(The interview was both serious at times and a lot of fun. You wouldn't get the flavor without 'hearing' some of the laughter. In the interest of journalistic integrity I must confess to being great fans of Cameron and Pete and hold them in high respect for what they have contributed to our community.)
L: I want to tell you why I'm interviewing you two. Recently I was looking for something to pour my energy into and I realized it was right in front of my face. It was the readings. Although I have a larger vision for it, the more I thought about it, the more I realized it was the readings itself that was the core. The readings at C&P are the center of the Poetrybridge community. And you two have created both a physical and welcoming space for it.
P: (deadpan voice) That makes perfect sense to us Leo. (All laugh).
L: None of that is probably going to be recorded. (More laughter)
L: I'm just wasting your time. Actually you're more fun than I remember. (More laughter)
P: Just out of curiosity, was your new energy thing have anything to do with the election somehow, I assume?
L: It had mostly to do with my retirement. After that, I discovered that I was and have been an artist all my life and artists can't retire. I realized my approach to my organization development had primarily been as an artist. When I was no longer working, I was looking for another art project and discovered that it was right in front of me, Poetrybridge. Anyway, who's being interviewed?
P: I was just curious because that's how I have felt since the election about the coffee shop. What do I do? How do I reach out? Where do I go? Then I realized, it's right here. We have the vehicle for it. We're sort of doing it already, but we just now do it with a little more sort of awareness. Build community, be a place for people to organize and be safe.
L: That's great and it begins to answer my question, how did this all start...it's been what 13 years?
C: I think we just turned 15.
L: How did this come about? What was your thinking? Why C&P?
C: I had been in coffee for about 15-20 years and I always knew I wanted to do my own thing. Pete was in Pike Street Market and I didn't want to be a produce person. We were both entrepreneurs, but I wanted to be inside and he was outside.
P: We knew we were going to start a business.
C: And sell something. People don't buy bananas every day. They buy coffee every day. So I won. (Laughs)
P: That's true. The Market is sort of a hard way to make a living. Although we had no idea this thing was going to happen the way it was.
C: And community, sadly, was not on my agenda, when we first opened up. I was just in coffee. I was opening a coffee shop, make coffee, that's really all I knew. As a self-centered young person often does, you're just doing it for you, right? And that, luckily, all worked out and the people that walked in the door brought something to the space, that I wasn't looking for.
Because my life is so much better because it’s not my space anymore. It hasn't been my space for a long time. I am much happier and more part of something than I could have ever imagined.
And I remember many, many years ago, when you wanted to put up the Poetry Pole. And I couldn't get it. Because I was just thinking about my space, right? And my vision of it. And I operated that way for a long time, when we first opened up. And lucky for me, the people that walked in the door saw the space as their space too. Because my life is so much better because it’s not my space anymore. It hasn't been my space for a long time. I am much happier and more part of something than I could have ever imagined. It is not just a livelihood at all. And again, the poetry pole was a good starting place for me to start to see, oh, I need to let go of some of this and let it become what it wants to become, right? I think if it had just stayed our vision, none of this would have happened. It wasn't my focus to make a community hub, I'm sad to say.
P: We opened a business and then the thing grew organically because the community came in and they started doing stuff. They started wanting the space and then we thought how could we utilize the space in the evenings to drive business in the evenings. So, let's do music. So, the music thing started happening and that became its own vehicle for people to do stuff. Once we opened the doors, the community filled the space. That's been the beauty of it.
C: And the more the community grows, the more the space gets filled with all the different capacities, right? We have the whale science talks, Jennifer’s watercolor class, we have poetry, music all the time, community meetings.
P There's a group of women who meet here now that's a postcard writing group. Every week they meet and write dozens and dozens of postcards to their reps, a spin off from the Women's March. It’s a place where people come and do stuff.
L: So, what I hear is that you welcomed it evolving to become a community.
C: When you and I talked about the poetry pole, I was like, I don't see how that fits into my vision. All I was thinking about was the garden. And the next evolution after the poetry pole was someone approached us with an environmental project to build the garden beds in the back. That was not my project. I thought, what about my idea for the garden? But we are so much better off for those garden beds where in summertime, the kids are planting stuff, and they're eating it, and it's such a better use of the space than my vision for it. So, the only thing I can pat myself on the back for is being mature enough to let go a little bit, right? That's not much of an accomplishment. (laughs)
L: I think you are underestimating the appreciation that exists for your presence and instead of just a pat on the back, there would be a lot of cheering from all of us. I just wanted you to hear that.
C: All right.
L: Now days I see the artist in everyone. I notice it, spot it in others. How do you see the artist in yourself and each other or perhaps your kids?
Our motto is to be kind. Provide a space that’s based on this principle of kindness. You might think that's art and I think you could think of it like that, but for us, it's just to be kind, that's the biggest thing.
P: I don't see it like that. I don’t see myself as an artist. Or see this as a vehicle for art really. Our motto is to be kind. Provide a space that’s based on this principle of kindness. You might think that's art and I think you could think of it like that, but for us, it's just to be kind, that's the biggest thing.
