Verse-Case Scenario: Arts Community Signs Up to Support Catherine O'Neill Thorn

Catherine O'Neill Thorn empowers youth through poetry.EXPAND
Catherine O'Neill Thorn empowers youth through poetry.
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Poet Catherine O’Neill Thorn has poured her energy and talents into the community through Art From Ashes, the nonprofit she founded to empower youth through art and poetry. Now the community is returning the favor.

In September, O’Neill Thorn was diagnosed with breast cancer; she recently ended a series of chemotherapy treatments. To help raise funds for her medical bills, supporters will host a benefit at the Mercury Cafe, 2199 California Street, on January 12. And O'Neill Thorn, who is now in recovery, will be there to accept well-deserved accolades.

Art From Ashes poets have performed around town, including at last year's Sacred Tattoo benefit.
Art From Ashes poets have performed around town, including at last year's Sacred Tattoo benefit.

"I can tell you that Catherine is a very fine poet in her own realm,” says Roseanna Frechette, her friend for over 25 years. “And rather than choose to shine a big light on her own poetry, she has put that energy into the community.”

Since the early ’90s, O’Neill Thorn has done everything from teaching writing workshops in juvenile detention centers to publishing a bi-monthly poetry-events calendar, Poiesis. In 2003, she established Art From Ashes, which has provided artistic outlets for more than 11,000 struggling youth, according to the organization's website. It's been recognized as one of the of the top arts programs in the nation four times by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities; it also earned O'Neill Thorn a Westword MasterMind award.

Longtime friend and fellow poet SETH credits O'Neill Thorn with uniting this city's poetry community. “You have the Beat poets, you have what I call the coffeehouse poets, you have the academic poets, you have poets who are part of poetry societies — and we all work in our own vacuum,” SETH says. But O’Neill Thorn has incorporated all of these groups, including Denver's popular slam poets, in the festivals she organizes, he adds.

“One of the things that I picked up very early in her career is her commitment to the power of the spoken word,” SETH says. “I do remember her once saying that she considered poets to be the prophets of our day, which is absolutely true.”

An Art From Ashes poet at last year's Sacred Tattoo benefit.
An Art From Ashes poet at last year's Sacred Tattoo benefit.

That is why he will be reciting his poem “Ode to Great Ghosts,” about art and its importance, at the benefit. Other performers on the bill include Frechette, Theo Wilson, Carson Reed, Kathleen Cain, Dee Galloway and Alyssa Bennett Smith, who will all share pieces they connect with O’Neill Thorn. One Irish poet will be reading a poem in the style of W.B. Yeats because O’Neill is Irish and loves Yeats. Westword editor Patricia Calhoun will be among the speakers; in addition to the scheduled performances, anyone can pay tribute to O’Neill Thorn during an open mic.

The event includes a raffle; Colorado poets and authors are invited to donate two copies of a book or CD for the cause. One will go into raffle prizes; the other will go to O'Neill Thorn. Donations for the raffle are still being accepted here.

SETH says he hasn’t had to “twist any arms” to get people to help out with the event, because everyone appreciates the work O’Neill Thorn has done. “Catherine is a very, very positive person, and she’s got a wonderful sense of humor. She is taking this all in stride,” he adds.

“She is a beloved comrade and friend to not only us, but countless people whose lives she has touched,” Frechette says. “We are happy to help her get through this with abundant community love, support and respect."

The benefit starts at 8 p.m. Friday, January 12, at the Mercury Cafe, 2199 California Street. Admission is free, but organizers are requesting a $15 donation. You can also contribute online; so far, over $5,000 has been raised on O'Neill Thorn's YouCaring account.

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Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.