The Finale of National Poetry Month
By Max Stone
It’s a not-so-well-kept secret that Reno is home to a burgeoning literary community. As evidenced by the number of people who were packed into the community’s home base of sorts, Sundance Books and Music, on April 25, 2019 for the finale of the National Poetry Month Reading Series. As an English major at the University of Nevada, Reno, I can’t go to a reading like this without running into at least one of my professors or classmates, and with each event I attend the other faces are becoming more and more familiar. In this way, the link between the university and the larger community is palpable, and it’s an engaged and supportive environment. Sundance has been hosting National Poetry Month readings for 20 years; in that time over 100 poets have read their work while there have been some phenomenal visiting poets many were local Nevada writers.
The headliner to cap off National Poetry Month was Sherwin Bitsui, a poet from the Navajo Nation, who teaches at the Institute of American Indian Arts. Before he began reading Bitsui recommended we listen to his poetry with our eyes closed. I took his advice, and as he read sections from his book-length poems Flood Song and Dissolve, my mind was inundated with strange, unsettling, and beautiful images. Plastic bags, oil, water, crows, teeth, blood, coyotes, and other things swam, mixed and morphed in my head. Bitsui reads with a deep, echoing voice that is simultaneously commanding and vulnerable, adding to the spirituality of the experience. To me, his poetry style is like a stream of unconsciousness—a fragmented flow of words and a stacking of images that creates a destabilized, dream-like world that is somehow also alluring. A world that offers subtle yet subversive commentary on things like postcolonialism, racism, and the environment. A number of lines have stuck with me since the reading, and as I continue to turn them over in my head, new meaning emerges. There is a trust between poet and audience, and if you trust Bitsui and close your eyes while you listen to his voice, you’ll be surprised at what his words can do.
Gayle Brandeis, a local writer and professor at Sierra Nevada College (SNC), and Irene Ayala, an MFA student at SNC also read their work. As a young writer myself, it was refreshing to hear a diversity of voices ranging from graduate students to established writers.
Looking around the crowd, I noticed people of all ages engaging with the poetry. The room was replete with emotion and deep contemplation, as well as bursts of laughter and joy. Poetry connects people across even the widest chasms of human experience. The words start with the poet and become our own as we hear them, each person walk away with something different.
Here’s to another 20 years of National Poetry Month readings at Sundance!
Max Stone is an intern with Nevada Humanities. He is a senior at the University of Nevada, Reno, majoring in English Writing with a minor in Book Arts and Publication. Max is planning to graduate in December of 2019.