Adele Kenny, who was recently named Poet Laureate of Fanwood by the Fanwood Mayor and Council, has run, since 1998, the Carriage House Poetry Series at the Kuran Arts Center in Fanwood, New Jersey. Running any reading series takes a great deal of hard work and a strong commitment to poetry; running a highly regarded reading series for fourteen years, as Adele has done, takes stamina and heart on top of hard work and commitment. She has all of those qualities plus an even more important one in my book: a great sense of fun.
What prompted you to start the Carriage House Poetry Series in 1998?
When I started the Carriage House Series, I was on chemo following breast cancer surgery in 1998. My prognosis was excellent, and I was so grateful that I wanted to do something others might find meaningful. I loved the old Carriage House in Fanwood (a restored 19th century carriage house, now called the Kuran Arts Center) – it’s a survivor (having withstood both time and plans to tear it down), and so am I. I knew it would be a perfect venue to bring poets and poetry to the community. That old building remains a powerful symbol to me.
How has the reading series changed over the years?
The series hasn’t changed much. I made a commitment to excellence at the outset, and I’ve been fortunate in featuring many distinguished poets (from the internationally known to great local poets). There is also a commitment to provide a comfortable place for not-so-well-known poets so that they may be heard and encouraged through open readings that follow every feature.
The Carriage House Poetry Series is the only one I know of that has “theme” readings – such as Renaissance Night and Gothic Night – at which the readers wear costumes. What prompted you to start having “theme” readings? How do you choose a theme? How do you organize these themed readings?
Don’t laugh! I love costumes and thought it would be great fun to do occasional “special shows” in which the poets wear costumes. (The Gothic show actually derived from the fact that the Carriage House is a Victorian Gothic Revival building and a personal interest in the Gothic tradition in literature.) When I get an idea that I think will work, I contact poets I know and ask if they’d be interested in being part of the event. We don’t do a lot of planning and don’t have rehearsals – the poets organize their own roles (and really get into them), and the shows kind of “organize” themselves. (Check out the slideshows and pics on the CH blog!)
You have a section of your blog (The Music in It) devoted to a “how to” for readings poems out loud. What are your top three tips for poets who are new to reading their work in public?
A. Prepare well before the reading. Select the poems you plan to read and “rehearse” them at least a few times. Read the poems aloud to yourself and follow the “guidelines” given by punctuation for pausing and stressing; listen to each poem’s musicality and try to match your voice to it. You can also stand in front of a mirror (full length is good) and “observe” yourself as you read (“mirror-practice” may sound silly but it can be very helpful, and the easy part is that you do it alone, no one sees but you).
B. You might be the most brilliant poet in the world, but if no one understands you they won’t listen. Read slowly and loudly (the latter particularly if there’s no microphone). Look at a person seated in the last row or the furthest away, and speak directly to that person. Allow each word its place in the poem. The inclination to rush is understandable, especially if you’re nervous. Relax as much as possible and consciously slow yourself down. Concentrate on pronouncing each word as clearly and distinctly as possible. Above all, don’t mumble or let your voice fall away, especially at the end of a poem.
C. Introductions for individual poems can be helpful, but be aware that you shouldn’t have to explain your poems – the poems should do that without any coaching from you. A few words before each poem to invite the audience to share in it with you can “warm up” your relationship with the audience. Just be sure that you don’t talk too much. The audience is there to hear you read your poems, not to hear you explain them.
Tell me a bit about Chaucey. How did he get his name? Did he enjoy his first Easter?
I’ve raised Yorkies since 1976 and Chaucey is my new baby. My Yorkies have all been named for poets (except Bijou, who came to me already named). I considered calling Chaucey “Eliot” for T.S. Eliot (my all-time favorite poet), but “Eliot” would become the affectionate “Ellie,” and I didn’t like that at all. Geoffrey Chaucer is sometimes called the “Father of English Literature,” and I loved studying him. So … “Chaucer” (with the diminutive “Chaucey”) seemed like a perfect name, and I call him my own “Canterbury TAIL.” He actually barks in Middle English! He had a wonderful first Easter (thanks for asking), and he now has his own page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ChaucerKenny. Please visit and “Like” it! (Can you tell how head over heels I am?)
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Did reading the interview with Adele pique your interest in the Carriage House Poetry Series?
Well, Renee Ashley and CavanKerry Press author Cat Doty, two excellent poets, will be reading at the Kuran Arts Center (75 North Martine Avenue, Fanwood, New Jersey) on Tuesday, April 17 at 8PM. Why not check it out?