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Poetry, books and me

By: Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times

Before the pandemic hit, and shut down much of what we took for granted, I ran a monthly poetry slam at the Grayson Gallery & Art Center. It was a labor of love for me. Something that I genuinely enjoyed sharing with the community and something that I like to think meant just as much to those regular participants. 

Language and the written word have always been important to me. I read over a hundred books for a Multiple Sclerosis Read-A-Thon when I was in the third grade. My father, though, whose co-workers had sponsored me for up to ten cents a book or more in some instances – against his warnings that I was a voracious reader – would only let me claim 100. It was still enough to make me the top reader in the contest and won me a ten speed bicycle. 

In the eighth grade I won my school’s creative writing award. Though I had some academic setbacks early in my high school years, largely due to a personality conflict with a freshman English teacher (who chastised me for reading ahead of the class in Great Expectations), by my junior year I had a teacher who recognized my writing. It was she who got me back on an honors English track by my senior year. But though I was always confident in my writing, I wasn’t a confident speaker. 

It was poetry, and my good friend – the poet and writer Jacob Rakovan – who got me to come out of my shell by goading me into reading my work in front of others. Within the year I was not only a regular reader at open mic events, I was helping organize and sometimes hosting. 

When I left Kentucky for Austin, TX it was the poetry slam community there who became my surrogate family. It was there I made life-long friends I still stay in contact with to this day. It was also there that my love for music really blossomed and I began putting together all the lessons of high school band and open mic jam sessions. There was a lot of overlap between the two groups, especially at the Ruta Maya coffee house I frequented, and I took it all in. 

It was an amazing time for me, and that’s what I wanted to help create for others when I started the poetry slam in Grayson – and we were starting to get there too, in our own eastern Kentucky way. It wasn’t what I planned, but it was becoming its own creature. Growing up and surprising me, the way I’m sure my son will do. Then, the pandemic hit, and it all shut down. 

It’s probably for the best, in some ways. I doubt I could keep up with this new paper and dedicate the kind of time to the slam that it deserved. But that doesn’t change the fact that I miss it, and the new community that was growing up around it. When we finally get on the other side of this virus, I’m looking forward to starting it up again. I’m not sure how. Maybe it will return to the gallery. Maybe the library. Maybe somewhere else. But I know one thing, I never took it for granted, even before the pandemic hit. If any of our old readers come back around again, I hope they won’t either; and I hope it has the same sort of impact on them that those early readings and slams did on me. 

Jeremy D Wells can be reached at editor@cartercountytimes.com 

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