For those who aren’t already aware, the Serenity Coffee House in Vienna is fast becoming an important hub for art and culture in the Mid-Ohio Valley. On any given night, you can listen to local musicians, participate in a painting workshop, or just browse the shop’s impressive art collection. And that’s not to mention the delicious gourmet foods and beverages available at surprisingly affordable prices.
One cultural offering that may not be as well-known is the Serenity Poetry Series. Coordinated by local poet and author Carl Nelson, the series takes place on the second Friday of every month from 7:00 P.M. to 9:00 P.M. in the little reading nook just inside the front door. It’s conveniently close to the wine bar in order to facilitate the full poetry reading experience.
The series had its genesis last spring when the owner of Serenity approached Susan Sheppard, who is with the Sacred Way Poets group. The idea wasn’t to move the poetry group there, but instead to create a poetry series that more closely resembled what Serenity was already doing with music, which usually consisted of a featured artist who kicked off the evening, followed by an open mic. Ms. Sheppard got the series off the ground, but found that she just didn’t have time to sustain it. So she turned to Carl Nelson, who, along with Homer the seagull, has presided over the festivities ever since. Homer is on the poster that serves as the backdrop for all speakers. Homer isn’t his official name, but Nelson called him that once and it just kind of stuck.
Mr. Nelson told me that he attempts to define poetry in as broad a sense as possible. Witness the fact that in September, I was honored to be their featured artist. The reason that may seem odd is that I don’t write poetry, at least not as poetry is traditionally defined. My forte is prose, specifically novels. But the series celebrates all forms of verbal art. So the most recent featured artist was local singer/songwriter Todd Burge, who presented some of his songs in spoken form and then described the music he heard as he wrote the lyrics, ending by singing the songs.
But don’t mistakenly think that this is simply a place to come listen to poetry. In fact, there is often no specific featured speaker. Even when there is, however, the last half of the evening is open mic time. There are a handful of regulars that come to share their original poetry, though it truly is an open mic in every sense of the word. People may read any poetry they feel like sharing, be it original or not, be it traditional poetry or not. Some, like me, bring what most would call prose. Many even share song lyrics that they find particularly moving.
And this isn’t a time for critique. It is simply an opportunity to share and celebrate the spoken word in all forms. And it’s also not a time for exclusivity. There is no membership fee or even any membership. You can come and go as you please and feel to share or just listen. And who knows? If you do share, you may win the Golden Warbler, the series’ travelling trophy. But even if you don’t win, you will always have access to a warm and engaged group of listeners. “What we really offer,” said Nelson, “is audience.”