Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe: Hearing Jack McCarthy

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Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe

Hearing Jack McCarthy

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Jack McCarthy is back in town and last night I went to hear him. He lives out in Washington State now, so a local reading is a big deal for his friends and fans. This one was what a Jack McCarthy reading always is these days: a full house with the crowd enthusiastic to the point of worshipful and Jack, a little thinner but at the top of his game.

He’s a slam poet, but his poetry often has classical references. The poems often amble around in a deceptively chatty way before taking aim straight for the heart. I often find myself wanting to quote a line or idea of his, but the poems are so rambling that the set-up gets long when I try it. When Jack does it, you hang on every word.

He asked me to give him a word as a starting point--I was honored--and, just as I was about to say something like “street” I heard, in horror, the word “evanescent” coming out of my mouth. Not such a Jack McCarthy word, evanescent. But he went with it graciously and came up with a vaguely related poem that talked about watching television.

Jack’s reading was at the Cantab Lounge in Central Square, Cambridge. I hadn’t been there in a long time, but it’s the place I’ve considered my poetry home. I spent many a Wednesday night there, downstairs where they have poetry on Wednesdays--a two-hour open mic and then a feature and a slam, all while the ceiling is shaking from the music being played upstairs and the floor shivers periodically from the Red Line going by.

It’s the place where I first read my poetry in public and the place where I had my feature. It’s where I learned, by listening, how to read, and it’s the reason I always have a tender spot in my heart for the open mic. I know as well as anyone that an open is always unpredictable I’ve sat through my share of readers I was grateful were only going to be on for three minutes. And I’ve been there when reader after reader came up with such beautifully crafted and effectively delivered poems that I felt lucky to be in the room.

There’s wildly encouraging “first timer” applause at the Cantab, and often wildly encouraging applause and shouts and whistles after the poem, too. The Cantab, since its beginnings as a poetry venue, has been known for the quality of both the poetry and the audience enthusiasm. I was glad to see that those basics haven’t changed. It’s still the place where I learned to love reading. And it’s the place where I met Jack McCarthy.

Have you been there?

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