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Poetry in Olsson’s

Two different ways to celebrate National Poetry Month.

Brian Heston is never sure when and where inspiration might strike. It could be from a specific event, like during a cheerless train ride back to Virginia, after witnessing his mother’s reaction to his aunt dying around Christmas Eve. Sometime, he draws from his own interests — his fascination with Greek mythology led to a poem written from Epimetheus’s viewpoint, regarding his foolhardy relationship with Pandora.

Heston, an assistant manager at Olsson's bookstore in Courthouse (2111 Wilson Blvd. 703-525-4227), will be one of three featured poets at a reading on Sunday, April 15 at 3 p.m. He said the event, held in conjunction with National Poetry Month, will present an opportunity for poetry lovers to unite and for those who may be intimidated by the spoken art to gain some elementary exposure to it.

"I hope poetry as a whole spreads around the community. Having been a teacher, I realize that people have a prejudice against poetry initially," he said.

Heston, 33, is an alumnus of George Mason University’s Master of Fine Arts Program. "It’s a good program, but like any MFA program there’s some competitiveness. I’ve heard about other programs, and it’s not as bad. You tend to become good friends with a lot of people," he said.

Two of the friends he’s made through the MFA program are reading with him at Olsson’s: poets Brian Brodeur and Kiley Cogis. Heston was working in fiction while they were in a poetry concentration; eventually, they formed a friendship in which each of them has helped the others become stronger poets through exchanging their works.

Heston said the April 15 event will offer some contrast in styles. Brodeur, for example, is a metered poet. "Robert Frost is somebody he likes a lot. I might be closer to Kiley’s style in a sense because we don’t think as much about meter," he said.

"I think we’re very different in sentiment. I much more humorous than they are. Brian’s much more serious. I guess ‘dark’ is the word I’d use."

THE READINGS at the Courthouse event will be followed by an open mic session in which those in attendance can read original works or share their favorite pieces from other writers.

It’s the same sort of experience Alex Beguin hopes his community has at Olsson’s in Old Town (106 S. Union St., 703-684-0077), which is hosting, for the second straight year, a month of poetry events every Thursday in April at 7 p.m.

The festival began last week, and Beguin, the store’s manager, said there was an hour and a half of readings of original or previously published works. "We’ve actually had more people ask about, especially over the weekend. I think people in this area are definitely excited about it," he said.

Last year, Beguin said he was able to land Richmond-based poet Joshua Poteat and 2006 Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Claudia Emerson to participate in the festival; he hopes they may do the same this year.

HESTON SAID it’s important that these events build a poetry community, something he’s valued during his maturation as a writer. "Every teacher as said this to me: You learn more from your classmates than you do from teachers. When a teacher looks at your stuff, they’re not doing it as closely, because they can’t. But with friends, they start knowing your work and you start knowing their work. That’s the best reader for you," he said.

Mary McElveen, the new Poet Laureate for the City of Alexandria, said recently that poetry is surging in popularity thanks to everything from pop culture to hip-hop music. Heston agrees, but said that he hopes to see a trend away from superficiality in the art form.

"The new thing is very language-driven, very ironic. There’s not a lot of heart in it. That’s not to say a lot of very good poetry isn’t being written," he said.

"You always have the people that are language-driven, with wordplay. The problem with that sort of thing is that they’re basing [works] on what’s being published. It’s incredibly tempting, and we all get sucked into it sometimes. I know, with myself, that I stop doing it quickly."