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  • Last night I was invited to read at a local venue that bills itself "A Center of Social Innovation" to drum up interest for a weekly poetry night. They also host art exhibitions and rock bands, offering a welcome source of counter-culture in an otherwise mainstream town. Naturally I want to encourage these fledgling hipsters who are bold enough to strut their skinny jeans in a climate that seems more often than not indifferent to the arts.

    I invited several students to read with me and glowed as they shared their words, some of which were inspired by my writing prompts. A few regulars and townies also read, including one single mother who was gleefully applauded by her two and three year olds. "Nate! Nate!" the audience requested and a dreadlocked young man strode forth to speak several of his memorized poems into the mic. As an academic I thought of the origins of the lyric--how people carried poems inside their heads to deliver them to others.

    Despite our common interest in poetry--which is a rarity akin to spotting a Wagtail off course during migration--we still segregated into townies and academics. Being the oldest reader, I tried to initiate conversation between the groups, but I may as well have been blowing bubbles into a sandstorm.

    Of course, I remember waiting tables during college. I aligned myself with townies, who I respected as real, rather than students tripping across lawns at 2 a.m., seemingly oblivious to hardship, economic or otherwise. Standing in front of roomfuls of faces year after year, you come to recognize that you just don't know what another person is going through, how close they're living to the edge. The preppiest looking student lost his dad at eighteen. The most confident looking one recently came out. The longest-limbed looker was giving us her virgin reading.

    We make camps to own one. Fly some sweet ragamuffin flag or plant one on a team's field. Sometimes that's the point--to cheer ourselves--and sometimes we need to remember the whole reason we donned Shirts vs. Skins in the first place was because we wanted somebody to play.
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