Poetry for the New Year: Pioneer Valley Poets

  • Seymour bartender Paul Goldberg mixes specialty Blood Mary cocktails at the pub’s New Year’s Day open mic reading. For The Recorder/Trish Crapo

  • Seymour owner Nathan Hobbs pours complimentary glasses of pink champagne to welcome patrons to the first poetry open mic held at the pub on New Year’s Day.

  • Seymour open mic organizer Tony Saracino recites Robert Frost’s “One More Brevity” to a gathering of about two dozen people who showed up to bring in the new year with poems. For The Recorder/Trish Crapo

  • Seymour owner Nathan Hobbs pours complimentary glasses of pink champagne to welcome patrons to the first poetry open mic held at the pub on New Year's Day. For The Recorder/Trish Crapo

Published: 1/6/2017 12:52:35 PM

Buckland poet Candace Curran stepped to the microphone at Seymour in Greenfield on New Year’s Day.

“Is this a cool place or what?” she asked.

Murmurs of assent and applause from the roughly two dozen folks gathered for the pub’s first-ever open mic poetry session confirmed her assessment.

“And what better thing to do on the first of the year?” Curran continued. “It’s worth dragging yourself out of bed after the New Year’s parties.”

Indeed.

Tiny white lights and a miniature Christmas tree on the bar set a festive air in the dark pub as Seymour owner Nathan Hobbs poured complimentary glasses of pink champagne. At a booth near the back, a group of us represented sort of a “Who’s Who” of regular Franklin County open mic goers — Curran, Wendell poet and spoken word event organizer Paul Richmond, former Recorder news editor Samantha Wood, Turners Falls artist and writer Nina Rossi, and myself.

Ours were the only names on the sign-up sheet, so it wasn’t clear at first whether another — and let’s face it, younger — group near the front was there for the open mic or for the specialty Bloody Marys that bartender Paul Goldberg was concocting. Goldberg offered three varieties — Curry, Kimchi and Classic. Garnishes included bacon, dill pickle or celery. I got all three — not quite brunch but close.

Seymour has no kitchen so encourages patrons to bring take-out food from nearby restaurants, a practice that offers a nice alternative to a long wait at one of the other establishments. Seymour’s location at 5 Bank Row means that Magpie Woodfired Pizzeria, Manna House and Village Pizza are all within easy walking distance, and there are more options up on Main and Federal streets.

“The people who get what we’re doing get it so hard and love it,” Hobbs said, of the pub’s unusual approach.

The afternoon kicked off with folks from our booth cycling through turns at the mic. But our fears that we’d be the only ones reading were quickly assuaged when others stepped up to recite poems or read from their phones. What had seemed at first like two divided groups dissolved into one. Some of us may have been strangers to each other, but the sense of camaraderie grew as we turned our attention to whoever was at the mic.

The open mic was the brainchild of Seymour employee Tony Saracino, a musician who composes original music and lyrics under the band name Haikouella.

Wanting to open up the option for people to read from books of poetry he’d gathered in a stack near the microphone, Saracino read a poem of Richard Brautigan’s and then recited “One More Brevity,” a poem by Robert Frost. Frost’s poem tells of a mysterious stray dog that comes into the narrator’s home when he opens the door to see the stars at night.

In a fun moment that pulled the room together, Richmond responded spontaneously with “The Pope and the Dog,” an original poem that compares humans to dogs and ends with the Pope asking the dog to pray for us.

Richmond also read “Pep Talk,” a poem that disparages the mounting political and social environment of false news and military build-up that states: “Even if all the means/ Have been deployed to destroy/ Us/ You would be amazed/ At our abilities/ To survive.”

Wood had used the open mic as a challenge to write new work. Her poem, “New Year,” describes driving to Greenfield from Pittsfield, where she works as deputy managing editor of The Berkshire Eagle:

“And I thought about how when you are out in the hills at night/ you can separate the darkness./ You see the line where the hills end and the sky begins./ These two kinds of dark, the land from the sky./ Geology and astronomy hurtling through you — relentless gravity and the speed of light, either too fast or too slow.”

Wood told me later that it was great to gather to read poetry on New Year’s Day because, “At the new year, everyone is reaching for something that will make them better or fresher — the resolution reflex. This was, ‘No, come to the pub and bring your poems. We already know how to do this. We’ve been doing this all along.’”

Seymour’s open mic session was the inaugural of a new series perhaps, Wood said, “But the oldest of traditions. And somehow this gave us hope.”

Saracino also had a positive thoughts on the event. “Poetry is such a powerful tool of reflection and the new year is a great time to reflect. I knew Seymour would be a good setting for poetry readings, but I wasn’t sure people would turn out. I’m glad they did,” he said.

Saracino and Hobbs are working on plans for a monthly open mic series, perhaps on Sunday afternoons.


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