Poets get personal at Jackson Hole Book Trader

More than 40 people gathered to share their work and process emotions during National Poetry Month.
At the Jackson Hole Book Trader, Abbie Stanford, left, and Matt Daly, right, open up Teton Verse, a night of sharing poems from local poets and open mic readers. (Natalie Shilati/KHOL)

It’s officially mud season in Jackson. With so many people gone, the town can feel dead, but the region’s poetry scene is staying alive.

Local poets recently gathered during April’s National Poetry Month to share their work with the community and get personal. 

On April 13, the fire glowed beneath the elk skull at Jackson Book Trader, the stage for Teton Verse — an evening of reading and open mic poetry. 

Locals, ranging from teens to seniors with varying backgrounds in poetry, stood up and read their work. 

Wanna Johansson was one of the poets who decided to share her work the night of the event. Her poem, Colonized Haiku, was an ode to the banyan trees of her home country, the Philippines. 

“An old banyan tree stood before Magellan came, vines and roots alive. We called her the balete tree. Haunting, gnarled vines, encantos,” she read. 

Speaking about her poem later, Johansson said, “It showed to me that nobody’s identity is straightforward, because what happens in history is not always our choice.”

She just happened to be at the book store, not realizing it was a poetry night, and then decided to read her poem to a group of more than 40 people. 

“It felt like a safe space here.” – Wanna Johansson

Being vulnerable

Teton Verse is co-hosted by Jackson Hole Book Trader and Jackson Hole Writers. The goal is to give poets a welcoming space to read their work, whether they are an amateur or seasoned poet.

13-year-old Morgan King was one of the first to volunteer to read during the open mic. 

“The voices, deep inside, they go through my mind. Like the rivers, the streams, and the tides. This hole doesn’t end, it’s black and deep. It’s really getting to me, cuts so deep,” King read.

She breathed a sigh of relief when she finished reading her poem. The audience applauded.

King said reading her work out loud allows her to get her emotions off her chest. 

A Teton Verse flyer posted on the Jackson Hole Book Trader’s front door, inviting the community to an evening of reading and open mic poetry. (Natalie Shilati/KHOL)

Different works from the night touched on family relationships, environmental conservation, inner love and forgiveness. The audience remained glued to each author for the entire two-hour event, laughing or sighing in response to the poets’ words. 

Susan Marsh, a highlighted poet of the night, typically shares her work through journals, but said she was excited to have this in-person event to read poems from her book, The Earth Has Been Too Generous, which she published last year. 

“I really credit Jackson Hole Writers,” she said, when asked about Jackson’s poetry scene. “Not only do we have an annual conference, which will be in June, but we do other community workshops and readings throughout the year.”

Abbie Stanford, the Book Trader’s store manager, was thrilled by the turnout and breadth of local talent that came to the event. She beamed as she cleaned up from the event. 

“Every single reader is giving and just so vulnerable in that moment, and you feel so grateful to be hearing that,” she said. 

Matt Daly was MC of the evening and another one of the highlighted poets. 

“[Being a poet] is this belief that being vulnerable will make a more vulnerable community.” – Matt Daley

Those interested in learning more about these events can keep an eye on Jackson Hole Writers events. Their poetry workshop is held on the first Wednesday of every month from 6:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. at the Center for the Arts. Organizers say all skill levels are welcome. 

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