“This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix Arizona Poetry Reading” by Jonathan Montgomery

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Every other place is different than the place you live.  Like Phoenix Arizona.  There they have those tall pain-spike cactuses that raise their arms up and go ‘yay!’  They have palm trees in their shopping centers that invite you to have a beer on the asphalt like a Corona commercial.  And they have a great mutant sun that is close enough to touch with your little toe.

They also have poetry readings.  And if you haven’t been to one there you wonder how that might be different too.

Carnegiea_gigantea_in_Saguaro_National_Park_near_Tucson,_Arizona_during_November_(58)On June 15th at Jarrod’s Coffee Tea and Gallery in the Phoenix suburb of Mesa, a collection of local East Valley poets known as ‘District 4’ gathered to express themselves via creative use of words.  They looked like normal people except there entire bodies and clothes were an unmistakeable shade of ash gray, and you could only assume the sun had overcooked them in a way that went beyond typical red-lobster burn all the way to exposure of carbon colored essence.


There was also one poet there who was bright blue and had little wings.

“Where are you from?” a burnt person asked him.

“Where-ThePlains-Meet-TheMountains,” he said.

“In The North?”


“You’re not supposta fly here until winter.”

“I wanted to do something backwards.”

“Don’t you know about The Dead Center of The Heat?”

“I guess I accidentally went there again.”

palm-trees-yorba-linda24The poetry reading shared many qualities of those in other geographic locations.  It was in a place that specialized in serving coffee but would make you a lemonade if you did not like coffee.  They had eclectic pieces of art on the walls of things like Pegasus, skull, and David Bowie.  Big chandeliers provided the light.  There were a few chairs and couches and the audience filled them up and hadta sit next to strangers.  There was a microphone in front of the audience and a Host spoke into it and told everyone about a sign-up sheet.  Then he would call names from that list and when yours was called you went up and a read a poem.

Something strange happened with all the readers. When they got up, no matter their age, gender, color, experience, or mental disposition, the sun was shining so brightly thru the window behind them that they began to turn into light and heat and smoke.  It smelled just like mesmerizing campfire and soon you realized they were not just sooty human but a magnificent flaming-winged creature.

“Phoenixxxx!” they cried out and delivered their poetry with the fury and elegance of the mythological firebird.

They burned words like…

  • Viva la poetry!
  • I like my life
  • Commitments and regrets
  • Rising
  • Cracks
  • A book festival
  • Gil Scott Heron
  • Don’t abuse old people
  • What makes you special
  • Love is like war
  • God bless every day
  • An epic sci-fi novel about lost souls
  • An anthology
  • Time
  • Goth love
  • Shakespeare
  • It’s strange being an artist
  • A big city growing too big
  • The color black
  • Growing up
  • A fictional biography of Nietzsche
  • The mind run amok
  • Things we all battle with internally
  • Wanting to be great

After each poet was finished the audience would clap for them and they would go back to their seats still smoldering.  No one was concerned about burning down the coffeeshop.  There must’ve been a magic to it.

“Is one of you The Where-ThePlains-Meet-TheMountains Bluebird?” the Firebird Host asked.

6594.ngsversion.1481905408341.adapt.1900.1The little bird from far away flew up to the mic.  He had read at many readings in his own territory and had seen  similar alchemical phenomenon on stage.  Like the one reading where everyone gathered at midnight in the alleyway and transformed from little stumble-feet puppies into a pack of howling wolves under the full moon light.  The bird however did not know how to replicate the mystic barbecue that had preceded him and wondered what they would think when he did not cook like them.  All he could do was be as Bluebird as he could.  He spoke words like…

  • The mess
  • The mess
  • The mess
  • The mess
  • It’s Alright, Baby!

The sun shined thru the window behind him like everyone else and he felt his temperature rise and his body fight to cool itself thru water outta glands.  The audience looked at him curiously.  Oh no, he thought, I’m only transforming into sweat.

il_570xN.900274479_symlBut soon the scent of perspiration was replaced by mesmerizing campfire and in the next instant he became light and heat and smoke too.  It went ‘spit, crackle, pop, sizzle!’  And his blue became red and orange and yellow, and the audience clapped as he felt the power of being pure element.

“Thank you,” he said.  “I now realize that poetry readings are a little different in every place but mostly the same.  The ritual is necessary and includes anyone.”

And then we went round after round each poet going back up reading words of…

  • heating
  • lighting
  • hotting
  • firing
  • flaming
  • flickering
  • flowing
  • burning
  • blazing
  • blowing
  • glowing
  • melting
  • growing
  • incinerating
  • sizzling
  • smoldering
  • scorching
  • torching
  • combusting
  • charring
  • changing
  • raging
  • thriving
  • rising from the ashes
  • transforming
  • soothing the suffering of themselves and others

If you are ever nearby Phoenix, Arizona and would like to experience what it’s like to be a firebird at a poetry treading The District 4 reading is every third Thursday of the month at Jarrod’s Coffee Tea and Gallery.  (Next one is July 20th!) There are many other literary happenings in the area which are kept track of at Phoenix Poetry Events and  Phoenixpoet.com.

Crochet phoenix from featured image can be found here on etsty!


IMG_1871Jonathan Montgomery is the editor-in-chief of boulderpoetrytribe.com.  He’s a graduate of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics (MFA ’05) as well as the author of Pizzas and Mermaid and Taxis & Shit.   Go to his website jonathan-montgomery.com for more!

And here is what he wrote about another state’s poetry reading last year…