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New Poetry Reading Series Wants to Rock You

Larry Darling/Flickr

When was the last time you were at a poetry reading that felt as energized as a rock concert?

Two local poets have teamed up to reinvigorate the local poetry reading scene.

Paul Scot August and Robert Vaughan have recently teamed up to create new quarterly poetry events called the Middle Coast Poets Reading Series. The next event is on Monday.

They've carefully curated lists of the best poets in the tri-state area to bring a new vibe - and audience - to Milwaukee-based readings.

"There's just something about the energy of writers and poets coming together and discussing and hanging out and hearing people read, hearing especially poets share their work, it's a very vital missing element in our culture," Vaughan says.

August explains that "Middle Coast" is a less-common alternative moniker for Milwaukee, and fits with the pair's mission to bring in poets within driving distance - from Chicago, Madison, Minneapolis and even Michigan.

They were inspired to create the series after commiserating over a lack of regular poetry readings in Milwaukee.

"We were just talking kind of edgy bar-oriented fun kind of hanging out readings, and there really is a lack of that in the city," Vaughan says.

In other words, they don't want these events to be your average poetry readings.

"We did spend a lot of time, you know, (planning) how many songs in a set?" August says. "How many poems will the first poet read? Will his style work with her style? Who will open, who will emcee? So a lot of thought went into that...beyond what a normal poetry reading would be where somebody just says, 'Well, we've got some poets,' and they throw a microphone up in front and hope it works."

If it sounds like these events are more like concerts, August says that's the point. They don't want to attract the typical poetry crowd, but rather hope to draw in people new to poetry.

"One of the reasons we picked bars as our venue was that we figured that people would maybe show up to have a drink out of curiosity and then stay for the reading," he says. "We want to bring in people who maybe have never been to a poetry reading before and they would like it enough to come back."

Of course, they don't just want to expose new people to poetry; they also want to expose people to new kinds of poetry. So they specifically choose poets who represent a broad range of styles.

"It's kind of like having a bunch of opening bands, you know, a folk band followed by a jazz band followed by a blues band," August says. "You get away from the idea that I only like jazz so I don't want to listen to them. There might be people who might think, 'I only like narrative poetry,' and then they hear somebody do a slam style poem and they're like, 'Wow, you could do that?'"

They've even implemented poetry "cover songs" into the act - having each guest poet select a work by one of their favorite artists to perform. With this music-inspired formula, August and Vaughan put on a successful first reading in April, and already have a line-up of six poets from Milwaukee and Madison to read next Monday at 6 PM at Burnheart's in Bay View.

Vaughan leads roundtables at Redbird-Redoak Writing studio, and is the senior flash fiction editor at JMWW and Lost in Thought Magazines. He's also the author of the chapbook Microtones, and his first full-length collection, Addicts and Basements will be published in Feb 2014.

Wauwatosa resident Paul Scot August is a poet and software developer, and former poetry editor at The Cream City Review. Twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize, his poetry has been published in dozens of magazines and journals, and he blogs at "Poetry Saved My Life."