Nearly Seven Years of ‘So We Did’
The InKY Reading Series and An Interview with Lynnell Edwards
The series starts promptly at 7pm. There is a half hour of open mic readers, followed by a half hour set by a musical guest. The last hour is divided amongst the featured readers. While not always centered on poetry (the series also ventures into fiction and drama), the event on the 12th saw the poetry of Merle Lyn Bachman and Matthew Lippman.
After the open mic gave way to a few brave, local readers, Adam Hardesty opened with an acoustic set reminiscent of Amos Lee or Joshua Radin. A crowd of about thirty people packed into the dimly lit back room.
Host Lynnell Edwards introduced poet Merle Lyn Bachman to read first. Her poems, especially “The Burning,” are filled with esoteric imagery and lingering backgrounds. She was also unafraid to throw in a little Yiddish, which added character, as well as an intriguing personal background, to the poems.
Closing the reading was Matthew Lippman, whose poetry seems to be applicable to every walk of life. Lippman read poems that drew upon memories that anyone above twenty-four could relate to. Or as he said, make “everyday stuff manageable.” This essence permeates his work, whether he is describing his wife in “Sweet Mama,” or is being an adult immersed in a younger man’s world, as in “The Fraternity.”
InKY draws a good crowd, which is difficult in Louisville sometimes. They’ll be doing it all again on Friday, December 10.
Below is a short interview with curator of the InKY series, Lynnell Edwards. Enjoy.
CW: What is the overall mission of the InKY reading series?/How long has the InKY series been going on?
L.E: I’m going to answer these two questions together by way of a little bit of backstory to the organization. The InKY (short for “In Kentucky”) Reading Series began in February 2004, at a different venue, and was started by local poet and writer Erin Keane when she was in the Spalding low-residency MFA program. In the fall of 2005, I became involved with InKY after moving back to Louisville from Portland, OR where I had been living and teaching for eleven years. At that point, Erin and I began working on setting up InKY as a non-profit organization. She had already incorporated InKY as InKY,inc. with the state of Kentucky, and we had a successful two-year history of activity, so the paperwork and process was not that bad though getting through the bureaucracy took about a year, all told. As a non-profit, we developed a board and began some modest fundraising and some thinking about what other types of programming we might like to do. Our mission (the official statement for which we’re still wordsmithing and which still sounds a little mission statement-ish) is to engage readers and writers through diverse and dynamic literary arts programming. To that end, this year we’ve started a writers workshop series on Saturday mornings after the Friday night reading and we hope to launch a small literary festival in the fall of 2011.
CW: Tell me about the other folks you work on the series with.
L.E: We have a reading series committee that currently consists of myself, the novelist and assoc. professor of English at U of L, Brian Leung, who is also on our Board, and Erin, though she is no longer on the Board. Marcy Warner coordinates the musicians and does a terrific job of tapping her network — which is great, because the last time I knew what was what in music in Louisville was Tweligan’s, 1989.
CW: What is your favorite thing about curating the series?
L.E: I really enjoy the committee approach to curating the series because first, I enjoy Brian and Erin’s company and the lively conversations we have about literature and who’s new and who’s interesting and what we’ve read or heard that we’ve got to share with a wider audience. I also love the wide open canvas of a full season and thinking about how we can create a really terrific mosaic of genres and styles and personalities. We really try to keep all kinds of diversity in front of us and are always asking things like: would it be good to try and bring in another fiction reader? Or someone who has new work in CNF? Or what about pairing this young Affrilachian writer with this more established poet?
I also like the way this committee approach keeps us honest about our mission and who we’re bringing in to read. I think it’s possible, if you’re working in a silo on a reading series, to let it become to much of a you-read-for-me-and-I’ll- read-for-you sort of prospect. The lit-biz engine is fueled by a lot of backscratching and it’s possible to lose sight of what’s really important as a literary arts organization: bringing readers and writers together through great, new literature.
CW: What are the best and worst things about the venue?
L.E: We have the happy problem in our new location of attendance being greater than the space can comfortably hold. So, seating, and noise from the adjacent bar/restaurant is a problem. The proprietor of the Bard’s Town, Doug Schutte, did purchase and install an acoustic curtain, but was unable to close it for November’s reading with Matthew Lippman because there were too many people standing in the entrance-way. That intimacy, though, is also one of best things; it feels like a little bit of a party, particularly after the readings when people are getting books signed This location is also bringing in a new crowd, including more students from the local creative writing programs. We had a great crowd of regulars at our prior location, but what I’m seeing now is a lot of different faces for each different event. There are definitely regulars, but I like that the total pool of people attending seems much larger. The food here is terrific as well and the staff seems really committed to helping to make each event a success.
CW: What is your favorite memory over the last couple of years with InKY?
L.E: Oh, boy. Lots of great moments. I think in general I love it when someone turns out to be waaaay better than we had expected. Some relative newcomer, perhaps someone without even a chapbook or a story published in a national journal, or who’s work perhaps seems a little unremarkable on the page, gets on stage and really lights it up. I won’t name names here, because I know it sounds like a back-handed compliment to a writer, but a guy who had lobbied hard for a spot several years ago and whose work was, in my mind, o-kay, got on stage and just did a fantastic job; he was wonderful, a better and more generous and appropriate reading than the two highly-published “headliners” we had scheduled that night. In another case, a guy who was, I think, just an undergraduate at UK, gave this amazing dramatic monologue from a one-man show he’d been working on and it just completely rocked. Playwrights who can perform, or at least read effectively, their own work, is something I’d like to see more of on the InKY stage.
For that reason too, I think open mic is always exciting. Of course, a lot of open mic is, well, open mic stuff. But every once in a while you get a “Who was that guy?!” or a “Where has she been hiding out? That girl can write!” or someone who is just, at the prodding of his friends and the promise of a free beer, getting up there to share that one poem he wrote to his girlfriend, and he’s reading it from his phone, in fact, and it’s just a lovely moment, a glimpse at how imaginative writing really works in the lives of people and how important what it provides can be.
Sometimes, too, the whole of a particular combination of readers and musician turns out to be greater than the sum of its parts. For instance, last January we almost canceled InKY because it was bitter, bitter cold and icy outside. One of our readers, Jeanie Thompson from Alabama, was debating whether she should cancel her flight, and the other Cecilia Woloch from Los Angeles, was already here visiting family and friends but was driving over from Lexington. We worried no one would come, or that once we got there we’d get iced in.
But, the show must go on, so we did. The musician that night was a very young woman, Alanna Fugate, who opened the evening with an achingly beautiful and authentic set. Both Jeannie and Cecilia warmed in some way to this young, lyric songwriter and picked up some of her themes in their readings. Jeanie read luminous poems that traveled from Alabama moonlight to Italy, and Cecilia, bundled onstage in a scarf she had borrowed, shared with characteristic wit and beauty, poems about her Kentucky girlhood, the knotted mystery of love, and the dark wonder of her ancestral home, Carpathia.
— Christopher Walker