Downtown Hosting Poetry Readings Monthly

Posted: January 16, 2014

As part of an ongoing celebration of iconic American writers, a group of Harrisonburg literary enthusiasts will hold a poetry reading in honor of the late Amiri Baraka at 7 p.m. Jan. 28 at Blue Nile.

Baraka, born Everett LeRoi James on Oct. 7, 1934, was cofounder of the Black Arts Movement in the 1960s and former poet laureate of New Jersey. He died Jan. 9.

It was his poem “Somebody Blew Up America,” which focused on the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, that thrust Baraka into controversial spotlight.

Disapproval of the poem ultimately led to the State of New Jersey annulling his position as laureate in 2003, a year after it was appointed to him by then-Gov. James McGreevey.

So far, the poetry readings, which usually take place Tuesday evenings, have covered the works of poets such as Walt Whitman, T.S. Eliot, Carl Sandburg, Charles Bukowski and Emily Dickinson.

Paul Somers, organizer and co-host of the readings, says the gatherings are indicative of the burgeoning art scene currently taking place in the downtown area.

“[The poetry readings] are something we put a lot of our time into,” said Somers, who also manages the Blue Nile basement bar, where the readings are usually held.

“There [are] a lot of people doing all sorts of creative things here in Harrisonburg; it’s an opportunity for them to engage those parts of themselves,” he continued.

Additionally, the aficionado plan to host tributes to Langston Hughes and Kentucky-based author Wendell Berry, and a book release party for local poet and performer Michael Trocchia.

“This is one of the things that is unique about Harrisonburg,” said Susan Facknitz, creative writing and poetry professor at James Madison University. “I think Harrisonburg is welcoming to everybody’s artistic side, and Paul Somers is a big part of that.”

Facknitz says many of the event’s performers are former students of hers, including Somers.

“He organizes this, and I’m helping him host,” said Facknitz. “We bring in people from the community to read, people who love poetry.

“It’s a very different kind of experience because it’s not just students or academics. It brings in all different kinds of people,” she continued.

Jeremiah Jenkins, co-editor-in-chief of the blog Old South High, frequents the poetry readings as both an observer and performer. He says he appreciates Somers “creating an event that brings people out.”

“Oh, this is great,” said Jenkins. “There have been many years where I would have never imagined this happening [in Harrisonburg]. I knew people that read or wrote poetry but it was never public.

“You can be as scared as you want as you’re reading and we’re going to appreciate the fact that you’re a part of this, and I love that about this event,” he continued.

In addition to reciting works from the canon of American poetry, many participants also share original material.

“I think the artistic process is what the readings highlight the most,” said Somers. “You’re mostly just excited this person is participating in the act of creation, presenting it and enriching this community with culture by doing so.”


Contact Therran M. Dennis at 574-6218 or

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