August marked the beginning of a new series of poetry nights at Salida’s Café Dawn.  At the helm of this public poetry rebirth are café owners Dawn Heigele and Phillip Benningfield with poet Barbara Ford.  Benningfield himself is an accomplished writer and poet, and as part of the open mic portion of this event, he read from his own publication a flip social observation about condiments.

Joining Benningfield were local and visiting poets, all with unique poetic visions and points of view.



Bill Schroeder explored the “Heart of Wisdom,” and the “Silence of Stone” from his cellphone screen.  Laptops and cellphones seem to be the new medium to store and transport one’s most profound and hilarious words.  Many of the night’s writers recited from these electronic vaults.

Claire Strawn of Eugene, Oregon read work from a naturalist’s view about musing and howling under the sky.  Local musician and poet Brian Rill shared lyrical verses with a poem about Café Dawn and his rhythmic surroundings in Salida.  Serindipitously, gallery owner Karl Ortman called Rill’s cellphone as he was reading from it.  He answered it for effect.


Jeff Donlan presented the question, “Shall I do the poem about sex, or the one about paperweights?”  The audience choice was obvious, but he did the one about paperweights.  Dick Cuyler unearthed his classical roots with a sonnet entitled, “Moonheart” in which our hero, the moon, soothes thorny night terrors of heart disease.  He also presented a villanelle, adding to the stylistic breadth of the evening.



Laura Thomas taught herself the lessons of her past with a memoir.  Alex Drummond gave a sort of loving rant to Salida, poets, and inspiration with evocative word-play.   Adrian Reif gave his first open mic style reading about the social dilemmas he has seen in his travels.  Marc Haggerty invoked a sea-shanty style poem from memory, swaying while he built his words to a crescendo.

This writer was struck by the vast array of ideas, wit, humor and mastery of emotional language that unfolded in this rapid-fire format.  This is a very collegial and supportive group, that can create a space much like an all-day pass to rides in a theme park, with only words and gestures.

The format for these events, which will continue every third Sunday evening, includes readings from featured poets.  August’s poets were members of the River City Nomads, a longstanding word-smithing troupe.

They quickened the pace of the event, delivering a round-robin of stories and discoveries.


Laurie James, a fixture of literary Salida, was introduced as the progeny of a one-eyed man and a one-thumbed woman from Montana.  Her western style verses sparked like a campfire.

Peter Anderson taught us the word “querencia,” a place where one feels deeply at home, just as the night’s electrical storm flashed on Tenderfoot Mountain in the background.  Linda La Rocca drew out the humanity and humor in interpersonal situations.

As the café sessions pick up momentum and reconvene this month, 6:30 on September 18 at Café Dawn, it is important to note the rich history of poetry in Salida.  Poetry will always surface as a celebration of the human experience.  Barbara Ford read a piece for August, ‘August Ode to Organic’ she had re-commandeered from her first open mic in 2006 at Clark Roberts’ and Paul Ilecki’s Bongo Billy’s Café.  It reminds us of the many poetry forums that have materialized over the years.  There was a Salida Library program called Poetry on a Platter, put together and sustained through the efforts of Kathy Berg, a library employee in the early 2000’s.  From 2001 through 2007 there was a 3 day poetry festival in Salida at the SteamPlant called Sparrows organized by Jude Janett and Laurie James.  Many others helped with production, and fundraising efforts that sustained it for seven years. The energy for the event waned with the times, but our local poets have kept a torch lit.

According to Ford, “There is a lot of nostalgia and ‘remember whens’ that rattle around town about Sparrows. After Sparrows ended, Laurie James successfully put together a number of one-day poetry events in collaboration with Salida ArtWorks, now Salida Council for the Arts.

There are more competing events these days, and poetry doesn’t traditionally ‘fill the house’. That’s why holding it at Cafe Dawn, with Dawn and Phillip’s support, makes it possible to start up a monthly poetry reading and keep it going.

“For awhile now, I’ve had the urge to hold poetry readings at Cafe Dawn, and it turned out that Dawn was thinking in a similar way. We put our heads together and started designing a format. We’re using a model similar to a monthly event held in Aspen at the local coffeehouse, spearheaded by Kim Nuzzo and the Aspen Poets’ Society. Several of us have attended those events and performed there as well. A number of local poets, and ‘local’ includes Lake County and the San Luis Valley, feel strongly about giving poetry a presence in Salida again. There are voices waiting to be heard, and ears hungry for something other than what the media offers.”

Ford, James and others continue to organize visiting poets, like the Birds of a Feather event  in 2010 featuring a number of Western Slope performance poets.  The Shavano Poets, the local chapter of the state poetry society, sponsors poetry workshops at least once a often including a performance by the poet who is presenting the workshop. The group also holds monthly meetings, open to anyone wanting to attend.

Not to be understated, Ford’s radio show on KHEN, Poets and Minstrels, has been going on for 10 years and has been a driving force in keeping the literary arts alive in Salida. She reads poetry from everywhere.