The Aspen Poets’ Society’s monthly gatherings offer an egalitarian grab-bag for word-lovers.
You may find a leading regional poet reading free verse, an Aspenite who’s never before shared her poetry in public, or a barista who can rap. You may hear local musicians — best known for party-friendly apres-ski gigs — break out some lyrically advanced singer-songwriter material.
You might hear an ecstatic psalm-like poem about skiing a powder day, or a meditation on light in the mountains in autumn, an elegy for a lost loved one or a satirical take on development in Aspen.
It’s been that way from the beginning, seven years ago, when Society co-founders Lisa Max Zimet and Kim Nuzzo met at the old Zele Cafe.
Zimet had been doing marketing promotions for the downtown coffee shop, bringing in art shows and musicians to cultivate an artistically vibrant scene. Nuzzo, a poet and actor, was at the time playing the writer Jack Kerouac in the Hudson Reed Ensemble production of “The Beats.” He and the cast came to Zele in June 2006 to read Beat Generation poetry for two standing-room-only performances, and a poets’ society was soon born.
“In my mind I said, ‘Wow, this is the missing piece,'” says Zimet. “We don’t have poetry in Aspen.”
That October, they held their first Aspen Poets’ Society reading, and the series has continued since, on the last Sunday of every month. The format includes music, published poets from around the mountain west — which Nuzzo refers to as “the cream of the crop from the region” — and an open mic for anyone with a poem to share.
The monthly happenings moved from Zele to the Hotel Lenado and then to Victoria’s Espresso & Wine Bar, where they've been since 2011.
On Sunday, Oct. 13 the Society is celebrating its seventh anniversary at Victoria’s. The reading is free and includes live music by Bobby Mason, the traditional open mic format, and featured poems by Nuzzo.
Nuzzo’s poems (two of which are printed on page 4) have a streetwise spirituality about them, reminiscent of the Beats and Kerouac’s “spontaneous bop prosody.” He and Mason previously collaborated on an album of poems set to music, titled “Buddhas on the Backroad,” some of which they’re likely to perform on Sunday.
Featured poets at Society gatherings have included Wyoming poet laureate David Romtvedt and Colorado laureate David Mason.
Live Poetry Night has also proved to be an incubator for talented poets of the Western Slope. Wendy Videlock, a Grand Junction poet, has been a regular at the readings over the last five years. Over the same time, she’s had several works published in the revered magazine “Poetry” and this year published “The Dark Gnu,” a book of illustrated poems.
“I would say she’s one of the 10 best female poets in America right now,” says Nuzzo.
Suzanne Bronson, another regular from Grand Junction, recently published her first collection, titled “The Keeper of Days.”
Zimet incorporated the Poets’ Society as a nonprofit in 2008, and she’s currently trying to pull together funds to self-publish a best-of collection, anthologizing poems from their monthly readings. She’s hoping to publish it this spring.
She says it’s been a priority to keep the readings free and not charge membership dues for the Society, which leaves every gathering at Victoria’s open to new talent.
“One of the exciting things about Live Poetry Night is that we don’t know who is going to show up,” Zimet says. “We have our regulars, but then every time there are three, four new people and you don’t know if they’ll bring you to tears or make you laugh.”
Providing a venue for poetry neophytes is a cornerstone of the Aspen Poets’ Society. The often personal form can be a breakthrough of self-expression, especially in young people, say Nuzzo and Zimet.
“The thing I’m really proud of is that it’s given voice to a lot of locals and young people who’ve never read their work in public before,” says Nuzzo. “The atmosphere has always been very nurturing and supportive. The poetry community is like that in Colorado.”
Zimet and Nuzzo originally included a slam poetry competition at their monthly events, where judges would choose winners and give cash prizes. But the concept didn’t fit in with Aspen’s writers.
“It was a little too competitive,” says Nuzzo.
Popular local musicians like Mason, Chris Bank and Dan Sheridan have put in time at Live Poetry Night. Obadiah Jones, the young Woody Creek native who started Slightly White and released his debut solo album this year, played at an early Live Poetry Night when he was just 13. For musicians, a quiet audience of poetry enthusiasts is a welcome change of pace from the Aspen bar scene.
“They all enjoy having an audience that’s attentive in a venue where they can put out their original work and have an audience that’s different from playing in a bar where people aren’t paying attention,” says Nuzzo.
Live Poetry Night
7th Anniversary Celebration
Presented by Aspen Poets’ Society
Sunday, Oct. 13
6:30 - 9 p.m.
Victoria’s Espresso & Wine Bar