Two days.11 hours. 25 poets. More magical motifs and metaphors than your mind came imagine. This is my kind of marathon. 

Leave it to the ever innovative Pygmalion Festival to elevate the poetry reading to a fast-paced, wildly diverse happening that happens to be happening inside an atmospheric gem of a local eatery. This weekend you can enjoy your fondue with a generous side of free verse. 

Now in its second year, the Poetry Marathon follows a growing national trend for poetry performance, taking the square and making hip again. While I certainly enjoy my time spent alone with a book of verse or prose, there is nothing like live poetry performance.  Each of the poets appearing this weekend, have been chosen not only on the merit of their work, but on the power of their performance. 

This year's Poetry Marathon boasts a veritable who's who of local poets. You'll recognize some of these names from interviews in this section, while you may be encountering others for the first time.

Friday, September 27th

6:30 p.m.: Frank Modica, 6:45 p.m., Ann Hart, 7:00 p.m. G.M.H. Thompson, 7:30 p.m.: Victor Fein, 8:00 p.m.: Will Reger, 8:30 p.m.: Kathleen Peterson, 9:00 p.m.: Dillon Tracy, 9:15: Chris Vanjonack, 9:30 p.m.: Roberto Sabas, 10:00 p.m., Michael Peirson, 10:30 p.m., Jim O'Brien, 11:00 p.m.: Siggi Schroth

Saturday, September 28th

6:30 p.m.: Laura Lindeman, 7:00 p.m., Jane Desmond, 7:30 p.m.: James Engelhardt, 7:45 p.m. Siraj Ali, 8:00 p.m.: Matthew Murrey, 8:30 p.m. Elizabeth Majerus, 9:00 p.m.:  Naeem Rima, 9:15 p.m.: Ja Nelle Pleasure, 9:30 p.m.: Robert Manaster, 10:00 p.m.: Lily Robertson, 10:30 p.m. Vicky Sabas, 11:00 p.m.: Sheri Daley, 11:30 p.m. Rachel Storm. 

This is beauty of an event like this; it illustrates the depth and breath of poetry being crafted right here in our backyard. Chambana is home to a signficant number of writing and poetry groups, several of which, are represented here. One of particular note is CU Poetry Group, "a weekly workshop for community poets dedicated to keeping poetry visible in Champaign-Urbana through public readings, poetry contests, and community outreach."

Outreach is important, particularly since poetry still carries so many myths and misunderstanding about what it is, who it's for, what's its role and value are.  If you've ever felt like you "just don't get" contemporary poetry, I urge you to stop in for hour and challenge your previously held notion about poetry.  Poetry, especially when it's performed publicly, creates understanding and empathy. And when said performance is populated by local poets, poetry gifts us with a deeper understanding of our neighbors, our communities, and ourselves. 

And now a few suggestions for making the most of Pygmalion's Poetry Marathon. 

  1. Don't just go to see your friends, or poets whose work you are familiar with. Take a chance.  Mix it up.  If you are planner, and like to do your research, Google around to see which poets and which styles might take you outside of your comfort zone a bit.  You'll be glad you did. You might even learn something. 
  2. Despite the happy happenstance of having Poetry Marathon take place at the Bread Company, keep in mind that this is still a performance, no matter how informal it may appear. All those good manners you bring to performances at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts should apply here. These people are speaking from their hearts and speaking their truths. They are making themselves immensely vulnerable and we need to respect that. 
  3. Don't be afraid to talk to the poets. They won't bite. If you have a question, whether it be about process or interpretation, ask it.  This is an outreach event and conversation (before and after readings) is not only encouraged, it is the point. 
  4. If you like their work, find out where you can buy it.  Our local poetry scene is robust.  Let's support the talented people who make that happen. 

Marathons require slow and steady movement, deep concentration, and a willingness to accept whatever nature and the universe offer that day.  So come prepared, bring an open mind, well stretched mental muscles, and stay hydrated and nourished.

And should you leave this experience inspired to craft your own verse, you might want to consider another style of poetry marathon. Gather some like-minded language lovers, establish your "running time" and goals and commit to writing a poem every hour. Cast your judgment aside and let those words flow. That too is the point. 

Poetry Marathon
The Bread Company
706 S Goodwin Ave, Urbana
September 27th and 28th, 6:30 p.m. to midnight

Cover image from Facebook event page