Ed Ward's been hosting open-microphone poetry readings in the Denver area for more than twenty years, and not without good reason. His regular Friday night readings at the Mercury Cafe adhere loosely to the Neal Cassady "GO!" school of anything's allowed, and Ward says that's what makes them special. Poets who flock to the readings call him a patron saint without an agenda, and the evidence is in the crowd itself, an eclectic, open-minded and celebratory bunch.
That's no exception on New Year's Eve, when the subject matter turns blue. Ward thinks anyone should be welcome at the Erotic Poetry Reading, a joint effort with Merc maven Marilyn Megenity that's now in its fourth year. "Even some very square in-laws from Wyoming came down, and they had a blast," he says of past soirees. A sense of humor and willingness to lend an ear seem to be the only prerequisites: "If it ain't fun, don't do it."
"Other poetry venues get cliquish and scene-ish," Ward notes. "But even grandmothers come to the Merc. They don't feel intimidated by the Gothics who might be there. It's a true cross-section of humanity." Besides, he adds: "I'm a genuine host. I try to make everyone feel comfortable. I'm not running the Ed Ward clique." Ward argues that Denver's longtime association with the Beat aesthetic--Cassady, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg blew through--lends literary import to the place. "It's the mecca of the poetry world," he explains. "It ain't New York or L.A. or San Francisco--it's right here. In Denver, everybody invents their own style."
Though more thematic than the usual fare, the New Year's poetry bash is equally free-form in spirit. But the buzz generated by the occasion is no doubt a bit more electric. "A lot of the regulars get up for the event--they'll write new material with a good sense of humor," Ward says. "Some of the youngsters always have their 'I want to get laid' poems, but most performers get well beyond that level.
"It's a fun, upbeat way to start the evening," he continues. "It's not like the usual midnight-let's-get-drunk scene. It's more like let's have a little dinner and a little culture." Dinner's no problem: Megenity's whipping up a "Poet's Stew" dinner of lamb stew, salmon chowder and ten-bean chili, available to the typically less-than-moneyed poets for five bucks. Megenity, who loves the event, says if the busy downstairs dining room allows her a few minutes to come up and intone, she hopes to contribute a tongue-in-cheek commentary on the theme of "Put the blame on Monica--she brought the big boys down."
Whether or not Megenity makes her appearance, there will be plenty of witty, sensual voices on stage. Ward's looking forward to hearing poet Eric Blommel--a writer of villanelles and sonnets whose past offerings included a hilarious extended metaphor about eating a peach. Musician Jason Eklund and performance artist Jan Bell will be appearing as Captain Stringbean and Calamity Jan. Other readers will include a well-rounded, novice-to-seasoned mix of men, women, college students and old hipsters.
Poet Jim Bernath stresses that much of the provocative poetry is delivered with a gentle, if titillating, touch. "It's a variety of voices expressing erotica in a way that's lewd, crude, romantic and tender all at same time," he says of the playful tone. "It's a good kickoff to, um, subsequent activities."
An erotic-reading regular, Bernath has come to the event armed with everything from an earthy epic sea chanty that listed body parts to last year's a cappella dirty ditty composed to the tune of "My Favorite Things." He's doing a similar bit this year to a more contemporary tune he declines to name, but promises a chorus tailor-made for audience participation. And here's his tease: "I wish I had a trumpet player."
In the meantime, even if Bernath won't give a preview, he's willing to offer a sample haiku:
For the sandwich
that is us;
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University of Denver literature professor Lenny Chernilla takes a scholarly approach by reading from the works of others and is likely to pull out a Renaissance text or sexy psalm from the Good Book to read, lending an erudite touch to the proceedings. He's a firm supporter of Ward and the event. "It's not an accidental audience," he says. "There's a core audience of sixty, seventy people who really know they're looking forward to this--they've planned on coming for weeks or even months. And once it gets started, the men and women who participate really get into the mood of the evening; they don't just solemnly read. What you get is delightful. Nobody tries to outdo the other."
This year, Chernilla says he's chosen to read love poems, "a strange mixture of love and war" by contemporary Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai. But the possibilities are endless, and he petitions for an event not confined to New Year's Eve. "I just wish he'd do one on the Fourth of July as well. We could call it the Erotic Patriotic Poetry Reading."
New Year's Eve Erotic Poetry Reading with Ed Ward, 7:30 p.m. December 31, Mercury Cafe, 2199 California Street, $5, 303-294-9281.