Crashing a poetry reading at Open Books

I’ve driven by Open Books on 45th here in Seattle many times, but I’ve either been too busy or they’ve been closed. My wife and I were driving past last night after dinner when I noticed that they were open.

We parked around the corner and walked through the rain, only to see that the store was crowded with people, spilling out onto the sidewalk. I suspected that this was the tail end of a poetry reading, but hey, the cash register was open and people were still looking over the shelves (an inventory of 9,000+ books of poetry, according to their Web site), so I thought I could sneak in and grab the book I’ve been trying to find — one of Wagoner’s collections published after the Collected I have. (Fine, call me a Wagoner fanboy/groupie — he’s a great guy, and I love his poetry.)

Anyway, I pick up the book and make my way back to the front of the store, noticing for the first time that the center of attention seems to be someone other than the cashier. Crap!, I think, It’s the poet herself! (I’d been hoping the reading was an open-mic or something, I guess.) I didn’t recognize her based on any book jacket photos I’ve seen, but then I wouldn’t be able to recognize most of the poets I read (mainly in journals). I edged close enough to read the name on the cover of the books stacked next to her. I pride myself in knowing the national and local poetry scenes reasonably well, but her name still didn’t ring a bell. Now I was in the awkward position of being in line to have a book signed by someone I didn’t know, or to blow past her to buy the book I really wanted.

I opted for a strategic retreat instead. So, back to the shelves, wending my way through the chairs neatly aligned to face the back of the store, back to the front, through all the poetry aficionados looking shy as they asked to have their books signed, out into the rain and cigarette smoke.

I think there’s a poem in all that somewhere…