Poets Without a Pause

With a lifelong respect and love of poetry, and a desire that the local community have the opportunity to share in its meaning, Traktung Khepa started One Pause Poetry in 2010. He has personally funded much of its budget as well suggested it represent a range of the most accomplished writers as well as up and coming poets seeking their first audience.

In those early meetings, Traktung Khepa gave me a long list of poets to invite, starting with Nathaniel Mackey and ending with Gary Snyder. One Pause was to be non-academic and non-market driven; all poetry readings were to be free. And so our mission became clear — to make poetry accessible to all.

Sarah Messer at the One Pause Gary Snyder reading in 2015

Sarah Messer at the One Pause Gary Snyder reading in 2015

To follow our mission, we applied for Michigan Council of the Arts and Cultural Affairs grants. Since 2011, we have been funded every year. In 2011, we also received support from the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation to build a website for One Pause. We also developed the High School reading competition and Conversation Series. The vision was to be all-inclusive, treating our website as an archive for the One Pause events, but also creating a national audio poetry library for poetry lovers, old and young everywhere.

Tracy K. Smith reads at Tsogyelgar

Tracy K. Smith reads at Tsogyelgar

When Tracy K. Smith came to read at the farm in October, coyotes bayed in the background, and we lit 150 lanterns. An African American man and his young daughter had driven from Windsor, Canada to hear the reading. “She told me she wants to be a poet,” he said, “and I didn’t know how to help her until I saw the ad for this reading. So I knew we should come.”

And then there is the presence of the poets themselves — Julie Carr and Christine Hume teaching a poetry and dance class in the upstairs of the old barn; A. Van Jordan arriving at the farm in fancy shoes, only to hand back his check after the reading, saying “how can I get paid for this?”; Forrest Gander borrowing a White Lotus Farms sweatshirt and rushing out to see the goats; the sound of rain on the tent during Malena Morling’s reading; brilliant stars over Andrei Codrescu; Anne Waldman’s crazy hands as she yelled and sang and sweat her poems in the middle of a warehouse downtown; Robert Hass reading an entirely new series of poems he’d never shared before, his daughter and grandson in the front row; Gary Snyder spending four hours at the farm with his friends, visiting the creamery, the shrine room, the ponds and gardens; Nathaniel Tarn talking about Latin and translation over dinner with one of our high school poetry winners; the high school poets sneaking out of the reading early to light all of the lanterns, and staying after with flash lights, laughing and cleaning everything up, sitting for a long time in a circle on the lawn in the dark talking about poetry.

Franz Wright in the red barn at Tsogyelgar in 2011

Poet Franz Wright was dying of lung cancer when he visited the farm in 2011, but he gave a beautiful reading and conversation in the red barn. When it was clear he wasn’t up for a fancy dinner, I ordered Chinese food and brought it to his hotel. We spent a few hours together, Franz writing out many of his new poems long hand in pen and ink on giant scrolls of art paper, talking in depth about each one. I still have ink stains on the sleeves of my sweatshirt from that night. When Franz died earlier this year, I wrote to t.k. to tell him of Franz’s death, and to ask if he would pray for him.

“I already am, silly.” I heard him say.

I am grateful, beyond words, for everything.

—Sarah Messer
Director, One Pause Poetry