Robins danced on the red-shingled roof. The harsh Charleston sun began to wane, giving rise to a strawberry moon. It was the perfect poetic setting for a poetic evening.
The Sundown Poetry Series, a mainstay of the Piccolo Spoleto literary scene, held a retrospective Monday evening. This series began in 1979, the same year as Spoleto’s sister festival. The retrospective included the work of poets both deeply rooted in, and inspired by, the city of Charleston.
Ellen Dressler Moryl, director of the City of Charleston Office of Cultural Affairs and the founding director of the Piccolo Spoleto Festival, said that there was no real catalyst for Monday’s retrospective.
The time just felt right.“There were a couple of people who had been in the festival close to the beginning of its origins who applied to read, and I thought: ‘It would be really cool to get this one individual and maybe three or four others who had been in there. So we’re doing it!’ ” Moryl said.
Oliver Bowman opened the evening by reading the work of Alice Cabaniss, organizer of the Sundown Poetry series until 1988. Bowman described her poetry as short and sweet.
“If an idea could be expressed in ten words, she would do it in five,” he said before delivering five of her best poems.
The work of Eugene Platt followed. A Charleston native and member of the James Island Public Service District Commission, Platt takes much inspiration from the city.
“The way we live, it’s very poetic, it’s inspiring,” he said. “It’s in the water, it’s in the air.”
Platt’s poetry is as much an act of catharsis as it is a string of consonants and vowels. The six poems he shared Monday highlighted personal milestones, such as the birth of his daughter, as well as losses. “A Widower’s Fifth September,” a poem about the death of his wife, Mary, was the emotional zenith of the evening.
Constance Pultz’s poetry, as read by Harriet McDougal Rigney, came next.
“Constance was kind and sharp, like a gentle surgeon’s knife,” said Rigney.
Pultz was an intricate part of Charleston’s Poetry Society and wrote many poems, such as “Shrimp Net Aloft to Dry,” inspired by the images of South Carolina.
Dennis Ward Stiles closed the evening. Poems like “It Just Knocked My Socks Off” and “Pelican Mantra” played with the form and peculiar meanings of language. They were also laugh-out-loud funny.
“I like to make fun. I’m not a person who takes himself very seriously,” Stiles said.
The Sundown Poetry Series Retrospective ended Monday with a laugh. The series, however, is ongoing. Readings, some serious, continue through Friday, all at 6:30 p.m. in the Dock Street Theatre Courtyard.
The remaining poets include Pat Riviere Seel, Sandra Marshburn, Libby Bernardin and Marcus Amaker.
Mary Gibble is a Newhouse School graduate student.