Men in hats keep audience laughing at the December Carol Connolly show.
The women weren’t exactly sedate, but they read from printed scripts — poetry, book excerpts, essays — and they mostly kept to the time limit. Within those constraints, there was room for much laughter and poignancy, as Heid Erdrich read poems that she had “sneaked into” her new cookbook, “Original Local,” and Mary Lou Judd Carpenter read from a memoir about her parents, “Miriam’s Words: The Personal Price of a Public Life.” (Her father was congressman Walter Judd, and the memoir draws heavily on the letters of his wife, Miriam.) Eleanor Leonard read an essay about lighting the candles on a tree.
But the men! Whoa! Less reading than performance art, spoken word, with props (and hats).
The holiday edition of the monthly Readings for Writers, coordinated and emceed, as usual, by St. Paul Poet Laureate Carol Connolly, was unexpectedly raucous and, at times, side-splittingly funny. Not what you might expect from a literary evening at the sedate and dignified University Club.
Poet Mike Finley pulled a tinsel-bedecked hat out of a bag, solemnly placed it on his head, then fished around inside a gold Christmas stocking, drawing out slips of paper. Not poems, exactly, but something more than jokes. (“Why / is that Frisbee / getting bigger? / and then it hits me … ”)
Poet Ted King pulled on a Santa hat, claimed that Ted King couldn’t make it and had sent Santa in his place, and then began spinning fantastic stories, seemingly off the top of his head, about life at the North Pole.
Baker/poet Danny “Klecko” McGleno never opened his prop bag, just thumped it on the podium as he read a poem about urging a pastry chef to steal Garrison Keillor’s salt and pepper shakers.
At 9 p.m., just as Tim Nolan approached the podium, a half-dozen or so people screamed, “Snow emergency!” and fled to move their cars. Nolan looked at Connolly and said, “You mention my name and people head for the door.”
He carried only a sheaf of paper with him, but it turned out that he, too, had props: As he read his final poem, he removed his shoes and placed them on the podium. He made it almost all the way through the poem before stopping, sniffing the air, and saying, “Oooh, my shoes stink.” And then, “That’s not part of the poem.”
The monthly event is free but passes the hat for Public Art St. Paul.
Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune senior editor for books. On Twitter @StribBooks.