When Gainesville-based landscape painter, Linda Blondheim, asked me to read some of my poems at her annual hotdog party, I was, naturally, thrilled. One, I don’t get asked to read that often; two, I knew it would be a great time because I know my good friend, Linda, doesn’t do anything halfway; and three, I knew everyone who went would come away feeling more connected … because that’s how she rolls.
But I came away from this reading, held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. today, feeling it was one of the most enjoyable events I’ve ever been asked to participate in. We probably had 20 25 people there, many of whom stayed for quite a while. Although I knew a few of them, most were folks I’d never met but enjoyed getting to know. Many have known Linda for some time either as patrons or students of her painting classes; others “regulars” at her events, and others probably just wanted to come out, listen to a bit of poetry, eat well (also a Linda-party guarantee) and spend time with like-minded friends.
I read a few poems from my book, but also newer work, which I enjoyed reading publicly for the first time; the work comes alive to even to me as its author in a different way when it’s spoken aloud. Several people commented that they appreciated the back-stories I shared, not just about specific poems, but about how and why I write as well as some of the family members I was able to introduce them to through my work.
One person, herself an author, said she understood what I meant when I alluded to a particular poem’s coming-to-be; I had relayed that poem had started out “about” one thing and ended up someplace else entirely, and how that was an example of something that happens pretty often in my work: when the poem itself actually seems to decide where it wants to go and leads me there. Although this might sound a little strange to someone who doesn’t do creative writing, or any form of art, for that matter, I’ve always thought this concept of the work having its own thing to say made perfect sense.
Anyway, the group was friendly, receptive, and so attentive and the time went by really fast.
Linda’s “country studio,” as she calls it, is located near the town of LaCrosse outside of Gainesville. It’s wall-to-wall-filled with her paintings of old Florida, or more honestly, those parts of Florida that retain the essence of what this state was like before development and urban sprawl usurped so much of its natural beauty. To view Linda’s work — actually, be surrounded by it — is to feel oneself stepping back into time, and to be in the company of such supportive friends felt like settling into a cosy armchair in front of a fireplace on a cold night.
I hope we can do it again!