Want to start a PNO in your community? Read on.
Poets’ Night Out was created to be a safe, encouraging, forum for local poets. We wanted to especially make sure first time readers would be comfortable, which is why we decided on seating at round tables rather than theater seating. Our event feels like a family style poetry reading. Poets’ Night Out is approaching the 14th year and every year our committee gets together after the event to discuss improvements. We have developed a dynamic program that meets the needs of our local poets and is innovative enough to fill the Opera House every year.
Poets’ Night Out now includes three events, a writing workshop the day of PNO, the poetry reading that evening, both events are the second Sunday in November. A few years ago we added a kickoff for National Poetry Month the first Saturday in April. Our steering committee of five meets throughout the year to plan these events. Our group is made up of a librarian, 2 poets, a computer expert who also works at the library and a writer who creates the chapbook every year. The event is sponsored by the Friends of the Traverse Area District Library, the Traverse Area District Library, Horizon Books and Clark, Walter Sirrine Architects.
When we began PNO, one of our most important decisions was to have a program that lasted just an hour and a half with a twenty minute intermission. Twenty-five winning poets is the perfect number for our program. The first group of twelve poets to read is eligible for the two Audience Prizes, these are two prizes of $50.00 cash, chosen by the audience. The audience voting is a very successful part of our program as everyone in the audience stays focused in the first half because they are choosing the big winner. The audience prize also serves another important purpose; the prize is awarded last so everyone stays to find out who won.
The intermission is a time for the audience to eat, drink, talk, listen to a local musician and move around, while a small group of us is hurriedly counting votes. The 13 poets in the second half have all won prizes awarded by the jurors. These prizes are mostly checks of $10.00-25.00, the Horizon Books prize, a $50.00 gift certificate, is the largest juror awarded prize.
Another key ingredient in our early planning of Poets’ Night Out was the involvement of students as well as adults in our program. We have made it a priority to always have winners from middle and high school. Students always bring their families and friends and are most apt to create their own audience.
Traverse City is very fortunate to have a restored late 1800’s Opera House. We began Poets’ Night Out there, moved around for several years due to renovations and now have returned to it. Our travels to other locations confirmed the suitability of our initial choice. The Opera House has an inviting warmth with polished wood floors and a history of performance. Renting the Opera House is the single most expensive item in our budget.