Volume 1 #20 (September 16-22, 1998)
Poetic License: The Back Door may be gone, but the Back Door Poets still read
BY KEN GAILLOT
In high school, everyone is a poet, scribbling heartfelt emotions into some little scrapbook. Sometime after graduation, those little notebooks disappear, and forgotten poems join the parade of forgotten things that exit our lives.
A small number ofpeople keep that poetry alive. For them poetry becomes an outlet, and a way of connecting with others. This Saturday, as they do the third Saturday of every month, a bunch of these people will get together at Good Neighbor Coffeehouse on Garden Street to share their creations.
In the mid-1980's, the now-defunct alternative art co-op Art on the Tracks had a small space called the Back Door, where acoustic musicians would gather for open mike nights. Three local poets wanted a similar outlet for their writings, and in 1986 organized a poetry reading there.
"We made up a little cheap flyer, and we even put a book together, a little anthology of poets that were going to be reading, and we got a keg of beer and tray of veggies and dip and potato chips," says Jamey Jones, one of the organizers of that original reading. It attracted a good crowd, including one audience member who liked it enough to make it a regular happening. Leonard Temme took what would have been a one-time event and turned it into an organization now in its twelfth year.
"We were all burnt out after that first one, because for us, it took a lot of organizing and work, and we didn't want to do it anymore! But Leonard was so impressed he took off with it, and he did it every month after that for close to nine years," Jones says.
Today, the Back Door Poets have outlived the Back Door, and meet at the Good Neighbor. Their relaxed atmosphere and cantankerous individuality is well demonstrated when I ask Mike Racine what his role in the group is.
"Grand Exalted Poobah? I don't know. My official title is, what is my official title? I don't know if I've ever been given an official title," he says. "I know I'm in charge of the Back Door Poets."
Racine organizes the monthly readings and edits the quarterly chapbook which publishes works from the readings' participants. He also serves as the liaison between the Back Door Poets and its parent organization, the West Florida Literary Foundation.
"It's rather an eclectic group," says Racine. "We have teenage students in high school, we have college students, we have housewives, retirees, hipsters. We've got everybody. It's like a symphony. You have all these different instruments, and all these different voices, talking and blending in together."
He attributed the longevity of the group to its supportive atmosphere. People from different backgrounds listen to and encourage each other. The current location helps, he adds.
"Poets beloong in a coffeehouse," he says. "The Good Neighbor is a nice open space. The room is set up for dialogue. You're sitting at a table, having a cup of coffee, listening to someone read."
In addition to the monthly reading and quarterly chapbook, the Back Door Poets host a monthly poetry workshop and events such as the Jack Kerouac marathon reading at Subterranean Books earlier this year. Future projects include a film festival showing national and local independent films, along with cult classics like The Manchurian Candidate and Apocalypse Now.
The Good Neighbor is the group's third venue. They met at the Back Door for only a year, then after joining the Literary Federation, moved to the newly-opened Pensacola Cultural Center, which at the time was not even renovated.
"In the winter time it was really cold," says Jones. "I remember the people would bring portable heaters by the stage. We'd all be wrapped in our jackets, mist coming out of our mouths."
As time went on, and the Cultural Center was renovated, the group became dissatisfied with the location, which was "sterile" according to Jones. Showing some of that cantankerous individualism, a few poets left and started the Mystic Garage, an alternative venue that hosted music, art, and poetry readings, and lasted about four years until a News Journal article unintentionally attracted a little too much attention to the group, which got booted out of its rented location.
Eventually the Cultural Center started kicking out the Back Door Poets at 9 p.m. and wanted to charge them $75 to use their room, so in January of this year the group left for Good Neighbor.
"Poets have always been outcasts, sort of a marginalized part of the art world," says Jones. "It's not something visual that people are looking at. You've got to get up and read or go listen."
The Back Door Poets encourage anyone to participate in their reading.
"Whoever shows up, you can make it what you want," says Jones. "It's good for any scene."
Why do people read poetry?
"Poetry is meant to be read," says Racine. "It has a rhythm to it, and you can't really appreciate it unless you hear that rhythm. You have to hear the rhythm, and you have to experience the rhythm, you have to experience the beat of the poem itself."
"Too many people hear the word poetry and get this instant picture in their head that they're going to end up back in their ninth grade literature class," says Mike Roycroft, a regular participant in the readings. "It doesn't have to be that way. After you get out of school and you're still writing, you're writing for yourself, and hopefully you're writing to connect and relate to people in a very real way. Everybody can come and get that out of poetry rather than look at it as some sort of stuffy intellectual remedial chore to have to endure in order to get a diploma. It's much more a part of real life than most people give it credit for or ever think about."
The Back Door Poets meet at Good Neighbor Coffeehouse at 6 p.m. the third Saturday of each month. For more information call 850-435-0942.