Last Sunday I had the distinct honor of being invited to the Beyond Baroque Annual Award Banquet in Santa Monica, California. This event host top poets from the area and long standing members of the Beyond Baroque community for a few hours a year to honor two deserving Poets Elena Karina Byrne and Suzanne Lummis in separate categories, Distinguished Service and Outstanding Achievement in Poetry respectively.
When I walked into the Church on the corner of Second and Hill, it all seemed to be a pretty standard evening in store. Long lines of banquet tables. Food set up against a wall. Long line of people waiting for food. Hellos and hugs as people greeted each other. Congratulations being poured out for the winners for the George Drury Smith Awards.
Granted there was a beauty to the facility, stain glasses windows all around and a stage lit in the rose colored hue of sunglasses promising a glorious tomorrow. Two of the largest beach chairs I have ever seen in my life, desperate to be the fade away shot in a female buddy movie. I sat in the back, garnering me a great view of the entire scene that held well over 100 attendees. All, of which, became impressively silent when Brendan Constantine took the stage, as emcee of the festivities. I was impressed, yet not surprised, with his ease in front of the crowd as I have seen him perform his own poetry many times prior. To start the entertainment for the evening Philip Littell serenaded the crowd with everything from Blues to Italian opera. I have never seen Philip perform previously, but surely would make an effort to do so again because even though the songs were not familiar to me, his performance invited me in to experience and love the music the way the people around me did. The guests seemed very connected to the songs, and it was as though Littell was walking them all down memory lane, and I became somewhat sad that I wasn’t being escorted with them.
Soon after Amelie Frank took to the grand podium to introduce the winner of the Distinguished Service Award, Elena Karina Byrne. A more worthy recipient I cannot even begin to consider. Elena has so much history and so many accomplishments in poetry and her tireless effort to promote poetry should have been honored long ago. It is best to allow Amelie to talk about Elena, instead of have me fall upon myself. “Speaking about what it takes to make things happen, Elena has said, “We’re all our own volunteers.” There is no question that Elena has given generously of her time, her resources, and her talent to keep the writing, publishing, and performance of poetry vital in Los Angeles. She works against daunting challenges. An American cultural climate that continues its spiraling nose-dive to the bottom. A national horror of education. Here in this city, a calcifying gridlock that makes any trip to attend a reading, a lecture, a writing course a logistical burden. But she received this service award tonight because she continues to serve, knowing that the efforts of the passionate, dedicated individual can make a world of difference for many. One of the things I have learned in books I am currently reading about overcoming difficult circumstances is that a key element in anyone’s success is that someone else exists who holds that person in their heart, believes in them, believes in their ability, and carries the hope that they will succeed. It can be a person, a program, a reading, a publication project. Whatever it is, Elena Karina Byrne has held many things in her heart in order to make them happen.”
It was at this moment that the Beyond Baroque Awards became much more than the standard award ceremony. It was at this point that the importance of these awards in the April, National Poetry Month, opened up for all who were fortunate enough to be there to listen. These awards are about fellowship and community. These awards are about the support all writers need to give each other, about the celebration that we all need to share in, in the talent of each other, in the beauty of the art. Amelie wasn’t just introducing Elena Karina Byrne; she was celebrating her and poetry.
This is the beauty I found at Beyond Baroque, a beauty that makes me wish I could find a “Beyond Baroque” everywhere, they are a community that wants to celebrate and support all writers, artist, those of us who need more to survive in this world. They recognize that academia may not be covering all our needs, may not be promoting all of the poets and artist this world has to offer, so instead they do it.
The night continued with Suzanne Lummis being heralded by Bill Mohr as she took home the Outstanding Achievement in Poetry Award. He too honored Suzanne as more than a poet but also a friend to him and the community of poets. Many of her students and admirers were in the audience, and all grateful to call her mentor and friend. It seems to me these awards could have been switched or simply doubled up, because both of these ladies have shown such service to poetry community and seen great achievements to be envied in their own poetry careers.
As the night wound down, it was these words that rung out “We are part of a fellowship of Poets”. And we are, whether we went to the Beyond Baroque George Drury Smith Awards Ceremony or not. Whether we make it to every festival, reading, or buy every book, we have a duty to be a member of the fellowship of poets. We have a duty to be our own volunteers, and let the world know what is out there. Sure you can give out awards, if you are as established at Beyond Baroque, or you can simply post a friends poem on your Facebook Page, or tell someone else who you are reading, or write a poem right now. It’s National Poetry Month, the one month in the year where we are suppose to celebrate what we love, and maybe in that effort we use the internet to become a community, and we learn to celebrate poetry and each other throughout the year.