Roses are red, violets are blue; Our Chion Wolf is the emcee of something fun and new.
It’s called “Other People’s Poems,” and this past July, the CT Public Radio host marked a full year of the once-a-month free event in Hartford. How this event started is very personal for Wolf.
“After my wife moved out, after my divorce, I wanted to have different energy in my house and in the land that I’m care taking. I needed more poetry in my life. I missed that feeling of expressing and reading and feeling the human experience in a way that everybody can understand and share,” she said. “And so, I started this in my backyard and invited some people I knew and was powerful from the start.”
Of course, after a few months, summer turned to autumn, and Wolf accepted an invitation from Lelaneia Dubay to relocate the event to Dubay’s woman-owned organic distillery across from Real Art Ways, the Hartford Flavor Company. There’s no charge for admission, but the bar offers a wide variety of locally made libations. While it’s fine to just sit and enjoy the event, participants are encouraged to sign up for one of 25 slots, and read a poem.
Any poem? Yes, so long as it’s not your own. This is called “Other People’s Poems” for a reason. Regular attendees have recited classics from Shakespeare to Langston Hughes to Robert Frost, as well as some truly awful poems whose rhymes beg to be mocked. A participant once read the lyrics to “Dancing Queen” by ABBA, while another recited the words to “The Rainbow Connection,” famously sung by Kermit the Frog.
The gatherings occur on the first Friday of every month, and while it’s not meant to be an LGBTQ+-centric event, it’s always been queer-friendly.
“The struggles that we’ve gone through and the way we’ve moved throughout the world informs the kind of poetry that heals us and we can access. And so, I can say with all my heart, that everybody brings to OPP that sort of desire to connect,” said Wolf.
And those who recite a poem from memory win a very unusual prize, Wolf told CT Voice.
“I am turned on when somebody has memorized a poem,” she said. “I think it’s just incredibly sexy and wonderful and exhilarating, frankly, and feels nostalgic to me. So, I wanted to reward people who have a poem memorized and were devoted to the poem so deeply, that they would take the time to memorize it. And so, the loofahs are for anybody who has it committed to memory. Why a loofah? Because it’s a cheap prize, because it’s a ridiculous word, and because you should change your loofahs once a month.”
Sometimes a theme emerges, related to the season, a holiday, to grief, love, or heartbreak.
“Something special happens every single time, and not just like eerie coincidences. Themes evolve that touch so many people in the room,” Wolf said. “Every single time, something extraordinary happens. And that, I think, is a combination of the people who are drawn to an event like this and the spirit of the idea that, in the first place, poetry can speak for all the ways that we share this wild human experience.”