Years ago when the Steiny Road Poet was working in New York City with Nancy Rhodes and her Encompass New Opera Theatre to mount Gertrude Stein Invents a Jump Early On, someone asked her if she would like to be on stage with the opera singers. NO, she answered as if she had been punched in the gut. Then she reconsidered, of course I would like to be on stage for the final bow. The final bow in 2005 with composer William Banfield, Eve Gigliotti as Gertrude, Rosalie Sullivan as Gertrude’s partner Alice, Justice Vickers as Gertrude’s brother Leo and the rest of the cast of eleven performers.
Final bows aside, there’s also something to be said for bravely showing one’s face at the beginning of something new and unmastered.
On April 6, 2020, The Word Works under the leadership of Karren Alenier—a.k.a. the Steiny Road Poet—launched CafÃ© Muse Online through the Crowdcast platform. Steiny came on stage virtually—yes, Crowdcast is set up with a green room and stage—to open and close this historic, live event which featured poets Lisa Hase-Jackson and Annie Kim and was attended by 61 live audience members. The show continues to grow its audience as people register to see the archived video footage. Notwithstanding technical audio issues, the show was well received by the audience who voiced its appreciation simultaneously as the readings unfolded through the Crowdcast chat function.
Before the birth of the Steiny Road Poet in 2003 and the earliest kernels of the Stein opera emerged in 1982-83, Alenier had begun hosting circa 1977 an annual summer reading series in Rock Creek Park known as Joaquin Miller Cabin Poetry Series.
At the cabin were lots of challenges—heat, humidity, mosquitoes, thunderstorms, picnicking bikers with their radios on their Hogs turned up loud. In January 1999, Alenier launched the monthly CafÃ© Muse Literary Salon at the Strathmore Hall Arts Center in North Bethesda, Maryland. To maintain wellness for an every-month-of-the-year program requires a team that works happily together—Michael Davis on classical guitar, co-hosts Susan Okie, Renee Gherity, Leah Johnson, Henry Crawford and our shy publicist Burgi Zenhausern.
The bottom line for Alenier and Steiny is that poetry matters despite what else happens and must be given stage on a regular schedule. Rhonda Williford, a poet attending the April CafÃ© Muse launch and contributing there to the running chat, perhaps said it best, “poetry boosts the immune system!”