C: And I think in having that be our family motto, and hopefully our business motto too, in being kind and letting go, you can really create an environment where you can care about people's safety, their comfort level in expressing themselves, in all these different forms we just talked about, and finding ways to support our community whether it’s through the fund raising that we do or through events that is meaningful to them and the community. We support that. So that's not a driving creativeness necessarily but I think it provides a place for people to be creative, right? If you can support them, you can embrace them, and you can make them feel comforted and welcome, then that is an opportunity for creativity to flourish.
L: I think kindness can be part of an artist's palate. There is the artifacts of art. I have one of your artifacts, a watercolor, painted by you hanging in my home. I have bought your cards and sent them to other people. Those are the most visible forms. But I have expanded my view of what art is, to live an artist life, a way of being. A place of kindness is an art where other kinds of art can grow and flourish.
C: Art can grow and flourish under controversy and hardship too, obviously. But I think there is plenty of that in the world. Actually, I think it takes more work to stop being all about you and really try to focus on others. And again, my life is so much better since this light bulb went off. I was really late for this light bulb. But I don't think it's going to dim now.
I think the people who have come into my life, I'm pointing to you, have just added to it completely. And I consider myself an artist. I'm a painter and I have learned so much from the people that walk in the door. So much. And those relationships continue to grow. And I wouldn't have found them, I wouldn't have found your wife, I wouldn't have found Jennifer. all my fellow painters … we paint in the summertime. And it focused around here. And not because I sought it out. It came to me.
L: My next questions focuses more on poetry and storytelling. The tagline we have for Poetrybridge Times is 'as if poetry and storytelling matters". Do you think they matter in today's world?
I think art matters period. There's always a time during Poetrybridge when something sort of inspirational happens, whether it’s some poet who's obviously scared, has never done it before, but they go up and they do it, they have the courage to do that, and that is one of the bravest things you could do too, cause you're naked, but for your words.
P: I think art matters period. There's always a time during Poetrybridge when something sort of inspirational happens, whether it’s some poet who's obviously scared, has never done it before, but they go up and they do it, they have the courage to do that, and that is one of the bravest things you could do too, cause you're naked, but for your words. It's a beautiful thing. That kind of experience, I don't know if there's anything more valuable than that. It's a beautiful thing, it's cool.
I am not enamored by all the words that I hear, but I think its art in motion. It's fun to listen to. And you deserve a lot of credit for MC'ing the thing and have that sort of percolate out of you. Because you're good at it and you make people feel welcome. I think it is a well-done thing. I don't think just having an open mic is necessarily always a well-done thing. It matters who's MC'ing the thing, who's steering it.
C: And now, more than ever, our shared stories are really important. Understanding each other and our differences is really important. Although this is a safe space, within that safe space, we need to expand our shared experience so we can understand each other better, so we can act from that, not just politically, but even emotionally. We can learn to be bigger, better people through recognizing that's it’s not always just about us, It’s about our shared experience as human beings. Poetry and storytelling is one way to understand that. There's a visual way, there's a musical way and this is something everyone can relate to.
P: And given the dynamic in the room too, that all these people are here and they respectfully listen to each other. They really listen. And there is something to that which is the strongest part of community and family and everything else. There's a respect in the room. And that is this flowering of this art that you are talking about too. That's what's going on. There's respect. And it’s a beautiful thing.
C: And you've talked about this before, people aren't really good listeners in general. Because we're all sort of self-centered. But that is a moment, as you just said, that people are actively listening. That is a really rare thing.
P: The other storytelling group that we have, Words West, it's a different dynamic there, they invite two authors, they read their work for I think half hour, forty minute each. Then you meet the author, ask questions, it's a different set up but it works too in a really cool way. Super talented people.
L: I'm smiling because I've always assumed that if we talked about this…what's important to me would resonate with you, but to actually hear your words, without hearing mine first, I'm just delighted.
P: I've always felt a sort of kindred spirit with you for years when you first came in.
L: Just a couple of other questions. Do you have a favorite poet?
P: Pablo Neruda. I had never even explored poetry at all and then I was in a horrible breakup and then I remembered that Neruda had these beautiful love poems. He was the first poet I read that it wasn't work to read them, it didn't have to rhyme, it wasn't sort of cumbersome, there weren't too many words. His words particularly were simple and they just resonated. I just thought, this is so great. He was my doorway into poetry. I thought it was fantastic.
My favorite is Walt Whitman. He has always really spoken to me. And I just recently rediscovered him and remembered how sparked I was the first time I read his work. And thought this guy lived a long time ago and it’s like he's living now. It really blew my mind.
C: I would say the same just because he loves it and then my favorite is Walt Whitman. He has always really spoken to me. And I just recently rediscovered him and remembered how sparked I was the first time I read his work. And thought this guy lived a long time ago and it’s like he's living now. It really blew my mind.
P: Oh yeah. I just was reading Leaves of Grass again. It’s amazing. Like reading a river, just flows. It’s really fantastic.
L: My last question is really a trivial one, but do you both drink coffee?
P: Oh boy. (Cameron laughs).
C: I'm drinking coffee right now.
L: So, what's your favorite coffee brew?
C: I drink an Americano.
L: Do you put stuff in it.
C: Depends on the day. If Peter's really bothering me...
L: You put what?
C: I'm not telling (everyone laughs)
P: A little extra sugar... I don't drink much coffee because it makes me nervous.
The interview ends with more laughter.