A gathering of poets: Monthly readings a Shawnee tradition since 1993

Tina Bridenstine
The Shawnee News-Star
Featured reader Ben Myers sets up at the monthly poetry reading at The Lunch Box in downtown Shawnee.

Each month, wordsmiths and poets gather in downtown Shawnee for monthly poetry readings with a featured reader. It's an event with a long history that is open to all.

The poetry readings started, Aline Smith said, when her late husband, Jim Spurr, and a few others, including OBU professor Bill Thomas and Larry Smith, began to organize them in 1993 on Kickapoo at what was then called Deem's Bean Scene.

The locations have changed through the years, from Benedict Street Marketplace to the current location of The Lunch Box on Main Street – but many of the faces have remained the same.

Spurr organized the meetings, found readers for each month, and was a poet himself.

“This is all due to Jim Spurr,” Vicki Edgin, one of those attending the July poetry reading, said.

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These days, Smith organizes the meetings, and her nephew Tommy Smith or Bike Shoppe owner Larry Smith usually emcee the readings.

Smith said she doesn't write poetry herself, but has had the opportunity to meet many poets over the years at events she attended with her husband, and she's taken the reins to make sure the poetry readings continue.

Smith said she already has featured readers lined up for the rest of 2021, including Rilla Askew and husband Paul Austin in August, Lauren Zuniga in September, husband and wife team Julie Chappel and Hank Jones for October, and Nathan Brown for November.

In July, former Oklahoma Poet Laureate Ben Myers, a professor at Oklahoma Baptist University, was the featured reader. He began with poems about the Dust Bowl, accompanying himself on guitar and harmonica as he read, and then moved on to other topics.

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Open mic follows the featured reader each month, and July saw several poets take the stand, musing on a variety of topics – a coin, a cat, a letter sent to a soldier, just to name a few.

The Lunch Box was filled with listeners and readers, and Smith said it's not unusual to have a good number of people show up – many of whom have been coming for decades. Though, she said even if there aren't many who attend, “Most poets don't mind reading to one person.”

Poetry readings take place at 7 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month (except December) at The Lunch Box, located at 217 E. Main in downtown Shawnee. Everyone is welcome, either to listen or to get up and read. The restaurant opens at 6 p.m. for those who want to order food or drinks.