-explanatory, I can sum it up by quoting from the flyer that was passed around, and plastered all over Facebook for weeks before the event, which further references the pop culture phenomena of which its name is referring:
“The First Rule of Write Club: You do not TALK about Write Club.
The Second Rule of Write Club: Copy the flyer and pass it on to others.
The Third Rule: If you condone hate speech or abuse your write is OVER.
The Fourth Rule: NO prewritten material
Fifth Rule: As many writers as POSSIBLE at a time.
Sixth Rule: Bring Dictionaries and other reference materials.
Seventh Rule: Writes will go on for as long as they have to.
The Eighth and Final Rule: If this is your first (k)night at Write Club,
you have to Write.”
If you’re still confused – that’s okay. I, myself, had many questions. Was it a workshop? Was it a reading? Was it some kind of hybrid of the two? I had no idea. This was a dramatic change in form, as every WK event I’d been a part of up until then had followed a typical format, with featured poets having ten minutes at the start of the show, followed by an open mic. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
Inside Literary Café there’s a little back room where the walls were an audience of pastels and pencil drawings all staring toward the center of the room, where tables were arranged in a rough ovalish shape. It was not quite the dim-lit bloodstained basement you’d find on Paper Street. Skylark Bruce was the first person we saw as we entered. She was sitting to the left of Johnson, crocheting plastic bags out of other plastic bags and waiting patiently for guests to arrive.
There were three of us reading as featured poets at the beginning of the night. We were the only exceptions to the rule against pre-written material. I was first up, reading a handful of haiku I’ve been working on, and debuting a few of my NaPoWriMo poems from this year. Second to the microphone was a Tom Noy, who came to the show with his son, a shy little boy. The child sat patiently swinging his feet that couldn’t quite reach the ground from his chair. The boy’s father opened with an emotionally charged poem by Rachel McKibbens. I knew the name from somewhere – It took me a second to figure out that I’d heard a few of her poems before thanks to Indiefeed. Noy followed that with handful of his own original pieces, ending with a haiku of his own about the 27 club, which I found very well written.
The third feature to kick the night off was Jen Pezzo. Jen was introduced by Skylark as a member and contributor of Poets Haven, another Cleveland press [sidenote: you’ll find as I do more of these blogs, that the local poetry scenes around Cleveland and Erie tend to overlap a lot. These poetry circles are better understood as Venn Diagrams.] Jen’s set was very quick, but also very solid. The room was responsive to her work, snaps and claps filled the room as she read.
After that, the write had begun, every poet in the room began scribbling into their notebooks. Every few minutes someone would announce that they had something, and share a bit of a poem they’d just composed. A few poems lamenting factory work, a few others remarking upon racism, white privilege, and the cultural appropriation outside. One by one they rose and popped like a bubble out of our collective primordial ooze. Then the room would sink back into silence once more, as the pens and pencils went back to scraping the page.
The only other noise you could hear was the bu-da-da-um-bum of a squeaky fan, spinning furiously from the ceiling as if it may break free and fly away if it just pushed itself hard enough. This fan acted as a prompt for a good portion of the night, leading to several poems being blurted out across the room. The Squeaky Fan poems ranged from serious (Jen Pezzo’s piece about a confession she could not share) to the intense (Rachel Roth’s piece which incorporated a breathy onomatopoeia of the fan being used as a metaphor) to the downright silly, in my case, with an extremely short poem that ponders if someone could waltz to the rhythm the fan was giving us.
As the night came to a close, I still struggled to define the event. It wasn’t a poetry reading, or a workshop, though it had elements of both. At a reading, the goal is to showcase your fully realized poems for the audience. At Write Club, the work was not expected to be fully formed at all. This was rapid fire brainstorming. The poems that are expected to come out are half-written, unpolished, and sometimes clumsy. At a workshop, you work through a piece and collaborate closely with others until it is as close to fully realized as one can get. That wasn’t the goal here either. The goal here seemed to be to generate the seeds of poems, as many as you could manage.
The poems started there that night would be later shaped and improved as the writers went home and sat with the pieces. It was a way to get things out and down on paper, an excuse to make something new. This is a necessary outlet for many writers. Sometimes we don’t have time to write, or we forget, or we simply hit a wall creatively. In moments like those, it’s ridiculously hard to get something started. Events like this give us an excuse to get out of our lives, enjoy the company of other poets, and most importantly, write something, even if it is just a beginning.
Here’s a little something I wrote at Write Club that night:
Poets skipping little flat rocks, like math classes,
all a-long the-lake
with each stone cast
– a cast of its own, forms a tiny circle around it
that with time, radiates further and further out –
words come crashing/splashing into one another
– the Rustbelt poetry song