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Author Wed Mar 19 2014

The Open Door Series: March

The reading room at the Poetry Foundation is filled a quarter-way with quiet reverent conversation.

It is March's Open Door Series, featuring Brett Foster and Srikanth Reddy and the room seems intentionally wanting. An open podium stands dramatically lit at its head; scattered lights give the illusion of luminescence but it's a dim, half-hearted brightness, and the blue dusk outside seems brighter.

Beyond the podium stands a courtyard of saplings that further indict anticipation itself as the prologue to the evening. Beyond that, an impossible wall of books.

Under their seats, the March issue of the Foundation's poetry magazine. A cleaner exits a distant doorway guiding a wheeled trashcan and disappears once again, marring and complicating the shelf of numerous journals and novels and anthologies and likely many editions of To the Lighthouse.

When Robert Polito, the Poetry Foundation president, took the stand to introduce Mr. Foster and Mr. Reddy, we were at attention.

The monthly Open Door series is a means of focusing the community and celebrating specific mentors and students from Chicago's many graduate and undergraduate programs. Tonight's event attracted a fair crowd -- the applause was loud and filled the space; the laughter was real and complete; the silences were heavy and concentrated. There seems no better mascot for events like these than the Pegasus of the Poetry Foundation's logo: muscle, winged and flying.

Each professor introduced their student, and so the poems began to roll from the podium. Dayna Clemons began and presented a portfolio at once bold and at home with itself. She possesses a confident voice, at times both funny and bravely sentimental.

Subjects included Telemachus, exotic pets, parasitic twins and Delia Bacon. One poem, dedicated to her best friend Seth in the event of a breakup, called "Advice," succeeded in citing Vanilla Vodka and cigarettes without irony.

It was exciting to see such pride radiating from the front row. Suits and button-ups laughing, amazed and smiling at young people, awesome in their easy, unpretentious talent. There is a sweet moment that repeated again and again, when a professor hears a familiar title and nods and his face opens, excited by the prospect of returning to a place he has happily been before.

Clara Mitchell, recent graduate of Divinity School, read elegies, two-voice poems, and love poems. Her language was clipped and resonant. I was blown away by her words. They came from someplace else. I trusted every beat. When her Wendy, in a Peter Pan homage (of the J.M. Barrie) says "I am not your mother," I was scribbling furiously to remember the rest of it, realizing too late that I'd just heard something that would stay with me if I wished it.

The evening was equal parts light and dark - Foster dropped Facebook, Wes Anderson and Cormac McCarthy; Reddy deconstructed and elongated the history and influence of Esperanto. There were jokes aplenty - gin for gym, a pun on puns; an extended metaphor with Purple Martins that nearly made me cry; a cuttlefish glowing; horses described as "ovarine and pearl-slathered".

It was an evening of celebration and mutual admiration. After all authors left the podium and the applause subsided, books were signed and poets lingered and talked for a good while after.

Described as "an honor" by almost every reader, any audience-member could feel the prestige and importance of the event, both in the professional lives of these poets and as a community. The Open Door is an invaluable metaphor, and an even better reading series.

The next Open Door will take place on Tuesday, April 15 at 7pm at the Poetry Foundation on 61 West Superior Street. Admission is free! Make plans to come.

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