Poetry readings share a voice

Endya Watson

A diverse group of students and local residents gathered at Last Exit Books in downtown Kent for an open poetry reading Friday night.

The event was one of the monthly poetry readings that Major Ragain, an instructor of poetry at Kent State, has organized and hosted for the past 31 years. Ragain began the open poetry readings both because of his love for poetry and to provide a welcoming environment for new, returning, young and old poets in the community.

The group of about 20 poets and listeners freely shared both original poems and work published by others. Ragain believes sharing poems in this type of environment is more than just hearing words or rhymes. 

“I think of poetry as a conversation that we’re having with one another, and it’s part of the most intense and deep conversations that we’re able to have,” Ragain said. 

The night began with a poem titled “King of the River” read by Roger Di Paolo, editor of the Record-Courier and self-proclaimed mentee to Ragain. Di Paolo has been writing poems since high school and began participating in monthly poetry readings about two years ago.

The event continued on as one young woman shared her original poem about finding comfort after a heartbreaking situation. A former Kent State student gave a tribute to musician Lou Reed, and one older woman spoke of a mother’s despair when her child went missing. Each poem had its own rhythmical take on a difficult, new or exciting experience.

“I think the act of writing is, for me, a way of clarifying [a poet’s] own experience,” Ragain said. “It is a way of deepening the understanding of that experience.”

Ted Lyons, an instructor in the English department at Kent State, has been attending the open poetry readings for years and has sometimes shared his work.

“It’s always nice to read aloud to other people,” Lyons said. “It gives you a genuine sense of being heard.”

Lyons said listeners are always welcome; the poetry readings are not only about sharing a voice with the community but also about the value of listening to others.

Both Ragain and frequent members of the poetry readings are welcoming of new poets, whether they are writing for the first time or have been for years. Di Paolo said he started sharing at the open poetry readings because of words from Ragain.

“Maj [Ragain] told me ‘a poem is not a poem until you’ve read it out loud,’ ” Dipaolo shared with the group Friday night.

The next open poetry readings will take place at Last Exit Books on Feb. 21, March 14, April 11, and May 2-4 at the culminating Jawbone Open Poetry reading.

For more information regarding upcoming poetry readings, visit Standing Rock Cultural Center’s website. 

Contact Endya Watson at [email protected].