Northshore Magazine

April 2014

Northshore magazine showcases the best that the North Shore of Boston, MA has to offer.

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Community ne 44 nshoremag.com April 2014 photograph by joel laino ne most of us assume the purpose of a swimming pool is for, well, swimming— or that a bank is for keeping cash and a tattoo parlor for inking ankles. Colleen Michaels thinks otherwise. To Michaels, a Beverly-based, award- winning poet and director of the writ- ing center at Montserrat College of Art, such places are about rhythm and rhyme, stanzas and symbols, words and wonder. In fact, she has long believed that reading poetry is a community event. So, nearly three years ago, she founded The Improb- able Places Poetry Tour, now in its fourth season and nearing its 17th venue. It began one fall morning in 2010 when Michaels was walking to work and was struck at how much she loved downtown Beverly—its location by the sea, its grow- ing arts community, and its college-town feel. It seemed suited to her love for poetry. She'd been looking for a way to introduce her students as well as local residents to the poetry world that she is part of as a member of the Salem Writers Group and as a participant in the Massa- chusetts Poetry Festival. "I thought, 'Wouldn't it be great if I could somehow bring all of these things together?'" says Michaels. "I wanted my three loves to meet. So I walked into Cen- traal Cycle and asked [the owner], Mark, if he'd be open to a poetry reading in his store. He said, 'Sure, why not?'" So Michaels put out a call for poems about bicycling, and a few weeks later some 60 people showed up to hear 18 po- initiative Poetry of Place Montserrat College of Art affiliate Colleen Michaels sees the city of Beverly as a series of performance spaces. By Jo Kadlecek ets read their work. Some read for the first time; some wore biking shorts, others leaned against the pedals of their bikes. All enjoyed the gathering. Michaels knew something great had been born. She went to Montserrat for support, and since that first "improbable place," they've hosted 16 more readings—in places that include a Laundromat, a paint store, an art gallery, a diner, a flower shop, and even a YMCA swimming pool, where one poet read while in the pool. Because Michaels wants each reading to reflect a venue's unique characteristics, she announces a call for poems with spe- cific themes—most recently, she request- ed poetry about haircuts to be read in a barbershop, and chocolate for Winfrey's new Beverly branch. "Anyone can read [their work], and that's what makes this different," says Mi- Spoken Word Colleen Michaels brings poetry into the open. chaels. "There's a real democracy because some are prize-winning published poets [like January O'Neil] and others [are nov- ices who] have always wanted to [read]." Every reading has drawn standing room-only crowds. Montserrat provides chairs and a microphone, and students design posters and film the events. Since that first bike shop reading, the Massachusetts Cultural Council and sev- eral publications and media outlets have featured Michaels and her tour, encourag- ing others to create their own town tours, which couldn't make her happier. What's the next improbable place? "Probably a professional kitchen," says Michaels, "or a public service office. With poets [ranging in age] from five to 85 years old reading [who are] from so many back- grounds, we need bigger venues. This really is poetry for the people." montserrat.eduv REV_44_KJ Apr14 Poetry.indd 44 2/21/14 4:39 PM

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