slice of life

Libraries are supposed to be quiet, except when they host a Poetry Bash

Libraries aren’t known for raising the roof with blaring horns and flying paper planes, but the 6th Annual Poetry Bash at the Petit Branch Library did exactly that Saturday afternoon.

At 2 p.m., a crowd of 25 to 30 people had gathered in the back section of the library, shouting greetings at each other and holding paper planes with poems in them. The growing crowd had assembled to celebrate National Poetry Month the only way the bash knew how to: loudly.

The host and co-creator of the bash, Mickey “The Flying Busman” Mahan, said a poetry bash was much different than a poetry reading or a poetry slam.

“The whole idea is to have fun, to give people the opportunity to come up to the microphone to read a poem or sing a song in a playful, a little bit of a raucous, atmosphere,” Mahan said. “It’s really a lot about making a lot of noise in a public library, which is never allowed, and everyone’s invited.”

Many students may know Mahan as the South Campus bus driver who recites his songs and rhymes to his passengers. Mahan, who has written “literally thousands of poems,” is compiling them for a book. Thus, he showed up well-prepared for National Poetry Month in April.

“It makes sense to me because it’s a time when people start to loosen up, the juices are flowing, they’re coming alive,” he said. “It’s a rebirth. Everyone’s getting ready to let it rip anyway.”

The energetic Mahan, sporting bright orange pants, a red bandana and a crown, leapt about on a pogo stick, egging the growing crowd to make more noise. He introduced 29 people, where they recited a favorite poem, or in some cases, their original work.

Deb Thorna, a librarian at Petit Branch and Mahan’s wife, was one of them. She and Mahan put their heads together six years ago and created the Annual Poetry Bash at the library.

“I see all kinds of fun things come across the desk and I saw that book, the title of which is ‘Food Hates You Too,’” she said. “I just thought it was adorable, so I checked it out and I saved it for today.”

Apart from Thorna reciting little rhymes about food, the poets and performers touched on a diverse array of themes as they came up to the podium, two of them armed with an ukulele for an extra touch.

Petit Branch heard snippets about John Cena, Kanye West, springtime, break-ups and about spitting from the 26th floor of a building.

The bash didn’t discriminate by age; seniors, college students and high-school students sat next to each other on the edge of their seats and aiming the paper planes around the room every chance they got. Throwing the planes around the room and blowing off-key tunes on their horns was a requirement, after all.

“It’s always goofy, it’s loud, it’s welcoming and it’s great when kids up there,” Molly English-Bowers, a Liverpool resident said. “It’s a good experience for someone who’s new.”

For English-Bowers, this Poetry Bash was her fourth. She said the paper planes, or the air-poems as Mahan called them, were not new; the vibrant Poetry Bash had been decorated with confetti and Silly String in previous years.

The cheery atmosphere didn’t show the slightest signs of dimming by the time the bash ended at 4 p.m. Everyone had contributed, be it in the form of a rhyme or a particularly well-aimed plane.

“One of the functions of the library is to be an equalizer, to be a democracy. Everyone is equal here,” Thorna said. “This event gives them an opportunity to read poetry and express themselves and participate in something that’s not exclusionary. It’s inclusive and freeing at the same time.”

As the crowd left and he picked up the planes from the littered library floor, Mahan talked about how he wished the noise would never die down.

“I would love to continue to have people from all over town, from the SU community and the Westcott neighborhood and to have as much fun, as many people, make as much noise in future years,” he said. “Just to keep rockin’ it.”

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