Poetic Injustice 

Cheryl Townsend is leading her literary flock to hell

Three women showed up at the Cheryl Townsend Poetry Reading and Open Mic dressed like young Republicans on their way to a book-burning. Wearing ankle-length flowered dresses with huge bows in their hair, the three sat huddled together, looking like a flowery loveseat.

The evening began when one of the furniture-women took the stage and started singing born-again ballads on an old karaoke machine. The volume was set way high, so her pleas to the Lord sounded kind of like a searing death metal rant. Still, the occasional "Jesus" found its way out of the distorted mess that came screeching out of the little speaker. The religious assault was awkward for most of the people who attended the event: Half of those who were prepared to read that night had written sex poems.

Townsend regularly puts together free poetry readings in her store (Cat's Impetuous Books at 233-1/2 South Water Street in Kent) and in various other places where the written word is spoken. This particular reading was in an old church in Hudson.

As soon as the death metal Christian revival was over, a teenage girl got onstage to read poems. At first, the audience looked relieved to have a poet on the mic, so they wouldn't have to be reminded that they were all going to hell. Then the girl started to read, and it became clear that they were already in hell. Her first poem, "Death," reasoned that "death is bad, because it takes away people who you like, and that makes you feel real sad, because you don't want them to go away.

"Death," the girl concluded, "is really, really bad."

Later that evening, when a couple of more-experienced poets stepped up to the mic, things took on a more seasoned tone. Pieces about working in a grocery store stood up next to pieces about anonymous sex and conflicts in the Middle East.

The three couch women -- who, it turns out, were traveling evangelists -- fled the church when they realized that they were the only people in the room who weren't going to hell. They probably didn't want to be nearby when God reduced the audience to a steaming pile of ashes.

When the poems ran dry, a group of drummers surfaced and beat the hell out of the night. It's just a shame the women in the flowered dresses didn't stick around long enough to gather a few more horror stories to tell at their next book-burning

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