Maybe my love of reading and writing came to me through the family tree. Maybe I took after my beautiful grandmother who also attended Syracuse University and became an English teacher. Maybe it was because my earliest memories involve my mother’s soft voice, nestled into her side while she read to me every night. Or maybe it was because my youth was spent at Lee-Whedon Memorial Library, thumbing all of the picture books in the children’s section before pleading for “just a few more” to take home.
Whatever the reason, I walked back through that children’s section the other night as an adult, now an English teacher, to greet a bevy of talented creatives including several exceptional writers from the senior class at Medina High School.
The unifying force that brought us together? Karen Jones. Fate landed me in this woman’s life this year, and though my tenure in her classroom has since ended, her effect on me has not. As the poetry editor for the Oak Orchard Review, a digital literary magazine focused on publishing those in the WNY region, Jones continues to inspire her students with efforts and opportunities that extend beyond the classroom walls. On this particular evening, members of her Creative Writing class sat in the audience, awaiting their opportunity to share their work publicly for perhaps the first time at the Review’s Open Mic Night.
I knew they were nervous, but after Jones opened the evening with her wit, candor, and boundless writing talent when sharing three pieces, the palpable tension softened and the students became eager to hear more. The stage at the back of the library welcomed other staff from the Oak Orchard Review, including non-fiction editor and prolific author Peggy Thomas as well as Jim Simon, who manages the Public Relations for the magazine. Thomas delivered an incredible short piece chronicling the intense turmoil surrounding her experience becoming a runner in “Couch to 5K and Back Again”, while Simon had the entire room grinning from ear to ear with a narrative piece in preparation for a poem entitled, “Smiles Have Ripples”. That night, Simon proved that they do.
In addition, the students and I heard from previously published authors of the Oak Orchard Review: Robert Frost and Kevin Gardner. Though the theme of the evening was “Wide Open Spaces,” one would have believed these poets had determined that “Roads” was the theme. Frost lived up to his literary namesake, and aptly delivered “Roads are Like People Sometimes” before helping us all discover the moments of inspiration in life with “This is Where We Find the Words”. Gardner followed with “Is My Road” and had the entire room intent on finding historic pop culture references in “Jesus is a Volkswagon Beetle.”
After a brief intermission and an overwhelming number of signatures on the open mic sign-up, the audience took the stage one by one with a range of authors and styles, led by Jones’ sister, Amy D’Amico, who proved that writing and creative talent indeed runs in the family. Sharon Larson inspired the room with her poetry, and admitted that having written for her entire life, she just recently started sharing her work publicly. In addition, John Klatt left the room breathless with a tribute to his wife, while Judy Clonan-Smith shared with us her “watershed moment” – the moment in life which changes a person forever. These adult poets reminded the room that pain is transformative and necessary for growth; a wise lesson we cannot hear enough.
Among the students who bravely took a turn at the microphone were Caitlyn McNeil, Aeddon Cayea, Alden Cayea, and Lincoln Pare, who ended the evening with a favorite: Rudyard Kipling’s “If”. The beauty of listening to the students was the range of style evident in their work – no two readings alike. It is my profound hope that the students in the room that evening continue to write, and in that practice realize the healing power that comes with putting pen to paper.
The literati can be found right here in Medina. All around us, creating and writing and reading in homes throughout Western New York. The evening at the back of the Lee-Whedon Memorial Library did so much more than simply entertain me; I am inspired and honored to have witnessed an outpouring of depth and truth from so many talented souls.
Sounds good, doesn’t it? Fortunately, the next Oak Orchard Review Open Mic has been set! Mark your calendars: writers and artists can take the main stage at the Orleans County 4-H Fair on July 26th at 7PM. See you at the Fair!