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Poets come clean at Beverly laundromat

Posted by Sean Teehan  February 11, 2011 10:59 AM

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Shari Caplan stood in front of a crowd of about 60 people last night, reading an original piece at a poetry reading.

She received a resounding ovation from the audience, some of whom came to hear poems, others who came to wash their socks.

Last night marked the third event of the "Improbable Places Poetry Tour," a series that brings poetry readings to Beverly locations where people are libel to stumble upon the reading. It took place at the Salem Laundry Co. on Cabot Street.

"I think it's really fun because it's informal," Caplan, a Salem State University student, said as she walked past the wall of coin-operated dryers after the reading. "It's not intimidating to go to a laundromat, whereas going to a book store or cafe for a reading might be too intimidating."

As people filled chairs set up in the narrow passage between the washing machines and staked claim to mounted chairs that lining the walls before the reading, Colleen Michaels, director of the writing center at Montserrat College of Art, reflected on her brainchild.

"I was playing with the idea of 'what if you found a poetry reading,' " Michaels said.

"Improbable Places," in part, is Michaels' way of getting poetry out into the community, she said. With the Beverly Cultural Council funding the project and the cooperation of local business owners, her vision is panning out.

"It's just [about] the community coming together," Michaels said.

The tour began in October when poets and enthusiasts gathered with customers at Central Cycle on Cabot Street for a reading at the bicycle shop. The second event took place inside the pool at the Cabot Street YMCA, where one poet sported a full wet suit as she read her water-themed poem.

"The place dictates the theme," Michaels explained.

Last night, professional writers along with poets from Montserrat, Endicott College, and Salem State bared their souls with poetic approaches to fabric softener and fresh linen.

"It throws you off kilter as a poet, it makes you a better poet," said Jennifer Jean, a poet whose work has appeared in the pages of the Denver Quarterly and Cake Train. Jean, one of 12 poets who read last night, performed a poem recalling a laundromat in the California neighborhood in which she lived as a child.

Watching the reading with a friend, Montserrat freshman Melissa Tremblay noted the different atmosphere the reading had than others she has attended.

"This one's definitely kind of cooler," Tremblay, who also writes poetry said. "I never thought to write a poem about laundry, I might go home now and write one."

Michaels lauded the crowd's size as she opened the reading.

"This is a weird thing," Michaels said with a smile standing behind the podium. "I just love that I'm in a town and work at a school where this is not weird."

Tom Hickey, an attending supervisor at Salem Laundry Co. split his time answering the phone and watching performances during the approximate hourlong poetry event.

"I actually thought it was quite nice," Hickey said after the show. "Of course, they all could have brought laundry with them."

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