The Dollhouse Reading Series: Poetry that Beats the Heat (and Traffic and Exhaustion)

In July, P&W-sponsored poets Sally Delehant, Mark Leidner, and Douglas Kearney read with the Dollhouse Reading Series in Chicago. Series director Dolly Lemke reports.

Sally DelehantEvery month Stephen Danos and I host a salon-style poetry reading at my apartment: my carpeted, two-bedroom, un-air conditioned, third-floor walk-up in Chicago’s North Center neighborhood. On this humid July night, after a small rain storm that didn’t even try to push any kind of cold front through, we orchestrated a great evening with readers Sally Delehant, Mark Leidner, and Douglas Kearney.

Frankly, sometimes I don’t want to have a house full of eager poetry lovers. I worked all day, I drove in rush hour traffic, I’m hungry, I’m tired, there are people coming over again. Christ! But then I remember I’m not the only one involved. There are people coming over who plan their night around this series. There are featured readers who have traveled from the coasts. People count on us to entertain and make them feel welcome. People love coming to series (so I hear) for the wicked talent, for the environment, for the new and familiar audience members, for whatever reasons they keep coming back—although it’s definitely not for the heat. This month we warned guests to “dress for the weather,” and we meant it. Whatever the temperature was outside, it was twenty degrees hotter inside.

Mark LeidnerEvery month I remember why we host the series when I see forty-odd people of all kinds sitting on the floor sweating in an almost unbearably hot apartment, all eyes on the reader. I’m reminded that we do it to make other people happy, to bring them together, and to make it a memorable night.

This July reading, like each reading, had a life cycle of its own. We began with Sally, who was nervous and timid, but whose poems were exposed and sad and a little magical. Next, we had Mark, who was reserved and funny. He knew this about himself, you could tell, but he was never self-indulgent. His poems were exactly the same way. Finally, Douglas made you wide-eyed and uneasy but hungry for the edge and the explosion. At the end, Douglas invited Sally and Mark to come up and take a bow with him, as though they made it through the thick heat and travels together. This kind of camaraderie is hard to find and easy to overlook.

Douglas KearneyIt’s also easy to overlook the “Dollhouse virgins.” Stephen and I have been doing this for so long that it’s nice to be reminded of the newness for some guests. A regular, Ryan Spooner, overheard a couple talking about this being their first time. There might have been a giddy giggle in there somewhere, too.     

At the end of the night, I reminded the audience that Stephen Danos has made the series what it is today. I then added that the audience makes the series, that the readers make the series, that supporters make the series. Everyone involved makes the series, and that is what motivates us to keep going, and we love it.

Photos, from top: Sally Delehant, Mark Leidner, Douglas Kearney. Credit: Eric Plattner.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Chicago is provided by an endowment established with generous contributions from Poets & Writers Board of Directors and others. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.