When I arrived at Heathrow Airport, Kathryn was waiting for me at the gate. She insisted that picking me up from airport made the most sense and that it would get me to her house the fastest, helping me adjust to the time change. Since England is 8 hours ahead of California, I gladly accepted. Ten years ago, jet lag never fazed me and I would’ve insisted on taking a cab, bus or train… but times have changed (AKA I have aged), and now jet lag is crippling.
We met about five years ago in San Francisco when she was visiting her son, Jon, a good friend of mine and roommate at the time. We bonded instantly. Jon took us to his favorite brunch spot, then for a few afternoon cocktails in the Castro. Almost Halloween, the bars were packed with fabulous gay men in costumes and some of the best drag you’ve ever seen. A few drinks later, we’d made friends with an adorable young couple (one of which became my beloved hairstylist) who had us laughing so hard we cried. Later at dinner, we shared stories of heartbreak – we were officially friends – and Jon was officially embarrassed by the two women sitting at his table, crying in public. It was beautiful.
When I first mentioned that I was looking for a cozy getaway spot for a make-shift writing retreat, Kathryn instantly offered her vacation home in Sheringham. After searching the town on Google-image, I knew it was the right place. A small coastal town, with just enough to keep me occupied, but not enough to distract me from my mission. This was it!
The plan was to spend two nights with Kathryn and her husband at their home in Essex, then drive out to coast where they’d help me get settled for my solo adventure. As it turns out, this was an excellent plan. It gave me just enough time for a day-trip to London and to recover from the flight over. By the time we were in the car on our way to Sheringham, I was rested and ready.
Once we parked the car and unpacked our luggage, we took a stroll around town so that I could get acquainted. First, a walk to the seaboard, where we were pelted with wind and hail (and doubled over with laughter)! Then, a walk about town to point out the local market, pub, and theater company. After the tour, we settled into a local café for a cappuccino and crumpet. Now, I consider myself to be a pretty social person, but Kathryn has me beat. Everywhere we went people recognized her and stopped to chat. The café was no exception.
While sipping cappuccino and stuffing my face with crumpet, one of the owners of the café casually mentioned that they were hosting a Live Harp and Poetry Reading Night the next evening. Kathryn jumped at the idea, asking him what time it started and strongly encouraging me to attend. Poetry, wine, and harp music in a small seaside town? Sign me up!
The only problem was that most of my poetry lives in a notebook, back in the States. So, I could attend, but wouldn’t be able to share any work of my own. As fate would have it, that night the jet lag kicked in and I awoke at 2 AM and couldn’t fall back asleep. Annoyed, I reached for my phone to launch a meditation app in hopes it might coax me back to sleep, when I remembered – I’m here to write. There was no need to force myself to sleep. Time was on my side and I could write to my heart’s content.
And so I did. That night, I wrote two poems: one that I’m quite proud of and planned to share at the poetry reading, and another that is for my eyes only. Some things aren’t meant to be shared.
One of the first to arrive at Harp and Poetry night, I took the opportunity to chat with the owners and scout out a good seat. I sat next to a man named Gerard. He was originally from France, but had spent the last few decades in England, now calling it home. Poetry night was something he greatly enjoyed. Having been a part of the group for years, he’d acquired the role of translator: translating French poetry to English and English poetry to French. Not because it was necessary, but because it was lovely, and everyone in the group appreciated it.
As the remaining guests arrived, I realized this group had been meeting for years. They had a rhythm and cadence and routine. And yet they welcomed me with open arms. Nothing was awkward. At first I was afraid that I might not be up to the challenge, but they made me feel so welcome, I didn’t even hesitate when it came time to add my name to the list of readers.
Among those who read were a retired architect, professor, published author, preacher and others I didn’t have the pleasure to speak with. The topics were varied: wildlife, longing, sex, politics, anatomy, gardening, war, loss. Oh, and one man was FUNNY. I mean, stand-up-comedy kind of funny. Who knew that was even possible? Who knew poetry could be hilarious? Probably the same person who knew how captivating a harpist-storyteller could be.
When it was my turn to read, I stood up, shuffled my way to the front of the room, and read my soul and words aloud. I’ve grown somewhat accustomed to writing about my deep-dark feelings, but reading them out loud and in public is a completely different story. I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to it. My heart was pounding, my face was red, but I did it. Once I’d settled back into my seat, I turned to Gerard who looked at me and said “Very good. Your face is red.”
It’s not quite the compliment I was hoping for, but hey, it was honest. And I’ll always take honesty.
What stood out the most to me about that evening, was the passion in the room. Here was a group of people, united in their love of words. They helped each other grow, in confidence and skill. Month after month, year after year, they gathered to share their personal work or their favorite work by other poets. Not for profit, not for agenda, but for passion. For love.
We should all be so lucky to be part of a community like that.
P.S. This follows Part 2. Each part in this series is written by whim, not necessarily in chronological order or any order for that matter. Enjoy!