Hauling around old-style typewriters, Atrocious Poets want to make the world a bit lighter.
Hosting monthly Poetry-on-the-Spot events as part of 4th Fridays at the Starline Factory in Harvard and a recent poetry-writing marathon at the Old Courthouse in Woodstock, the poets hope to draw attention both to the group and poetry. It’s sort of like playtime with poetry, they say, because people need creativity. (And no, this entire story isn’t going to rhyme. That was the last time.)
“We want to take poetry off the page and get it out into the world and connect with the community and show people poetry doesn’t have to be that intimidating, formal thing from your high school English class,” said Jessica Campbell of Woodstock, a relative newcomer to the group, which formed about two years ago.
With the month of April being National Poetry Month, the group has taken on more of an outreach role. It was created by Sophie Juhlin of Woodstock as a way for writers to regularly meet up and share poems and ideas.
Juhlin had written poems in college and couldn’t find a community of poets in Woodstock, so she created her own group. She chose the name based on a now-defunct blog, Poetrocities, she and a college friend had created.
“I incorporated the name into the group as a way to keep it lighthearted to make sure people don’t take us too seriously,” said Juhlin, who works at Read Between the Lynes in Woodstock and is called “the den mother” of the group.
“I think that poetry can be done by everybody, and it should be done by everybody,” she said, suggesting Walt Whitman as a good introductory poet. Her other favorites are Alice Notley and Carl Phillips.
At the group’s inaugural April 8 Poetry-on-the-Spot Marathon to benefit the Old Courthouse in Woodstock, passersby offered topics and they wrote poems, or as they say, “quirky verse.” The roughly 30 poems are posted on the courthouse walls, where they will remain throughout the month.
The group’s six or seven members – of all different ages and with a variety of day jobs – wrote about grandparents, spring flowers, mozzarella sticks, pretty much anything and everything.
At the end of the month, those who suggested the topics are invited to claim the poems they inspired. Donations to the Old Courthouse, in need of restoration, are encouraged.
The event is one of several the group has and will host to draw attention to the importance of poetry, members say. They regularly bring their typewriters – most given to them – to the 4th Fridays art events in Harvard. The next one begins at 6 p.m. April 28 at the Starline, 300 W. Front St. The group also intends to host on-the-spot and “performance art poetry” at farmers markets on the Woodstock Square.
They’d like to eventually create a book and have left free poems in jars at businesses and the library in Woodstock for anyone to pick up.
Poetry can create that relatable moment in which someone puts something in just the right words, Campbell said.
“They’re not all beautiful, perfect poems. There’s a reason we’re called the Atrocious Poets. They’re not all going to be sparkling gems,” she said of the poetry created on the spot. “Some of them are going to be silly and not the best thing you ever read. We sort of accept that, embrace that.
“It’s just another way to say this is fun. It can just be a weird, quirky thing. People have this impression that poetry can only be highly serious and literary, and I think it can be a great way to connect with people and say, ‘This is how I see a mozzarella stick. This is how I see spring.’ ”
An amateur writer, Dawn Zehr discovered the group on Facebook – www.facebook.com/atrociouspoets/ – about a year ago. Writing as long as she can remember, with high school journals to prove it, she likes the feedback members provide.
“This is something I just do for love and no money,” she said.
The typewriters prevent the writers from getting stumped, for the most part, as they say they simply must push through it.
“Some of them are terrible,” Zehr said of the poems, “but some of them hit the mark.”
“Sometimes, people will cry or gasp or become kind of emotional about it when they read the poem you wrote. Some people complain that the dog in the poem was brown and not black. There are a wide variety of reactions to poems.”
The point is there are reactions, members say.
“Our goal, as we sort of interact with the public, is really to be an introduction to poetry and to allow people to experiment with it,” Zehr said. “Poetry doesn’t have to be wearing a beret and smoking a French cigarette.”