The room at Rippavilla Plantation, in Spring Hill, Tennessee, was swollen with poetry lovers last Saturday night. If there was a poetry skeptic in the room, maybe dragged there by a persistent spouse, I am quite certain they left with a new fervor for the art.
The event was, Firecracker Red: This Ain't Your Grandmother's Poetry Reading. Pulitzer-nominated poet, Stellasue Lee, was the main attraction, and her apprentice, Ramon Presson, was the opening act.
Presson is a highly respected and successful Psychologist in the field of marriage counseling. He has authored ten books on the subject. On Saturday night, he took off his counselor shoes and shared his passion -- poetry -- with the audience. Under the mentorship of Stellasue Lee, he has refined and chiseled his gift of poetry into a precise soul-awakening tool.
I became quite distressed afterwards to find that Presson did not have a book of poetry. There were so many lines that moved me, and I wanted to remember them fully. There was the pregnant robin preparing to drop her luggage; the taste of Haagen-Dazs vanilla bean ice cream that lingered so vividly, I had to pick some up at the store the next day; the emotional scars of young Staci, looking out her car window at the grotesque wounds of a dead deer on the side of the road in the elitist Brentwood, Tennessee of all places; and the note to Pablo Neruda whose poetry gave Presson something, he just wasn't sure what. Presson instilled a bit of southern dialect into his writing giving us all a chuckle at times.
Imagine my excitement when I found his blog site with all of his great poems and many more. Click here to read his poems (click on each month in his side bar to read more). I found this great quote on his site that explains why his and Stellasue Lee's poetry is so intoxicating:
Folks, here's the bottom line....if a poem or a poet's body of work is so dumbed down that most of it would work in a Hallmark card, it's not great poetry. If a poem or a poet's body of work can only be understood by elitists or by readers on LSD, while it may even have some elements of genius in its lines, it is not ( in my opinion ) great poetry. In my opinion great contemporary poetry makes language dance to a tune that a skilled reader can follow. It is said that 'art is man's attempt to explain his humanness.' If the only one who comprehends the (published) poet's 'explanation' is the poet himself, he has pleasured himself rather than serving his reader. Thus great modern poetry is both artistically exceptional AND intellectually accessible. -Ramon Presson
Stellasue Lee took us on an emotional journey through pieces of her life. There were glimpses into the despondent life of her alcoholic, homeless father with a glass eye, who suffered from haunting demons of his military past. Lee's transparenecy induced tears in my eyes as she read of her daughter's death. We traveled back to Lee's childhood when she was the self-proclaimed "Queen of Jacks". Her husband was not immune to her poetic musings, and, to be fair, her battle with pizza was a crowd pleaser. There were also her wavings to the John Lund cross on I-65 because she felt it was important to make contacts on the other side.
We had the privilege of being the first to hear work from Lee's new book, Firecracker Red, due out later this year.
I was able to pick up Stellasue Lee's book, Crossing the Double Yellow Line, and she signed it. You can read some of her poetry here.
Both Stellasue Lee and Ramon Presson emphasized in their readings that poetry can be fictional. People always assume poetry is so personal that it has to be true. Stories can be made up and told through poetry. Both Lee and Presson use this technique. Much of their poetry is created through experience, but not all, making the poetry mysterious at times (leaving the audience to wonder, did that really happen?).
They both made poetry sound so easy. As if the words they used were just always meant to be together, and indeed that is poetry isn't it? The challenge is using the perfect combination of the perfect words to create the perfect poem. Lee and Presson appear to do it effortlessly, and I was thoroughly inspired.
If you have never been to a poetry reading, I encourage you to seek out a good one. I will be attending more in the future. In fact Stellasue Lee is planning another one this summer. I will keep you updated.