Alessandra Lynch walked in front of her first class of freshmen on day one of teaching, tense and questioning if this was the right decision.
"I was nervous as all get-out," says Lynch, thinking back on her time as a teacher's assistant in the MFA program of the Iowa Writer's Workshop. "It was a baptism by fire ... But then I realized no one was throwing tomatoes at me or defying me. They were all just sitting in their chairs waiting for me to speak. Once I started talking about poems, I realized how much I liked talking about poems and sharing ideas."
Today Lynch, a Butler English professor, compares the first-time experience of teaching to the same kind of rush of nervousness that comes with a poetry reading — something that she and another teacher and Indy poet, Callista Buchen, will be doing under the Soft River Reading Series umbrella. The next reading in the series is slated for Thursday.
"[Doing a reading] was similar to my first experience teaching," says Lynch. "I walked in through the door and some part of me was shaking — could have been my knees or my elbows — and once I started to read I was fine because I was inside the poem."
Soft River Readings began as organically as the name might suggest. Local poet Wendy Lee Spacek debuted the series shortly after she moved to Indianapolis in 2011. She wanted a way to maintain her writing practice. Chris Newgent with Vouched Books, a pop-up reading series centered on small press books, asked Spacek to host a reading.
"I don't really ask people to read, usually people ask me," says Spacek. "Or I will meet someone when I am on tour reading and ask them to read later."
The series has become a showcase for local writers from Chicago, Bloomington and other spots around the Midwest. Each one that's put on is purely a passion project and act of love from the readers.
"It's not profitable," laughs Spacek. "There is no money involved [aside from some donated gas money]."
After Lynch attended her first Soft River reading she quickly saw the way that even non-poets felt about the series — that the cultural connection was a the thread of the series.
"Some people who were there wrote poetry, others were there who just appreciated poetry," says Lynch. "And I love that. Often you find in other places that [at the formal poetry readings] lots of poets go to the poetry readings. But poets like other people listening to their poems. That's one of the things — that kind of connection to the community through poetry is pretty spectacular.
"There is a saying in poetry that you can hear it somewhat on the page, but to hear the poet actually sing it to you can be a great experience. I enjoy doing it."
Lynch's own work often focuses on the celebration of imagination, loss and the natural world — all things that come through very lyrically in her pieces.
"Too often we don't allow our minds to open up and soar, and skip around, and play, and invent and discover," says Lynch. "I guess when I say imagination I'm including things like fresh discovery and playfulness and acceptance of what is wild and strange and unbidden."
Her work often comes from the same kind of vulnerable connection to the world around her that she says is often at the readings.
"When I am feeling connected to everything: the world, nature, the air, myself, I am very open to whatever might pour in or drip into my mind," says Lynch. "If I have the space for it or the time, everything is in sync ... More recently I have been meditating on violence ... even the last Soft River Reading I went to there were many poems about that. It seems to be in the air."
Buchen, who has read at Indy Reads Books, has seen the impact that new perspectives have on young writers. (Her own writing began when she was writing a family newspaper with her mother's typewriter as a kid. Just last October she published a book called The Bloody Planet
"I teach creative writing and my students are afraid of poetry; they think it's dead and no one is doing it, and it doesn't make any sense," says Buchen. "They come to class with this sort of notion that it's too hard to be useful. What I love about the readings is the literature is so alive. The room gets a feeling and you can sort of feel the excitement and they are really on, right, and every one is wrapped and paying attention. I love the way literature is alive during readings."
Soft River Reading
Jan. 21, 7 p.m.
Featured poets: Alessandra Lynch, Callista Buchen, Natalie Solmer, Allyson Horton
(all from Indianapolis)
PrintText, 652 E 52nd St
Free, but donations encouraged.