By Cheryl Conway
More than a dozen years ago, former Chatham resident Marcia Ivans met a friend at a local coffee shop who said “this might be a nice place for a poetry reading.”
Ivans’ friend who writes poetry could not take on the venture, so Ivans, like the words on a page, decided to run with the idea.
“So I went to the owner and said maybe I can start a poetry reading here,” recalls Ivans. “I said I can guarantee 10 people,” can set up in the back room. Café owner Andrew Copp agreed.
Only five people showed up at her first poetry reading event.
“We sat around at the table and read poetry,” and drank different flavored coffee and a variety of delicious homemade pastries and cakes.
In its 13th year this September, Poetry and Pastries continues to meet at Café Beethoven in Chatham every other month, welcoming anywhere from 15 to 30 people who participate in open poetry reading.
Ivans, who moved to Pompton Plains seven months ago after living in Chatham for 18 years, continues to facilitate the readings. Her mailing list has grown to 200 people over the years. The group meets from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on selected dates.
“Thirteen years is a long time to keep it going on,” realizes Ivans, but driving 30 minutes is worth her favorite coffee flavors like hazelnut, the homemade carrot cake and mostly an array of wonderfully fresh poetry.
“It’s the warm and welcoming feeling that people get,” says Ivans. “It’s worked out beautifully. I do this for the love of hearing other poets share their work.”
Poetry and Pastries is “open to anyone who wishes to read their own poetry for up to five minutes,” explains Ivans. “Anyone who comes and signs up to read can read. I have poets who are reading for their first time and very accomplished poets. The variety is always quite interesting. There are several people who have come for years just to listen.”
Men and women, young and old- the youngest reader was 10 and the oldest was 81- has participated in Ivans’ program. “People from all over,” travel to attend with one from Pennsylvania, another from south Jersey.
Ivans set the limit to five minutes to allow writers to read anywhere from one to three poems “so everyone has a chance.” She also asks that readers present their own work.
An encouraging aspect of the program is the encouragement received to the readers.
The poets just read their poems, without criticism.
“There is wonderful support for all those who attend,” says Ivans. “Whatever we read, we just applaud. It’s just applause when you finish. It’s a very comfortable place to read. I also invite listeners. Whether I have very experience writers to those who never read to the public before, everyone gets the same applause, everyone gets the same chance. Everyone gets encouragement.”
Ivans says “it’s not rows of chairs; everyone is just sitting and drinking their coffee and eating their cake. It’s warm and welcoming. It’s that kind of atmosphere. It’s a great place. New writers; new readers without critiquing. It’s like a fun night.”
To those new to reading their poems, “it gives people confidence.” For more experienced readers of poetry, “it’s a place to try out new poems.”
The types of poetry vary from Haiku, to rhyming or free writing.
“I love the variety of style,” she says. “I love to hear when new people come in; their new poetry. It’s a very warm and inviting environment.”
The setting is the back room of Cafe Beethoven where people
just sit around tables in a cafe setting. “People sit at any table they want. Writers make their own connections in the end. They sit around and chat. They like the atmosphere. It’s like sitting around a living room just reading your poems to friends.”
Ivans sends out notices to her email list “but I always have walk-ins. I never know whose going to show up.”
A member of Women Who Write for nine years, Ivans has three self-published books of poetry, and a few hundred poems written over the years. Her favorite of her books, “Over Easy,” was published in 2007 and is sold at Short Stories in Madison or through her.
At every session, “I get up in the end,” says Ivans. “I welcome everybody. I read at the end, pretty much something new. My style is based on a journal of my life. Some are funny, some are serious.”
The next Poetry and Pastries are set for Tues., Sept. 20, and Nov. 15, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Cost is $10 which includes the wonderful coffees and delicious desserts.
Email Ivans at firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up for Poetry and Pastries or to order one of her books.