Braving the cold, five poets (and one dog) huddled outside the Green Line Cafe in West Philadelphia late Friday night to kick off Philly Poetry Day. At their urging, Leonard Gontarek, the event's founder and organizer, broke the ice with the night's first reading.
Next up was William Burrison, a local playwright, who had written a poem for the chilly occasion. He tilted his paper toward the dim light and started reading:
It's cold on the corner / Will the next trolley that comes bring spring with it?
Or will the light it radiates be ghost light - from an empty shell?
The next reader, Charles Carr, brought his small audience through open countryside, crowded transit stations, and quiet living rooms, finishing in the early hours of Saturday.
Burrison called from the audience, "You read us into the new day."
April is national poetry month, a prime time for poets and venues to plan poetry reading events.
Philly Poetry Day, now in its third year, adds a different kind of event to the mix: 24 hours of poetry readings in public places.
"Many poetry events invite audiences, but the idea here was to have poetry in places where there's a built-in audience," Gontarek said.
"It's pop-up, guerrilla street theater. . . . It can be along the lines of just riding on a subway and reading a poem aloud for a minute."
This year, despite the cold, rainy, snowy day, about 30 events were planned for the city and surrounding areas. Readings were held at the Edgar Allan Poe House, the Philadelphia Sketch Club, Fairmount Park, and even a train on the NJ Transit River Line.
Around 1:45 p.m., 12 poets departed Camden on the "poetry train," to read poetry all the way to Trenton and back. A turkey baster stood in for an open mic.
Organizer Cassie MacDonald said "part of the motivation behind doing a reading in public is to bring poetry to non-poets. . . . It's fresh and unexpected, and for the readers, too, we don't know what to expect. That's always good for artists."
At Clark Park, about 20 poets from the Osage Poets group huddled under umbrellas and took turns reading as shoppers browsed the farmer's market.
Afterward, the group dispersed to various locations, including the former home of poet Charles Bukowski and the former rock venue The Trauma, where artists such as Tim Buckley and the Velvet Underground once performed.
At 3 p.m., poets read at the Free Library of Philadelphia in front of the grand staircase. Library-goers stopped to listen, browse a table set up with poetry books, and even take a turn at the podium themselves.
Nina Schafer handed out poems on brightly colored pieces of paper. The effort was part of her Unexpected Poetry Project, which aims to distribute 35 poems a day, more than 12,000 a year.
"So many of us are brought up afraid of poetry," Schafer said. "I want [the project] to be a conduit, connecting someone to a poem, . . . to make poetry a part of daily life."
Philly Poetry Day organizers said they hope their readings made an impact for poets and audiences alike.
"It takes a lot of nerve, . . . but it's really for the audience," Gontarek said. "There's many types of poetry, and it's wonderful . . . because there's an audience out there that would meet up with it."
One of the day's last readings was held at Royal Pizza on 42nd and Baltimore. Gontarek connected with owner Konstantinos Nakos during Poetry Day's first year, and found fellow poetry enthusiasts.
Nakos said: "My wife was so excited. She loves poetry, so my wife and daughters read poetry, too, [in Greek]. . . . This is three years. . . . I hope it's going to be a tradition."
In the light of a lottery ticket machine, Gontarek closed the gathering with a selection from Nakos' request, Odysseus Elytis, and an audience request:
Ink runs from the corners of my mouth / There is no happiness like mine / I have been eating poetry . . .