Author: Sam Buisman
It’s Saturday night at a packed bar on Madison’s north side. Friends laugh and joke with one another, jazz music quilts the room, and a pair of bartenders scramble to fix drinks.
But then, the lights go down, illuminating a stage on which stands a single microphone. Silence and anticipation grip the room.
And then, poetry begins. Poets from across the Midwest and country took the stage to recite stirring works evoking ambition, abandon and everything in between.
This is Monsters of Poetry, a semi-regular poetry reading series featuring young, regional poets. Now in its eleventh year, the series aims to build community among Madison writers and poetry enthusiasts while remaining accessible and inclusive of newcomers.
Monsters of Poetry regular Nick Sengstock described the readings as both moving and enriching.
“Especially with poetry, it’s tapping into something innately human,” said Sengstock. “I think that sharing of experience is really powerful and beneficial.”
The co-founder and co-curator of Monsters of Poetry, Adam Fell, said that he was motivated to start the series because Madison was lacking such an event for contemporary poetry.
“There was like a lot of cool stuff going on, but it was all very nebulous, all over the place,” said Fell. “We wanted to start the reading series to have a place for all the really cool contemporary poetry that we knew was happening to coalesce and become part of the art scene.”
According to Fell, the readings draw a crowd of about 100 and rotate to different bars across Madison. Saturday’s reading was hosted by the North Street Cabaret. Co-Curator Aaron Fai said that staging the readings at bars is a conscious choice by the organizers.
“We pride ourselves on being casual,” said Fai. “We’re usually at a bar or someplace where you can, bring your friends and have a really good time.”
Fell described the overall experience as something completely different than reading poetry.
“You can feel the ripples and the adrenaline and different people reacting,” said Fell. “That’s the big difference, that it’s a performative act, whereas reading is a very personal act.”
The readings also benefit the poets themselves. Edgar Kunz, one of three poets at Saturday’s reading, said that reading his poems to an audience is a crucial part of his revision process.
“I can trick myself into thinking anything is good if I write it down on the page and I never say it out loud,” said Kunz. “but the second that I have an audience and I have to read it in front of them, my bullshit detector becomes very precise.”
Listen to the audio version of this story to hear Kunz perform “Salvage,” a poem from his new collection “Tapout.”
And don’t let the name scare you. For an event called Monsters of Poetry, everything was very human.