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Poem: An Old-Time Poetry Salon

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I recall a stuffy and pretentious scene
Before the days of poetry slams and open mikes,
Anachronistic even then.

Where gentlemen, in double-breasted suits,
Sat interspersed with frumpy wives:
Rouged, powdered faces under flowered hats,
Rose lips sipping tea.

Where I, unshowered and unshaven,
Felt badly out of place.

The urbane moderator called for volunteers
To read a chosen poem, which had to be
Original.

He asked a second time; I raised my hand.
"I have two poems, actually," I said.
"First a poem and then a second poem
About the first."

"Just read the poem," he bade, ambiguously.

And I began reciting "Xanadu,"
Which made a lady in the front row gasp.
Her husband glared and clucked at me.
The room broke out in coughs and clearing throats.

The moderator scolded me for reading Kipling's poem,
and not my own.

"Not Kipling, sir, but Coleridge," I pointed out.
"Besides, I thought it best to start
By reading his poem first, you see?
And then my poem about his poem—
To set a fitting context, as it were."

The moderator huffed and growled. "Cease babbling!
Either read your own work now or leave the stage—and
it had better be original!"

On that, I acquiesced and read my poem,
Which was so rich in "Xanadu" matériel—
Allusions, imagery, and quoted passages—
That it might be misconstrued as plagiarism.
So I glossed over most of these
And left too little for the audience
To understand (by God, they didn't).

I surveyed their befuddled faces, and
Vocally acknowledged something was amiss.
Yet all the snooty people did was titter.

Still, I proudly held the floor,
And, undeterred, began to read aloud again
From "Xanadu," this time from memory.

Then, suddenly, the audience transformed.
No more turning heads or tapping feet
Or rolling eyes or clearing throats.
Even the moderator was impressed!

My voice and mind were energized
By the passion they all felt,
The muse of poetry.

I finished reading and was spent.
The audience sat quietly at first
And gazed at me, no longer staring,
And I returned their furtive smiles.

Then, gradually, some rose to their feet.
And all began applauding, long and silently,
On fingertips—the gentlemen, bare-handedly,
The ladies, in their linen gloves.

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