Poems spawn sprawling, thoughtful talks at Downtown Books | CraigDailyPress.com

Poems spawn sprawling, thoughtful talks at Downtown Books

Independent Bookstore Day takes place Saturday

Michael Neary

Shirley Simpson, foreground, reads her poetry, as, clockwise from left, David Morris, Jane Yazzie and Jo Ann Baxter follow along. The poetry group meets one Wednesday a month at Downtown Books, Coffee and Gifts in Craig.

— It began with poems.

As four participants in a local poetry group read their latest work to each other, they sometimes lingered over each other's writing, basking in a freshly formed alliterative phrase. But then the conversation, as if propelled by the poetry, traveled to other places: the pain of missing of a loved one, a riveting day of early spring, and a really long wait on hold to get some technical support.

They met on Wednesday, in a corner of Downtown Books, Coffee and Gifts.

"Jane and I go way back with this," said David Morris, referring to fellow group member Jane Yazzie. Then Morris motioned to a photograph of Carol Jacobson, mounted on a wall close to the table.

"And she was an important member of this group, too," he said.

Jacobson, once the co-owner of Downtown Books, was instrumental in nourishing the poetry group and in kindling people's interest in poetry in other venues, as well. Jacobson died in 2009.

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"She's actually the one that got me started writing poetry," noted Jo Ann Baxter, who said Jacobson suggested that she take her poetry class at Colorado Northwestern Community College. Shirley Simpson, also in the poetry group, took the class as well.

The poetry group meets at the bookstore one Wednesday per month — often the third Wednesday — and usually participants include Janet Sheridan, who wasn't able to make it this time around.

Baxter began the sharing on Wednesday, reading poems about her family and even breaking into the voices of her grandchildren as she read. Yazzie read a poem about a vision that refused to reveal itself — tantalizingly present, but indecipherable.

After she read the poem, Yazzie described the way that any sort of creative expression forces a person to relinquish control.

"You don't own it," she said. "Not ever. You just decide what it is trying to ask you to say."

Morris's poetry, populated by trout, toads and a spring wind, seemed to bring his fellow poets — and anyone else who was listening — into the psyches of these tiny and ethereal creatures. Sometimes those psyches were funny and celebratory places, and other times they weren't. One poem, in the voice of a trout, declares: "I find myself hooked/and hauled to shore/where/I dance to my death/on a first warm day of spring."

Each reading launched a new strain of conversation, and when Simpson read a poem about the powerful ways in which she misses her father, others shared their sadness about lost loved ones.

Baxter noted the way a thoughtful group can unearth real conversation, a genuine and open-minded exchange. It's the kind of conversation, she said, that might occur "whether it's a book club or a poetry group or a political party group."

The presence of the bookstore itself was palpable as the participants read and talked. Morris frequently encourages budding poets to pay attention to all of their senses, and Downtown Books is a place where a person can do that. Even if someone didn't gaze at the book-lined shelves, it would be hard to miss the gentle clinking of dishes behind the counter or the rising scent of brewing coffee. There's also the occasional customer who might be reading at his table and sometimes stealing curious glances at, say, a poetry group with a session in motion.

Liane Davis-Kling purchased Downtown Books from Terry Carwile in December 2014. The prospect of losing both a "gathering place," as she termed it, and a reading place sparked her to purchase the store. So did her fondness for books.

"I love to read," she said, noting that once she plunges into a book, "I won't do anything else except read."

Wednesday's poetry meeting fell near the end of National Poetry Month — April — and just a few days before Independent Bookstore Day on Saturday. Davis-Kling has ordered a selection of Pulitzer Prize-winning works she plans to have up for sale at the bookstore on Saturday.

Contact Michael Neary at 970-875-1794 or mneary@CraigDailyPress.com or follow him on Twitter @CDP_Education.