Mark Oreskovich

Mark Oreskovich, guest reader at the Talking Gourds’ gathering Tuesday night. (Courtesy photo)

“Writers don’t read this December,” the headline said.

Of course that wasn’t literally true: The best writers are prolific readers.

What the announcement meant was this: A monthly Writers Night event in Grand Junction had been postponed. COVID-19’s resurgence “has severely limited our ability to safely (hold the event),” the release went on to explain. “We hope to bring you an exciting menu of Writers Nights in the near future.”

Here in the San Juans, the future has arrived — and writer’s nights are starting up again. Beginning on Tuesday, the Telluride Institute’s Talking Gourds Poetry Club, cofounded by Art Goodtimes and Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, will host the first of several monthly get-togethers. As ever with Gourds events, a fresh reader will be on hand each time. On Tuesday, the guest speaker will be Mark Oreskovich of Pueblo, winner of the 2020 Cantor Prize, an award for best poem by a writer in Colorado.

The Gourds’ gathering will not take place in-person, but that just means that more people can attend, from anywhere (and no one needs to risk driving home afterward in a snowstorm). It’s a “COVID-sensitive continuation” of the popular “First Tuesday” meetings that have been held for years in this region. The Talking Gourds have always been an adventurous sort of enterprise, recruiting guest readers from all over Colorado, reaching out via poetry writing contests with increasingly greater geographic scope, and — for a time — even deploying guest poets on road trips from Telluride with stops along US 550 and 50 to Grand Junction. Its latest incarnation reflects the spirit of the travelling storyteller: it’s called Bardic Trails.

The title implies not only the metaphoric journey one takes alongside a reader of poetry, but also hauls readers directly out onto the trail, alongside. Because unlike at other arts events (where audience members are invited to sit back and listen, or gaze at a piece of art) the Gourds invite you to read works of your own. 

The get-together on Tuesday, a collaboration between the Gourds, the Telluride Arts District, Between the Covers Bookstore and the Wilkinson Public Library, will be hosted by Joanna Spindler at the library (register to attend at telluridelibrary.org/events). Memberships help support nonprofits, and nonprofits are stretched this past year more than ever. Accordingly, the Gourds are implementing some changes this season: a one-time donation of $25 gets you on the group’s mailing list for good, and conveys other benefits, including a PDF of the broadside for each reading from Between the Covers (which the library will then print out for free), and preference for “Gourd Circles, Guest Gourd readings and special workshops,” at least some of which will be in-person events, it is hoped, as 2021 unfolds. At Tuesday’s meeting, Oreskovich will read for the first 20 minutes or so, and then, as always, guests will be invited to join in (for this go-round, Rosemerry Trommer has offered the poetry prompt, “Adjust”). Goodtimes has said he considers the arts to be crucial to a community: “Coming to Colorado from San Francisco, and being a person of social justice and action, I realized that the arts are a really powerful way to change things outside of the political realm,” he told an interviewer last year on receiving the Karen Chamberlain Award, for his contributions to poetry in Colorado. “They offer an opportunity to share your experience and inflame the young — to get them excited about things.” Such celebrations are especially needed right now, regardless of where they take place. “The arts are so important, especially at this time of change in our culture, our environment, our politics. We really need the cultural direction of our musicians, our writers, our poets.”

This said, Goodtimes hopes to keep the first installation of Bardic Trails relatively brief — maybe just an hour or more long, the better to whet local appetites for more inspiring readings over the next few months. As he put it, “I always like to say, to keep the audience wanting more, do less,” at least until we can all gather in-person again.

Bardic Trails premieres Tuesday at 7 p.m. with special guest poet Mark Oreskvich, winner of the 2020 Cantor Prize. (register at telluridelibrary.org/events). Subsequent readings are scheduled for Feb. 2, March 2, and tentatively for April 6. To learn more about the Talking Gourds, the Cantor Prize and other poetry prizes open to local and national poets, or to make a donation, visit tellurideinstitute.org/talking-gourds.