Readers shared tales of loss, hope, love, and triumph at the sixth annual Norwalk Lit Crawl Tuesday, which also featured the announcement of William Hayden as Norwalk’s new Poet Laureate.
The event began in the Wall Street Theater’s lobby, where theater president Suzanne Cahill said that poetry is best enjoyed in intimate venues. More than 20 readers recited favorite poems and many spoke briefly about their selection’s personal meaning.
Hayden, a Norwalker since 1970, read two original poems, both odes to composition: Writing and Poem’s Turn. He hoped the first poem would “encourage people to write,” he said. Poem’s Turn was a reflection on how “as you write, your imagination gets fired up.”
The new poet laureate said afterwards that “it seems like there’s a move toward artistic and cultural energy in town,” citing programs like former Poet Laureate Laurel Peterson’s 2018 series of writer lectures and Norwalk’s growing number of galleries and entertainment options. His plans include poet talks, discussions, and events focused on “ekphrastic” poetry, in which poets write a poem based on a work of visual art.
Other poem selections ranged from the sweetly down-to-earth to the politically prescient. Peterson read her own poem, called Heaven, about what life on earth would be like six billion years in the future. Norwalk Reads Chairman Stephen Bentkover read beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s 2007 poem Pity the Nation, which some might say uncannily reflects the current state of politics. He followed it with The Game I Love, a bittersweet rumination on a childhood love of baseball.
Superintendent Dr. Steven J. Adamoswki read the iconic Invictus by William Henley with aplomb. Adamowski chose the poem, he said, because it is about transcending adversity and evil. “Many are not aware of the juxtaposition of its author and the late President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela,” Adamowski said.
Invictus became Mandela’s favorite poem, tucked in the pocket of his prison uniform and read every day of his 27-year sentence, Adamowski said.
Two-time cancer survivor and Board of Education member Heidi Keyes read a poem which echoed the theme of survival. Life by Charlotte Bronte “details varying perspectives of life,” she said.
Dentist Stuart Garrelick shared an anecdote from Peterson’s writing workshop, which he attended. Upon realizing that almost every other student was a writer or an English teacher, Garrelick felt intimidated, he said. When Peterson called upon him to read the poem he’d written, he replied that he’d read “only if I can be judged by a jury of my peers – poetry written by dentists.”
Brian Griffin, Executive Director of the Norwalk Chamber of Commerce and a LitCrawl organizer, closed out the Wall Street Theater portion of the evening with another selection by Ferlinghetti from Pictures of the Gone World.
Attendees proceeded from the theater to Fat Cat Pie Co., and settled in with slices and drinks as the crowd grew to over 100. Emcees Nori Grudin and Sherelle Harris, Assistant Director of the Norwalk Public Library System and a LitCrawl organizer, introduced each reader.
State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25) read I Promise Myself by Christian D. Larson, which he said he chose for its theme that people can change the world through positive thoughts and actions.
Jane Charles read a poem written by her son, a student at Norwalk Community College, called Forgotten Footprints.
Carla Conway, a former comic book writer for Marvel, breathed new meaning into the oft-recited The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost, dedicating it to the late Stan Lee.
Towards the end of the night, musician Riki Stevens performed an original song, Vacancy, and drew cheers for her powerhouse voice. “I just have to say, who knew?” Harris said afterwards.
The LitCrawl raised over $1,000 for Norwalk Reads. It brought together disparate lives and histories, distilled complex narratives and experiences, and offered strangers the chance to connect. A highlight for Harris was “the different types of people and the beauty of the people and the poems they read,” she wrote in an email. Bradley noted how thrilled she was that two readers each recited one of Ferlinghetti’s poems, and said she also enjoyed hearing artist Jo-Ann Claybourne read at Fat Cat.
The SoNo Branch Library will host an poetry open mic April 20 from 2-4 p.m.
All proceeds from the LitCrawl benefit Norwalk Reads, the children’s literacy organization which has given over 120,000 books to Norwalk kids.
NancyOnNorwalk was a media sponsor for the LitCrawl.