Reading Review: Pure Products at Tea Town

The monthly Pure Products Reading and Lecture Series continued Thursday April 8 with a reading at Tea Town in Northport.

The small patio off the side of the coffee shop was lit with string lights and filled with tables and chairs to create an intimate backdrop for the readings. The night began with readings from students in Andy Johnson’s EN 408 spoken word performance class, which ranged from comedy to lyric poems to first person confessional prose. Johnson, who organized the event along with fellow EN 408 teacher Eric Parker, also performed a piece about his experiences confronting race in other countries.

The two main readers of the evening had very different yet complimentary styles of poetry. Alina Stefanescu Coryell wrote about her experiences as a Romanian immigrant growing up in America and the struggles she faced adjusting to the new culture. Her poems mixed elements of lyric poetry with realist and postmodern phrasing and she had a strong cadence to her reading that was emotional and engaging.

Heidi Lynn Staples, who teaches an EN 408 class in ecopoetics, explored the themes of identity and the environment in her readings from a work in progress. Her poems discussed the concept of being an Alabama poet and the Alabamian identity as well as recurring themes of nature and wildlife. She makes good use of repetition in her work, which is enhanced when read aloud. The wordplay and echo in her pieces created a sense of rhythm that flowed from one piece to the next.

Aside from the inescapable hum of the restaurant’s fan system, the atmosphere was ideal for a reading — a warm spring night, good acoustics from the stage mic, the aroma of coffee and tea mixed with the smells of burgers and fries from a local food truck parked out front. The patio was overflowing with people of all ages — college students, adults, children, more than 50 in attendance. It was great to see so many people come out in support of local art. It made me realized that although Tuscaloosa doesn’t appear to be a strong arts community on the surface, if you seek it out, you can find people who are passionate about creating and sharing art and supporting other artists.

The next Pure Products reading is the first weekend in May and I am excited to see where it will be and who will be reading then.