It was four in the morning. A man whose pockets were bursting with poems took the stage at Lawn Gnome Publishing. A meager crowd sleepily clapped. It was only 10 hours into a 24-hour poetry reading. We had a long way to go.
The 24 Hour Poetry Reading started 6 p.m. Friday and ended 6 p.m. Saturday. There was one goal: Never stop reading poetry for 24 hours.
The event was an intimate affair, so intimate at times the audience consisted of me and event host David Tabor.
The crowd was a rotating mixture of poets, random wanderers, drunken Lost Leaf patrons and one middle-school-aged girl who shared a poem about cats.
The quaint group, however, created a unique experience. With a small audience, many poets felt comfortable enough to share poems that were new, works-in-progress or rarely performed. People were able to see the inner workings of a poet’s brain as they shared the inspiration for individual works, which the audience enjoyed because hey, we had time.
7:00 A.M. – 13 HOURS IN
Only a small, disheveled crowd had stuck through the night. A young man dressed in a plaid shirt laid on the ground after finishing his Budweiser around sunrise. Another man, sporting a Snuggie tucked underneath a leather jacket, sprawled across a bench. A third man unzipped the tent he had stayed in and stepped outside.
Everyone showed signs of sleep deprivation from drooping eyes to yawns. Except for Crazy Eddie.
Crazy Eddie, his stage name, had performed several times during the open mics that filled the silence in between 16 scheduled sets. While I struggled to keep my eyes open, he animatedly talked to me about the movie he wanted to create.
As the hours ticked by and the number of poets dwindled, the featured poets’ sets stretched from the original 30 minutes to an hour — even three in one case.
After spending a night together, the audience had bonded over a shared dedication to a lack of sleep.
Joy Young, the 7 a.m. featured poet, took the stage and contemplated sharing work she rarely performed.
“There are five people here. Two of them are prone,” Bill Campana, another featured poet, said with encouragement, “How tough of an audience?”
The 24 hours allowed open mic poets to share a large quantity of work.
When poets took the stage Friday night, some would ask “How much time do I have? How many poems can I do?”
The response was the same, “We have 24 hours. We got time.”
Poets enjoyed the opportunity to read in excess, especially the newer poets performing during the open mic periods who seized the opportunity with a smile.
The lengthy event posed a challenge: How were 24 hours going to be filled with poetry? Especially when an average haiku only takes 10 seconds to perform. That’s roughly 6 haikus per minute, 360 haikus per hour and 8,640 haikus per 24 hours.
FLASHBACK: FRIDAY 6:00 P.M.- 0 HOURS IN
Campana arrived a little after the start of the event to find Tabor reading poetry from “Tao Te Ching” to an audience consisting of Lawn Gnome owner Aaron Johnson, a man with many piercings and myself.
He quickly hopped on stage to relieve Tabor. Not wanting to spoil his later feature, Campana recited work he performed less often.
the blond chick would not give me
the two-dollar student discount
even after I told her
we all learn something new everyday—
like whatever, professor blond chick!
9:30 A.M. – 15 HOURS IN
I awoke from a quick snooze to find Campana on stage again in order to keep the event going. He had resorted to giving a plot summary of each episode of an “Andy Griffith Show” spin off he created starring the character Aunt Bee.
He looked up from his reading, chuckled and said, “It’s just Dave and the Reporter.”
The night and day had worn me down. I sat on one of the outdoor couches with a dazed look. The last time I had eaten was around midnight, but I was too exhausted to be hungry.
I became a performance poetry aficionado overnight: Anyone who could bring me out of a daydream 17 hours in had skill. But only the talented ones could halt me mid-sip of my coffee.
The good poets would embody their poem through posture, gestures, accents and emotion. Each word was said with pointed emotion.
That includes Mikel Weisser, who drove from Kingman, Ariz., to perform a passionate set to fewer than ten people at four in the morning. He would change his voice as needed, sometimes adopting a Western accent. He garnered enthusiastic claps from the audience, well, as much enthusiasm as a sleep-deprived audience can muster.
Others had yet to master the art of entertaining us zombies in the crowd. They would go up, say their bit and we would half-heartily clap. Is it too much to ask for a little theatricality? I would only clap to keep myself awake.
Twenty-four hours of poets and poems allowed for a range of emotions. There were comedic elements, such as Tabor’s “Taco Bell Haiku.”
Ran for the border.
Then I ate nine chalupas.
Ran for the toilet.
And works that touched on social injustices, like Tristan Marshell’s “Negro.” Part of which read:
i bit my lip and held my tongue. the way i saw my father do when the motel sign flashed vacancy. with only two cars in the lot. but there was no room for us. so we drove to the next. and the next. and slept in the car.
3:00 P.M. – 21 HOURS IN
The afternoon was a blur of heat and coffee, which peaked when the bear arrived.
A man in a full-body bear suit sat down and occasionally scratched his ear. He performed one poem (struggled to turn the pages with his bear paws) then left. From the stage, Tabor watched him walk down the street alone.
Several popular downtown poets performed throughout the 24-hour period, including Manifest Destiny, the Klute and Shawnte Orion.
This was Tabor’s second 24-hour poetry reading. He co-hosted a reading five years ago at Chryo Arts before it closed in 2010. Tabor said he didn’t know if he would do another one, it took him five years just to do this one. He decided to host the event in April because it was National Poetry Month, he said.
The idea came from Scott Woods, who ran a 24-hour poetry reading in Ohio, Tabor said.
Johnson said Lawn Gnome would consider doing another event like this.
The event was live streamed with only a couple glitches. It was also the first amplified event to successfully run all night on Fifth Street, Johnson said.
6:00P.M.- 24 HOURS IN
A couple of individuals stayed for an incredible amount of time, but by closing ceremonies, only Tabor and I had stayed the full 24 hours.
As I made my way home from the event I noticed a peculiar habit: all my thoughts seemed to rhyme and have their own rhythm. I think 24 hours of poetry had taken its toll on me.
Correction: April 24, 2013
A previous version of this article named the event’s host as David Tador and the poet from Kingman as Steve Weiss.
Contact the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org