Row after row of poetry fans huddled together in the tiny Wallingford bookstore Open Books to listen to Ellen Bass’s poetry. Listeners broke out in broad grins as words flowed from the poet. Longtime fans nodded when they heard their favorite lines. “Relax, bad things are going to happen,” Bass said, reading from her latest collection Like a Beggar.
There was no clapping between poems. The room was silent, open ears straining to hear what piece Bass would read next. A member of the audience raised a hand and requested to hear “Gate C 22.” The room responded with gasps of happiness.
As far back as she can remember, Bass has loved poetry. “Writing is a chance to investigate,” Bass said. Though she can’t recall the exact moment or poem that inspired her passion, she knows that she began writing in college and that her work was published shortly thereafter.
Bass’s poems are lavish, stitched together with purity, detail and truth. She considers authentic conversation a primary source of inspiration. “Beyond the particular poem, something about someone speaking from their heart…It’s like music,” Bass said.
One of the attendees was Carol Levin, a poet and lifelong reader of Bass’s work. “Once I finish the last page of her book, I just flip it right back to the beginning and start all over again,” Levin said.
Open Books is open Tuesday-Saturday and the first Sunday of every month. One of a small handful of all-poetry bookshops in the nation, it carries a wide variety of poetry collections from around the world.
Lovers of literature and poetry, Christine Deavel and John Marshall opened the shop for readers and curious passers-by. “Details of the world, outer and inner and finding the metaphors in those details,” Marshall said. “Ellen Bass shows passion throughout her work.”
The crowded room boomed with claps as Bass closed the last page of Like a Beggar. Admirers and friends circled around her, laughing and telling stories about her past work. “It’s amazing to know your own poems can also be meaningful and gratifying to others,” Bass said with a satisfied smile.