Strider-Girl from TheOneRing.net message boards had a chance to attend the Viggo Mortenson poetry reading yesterday and sends in this report:
Friday March 1st, 2002. It was a beautiful night in Santa Monica; the moon was high and bright, stars were sparkling in the dark sky. A long line of people stretched at the doors of Track 16 Gallery. Any winged creature, good or evil, flying by at that time may have wondered what this was all about. A Council of Elves, Men and Dwarves? An Entmoot? No. The return of a King? Close. The crowd had come together for "Just Words", a sold-out special night of poetry hosted by Track 16 Gallery as a benefit for the organization "Youth Speaks". Founded in San Francisco in 1996 (with branches in New York and Seattle) Youth Speaks, in the words of their own website (www.youthspeaks.org) is the "premier youth poetry, spoken word, and creative writing program in the country."
Of course, many of the people in line were also there for a chance to see, hear, and possibly meet their Brother, their Captain, their King, him of many names, the Ranger, the Dunedain, Strider, the King of Gondor. In this part of the universe he goes by the name of Viggo Mortensen. In Middle Earth, Aragorn has a gift for poetry and song. And fittingly enough, among his many talents as actor, painter, photo-artist, Viggo is also a remarkable poet.
As a vast audience of more than 300 people settled in rather uncomfortable chairs in front of the stage, many spotted Viggo, quietly making his way to the front left and sitting down among his peers. The show immediately opened with a group of four kids from Youth Speaks, exchanging words of poetry, rap style, from each corner of the crowded room. A brief and exciting glimpse of the kids fresh yet mature talent. After a few words of welcome from the organizers, Viggo was the first performer to take the stage.
He had elected not to act out his poems but simply read them. And so he did, humbly, without artifice, in his trademark soft-spoken way. At first he struggled a bit, charmingly nervous, perusing the pages of his book in search of the right piece to start with. "Im going to read a few old ones, and then maybe some new ones if I have the guts", he said, punctuating his speech with soft giggles. One of his papers slipped from his book and fell to the floor, and as the audience laughed, he commented "Thats my invitation". His first poem was a beautiful and intense piece entitled "Home". Two other older pieces followed. From the generous applause, it was clear the audience truly enjoyed his work. Then he grabbed a yellow notepad darkened with scribblings, and said: "This is called "Communion". I will probably take most of it out eventually as I always do, but here it is". "Communion" is a wonderful, deep, haunting love poem, which among the five pieces he read was my favorite. He treated us to one last piece, then he thanked us and quietly, almost bashfully, left the stage under a big round of applause.
Besides Viggo, the other two highlights of the evening were an appearance by Dave Eggers, the best-selling author of "A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius", who brilliantly read an hilarious excerpt from his book. The second was Mark Smith, the founder of the Slam Poetry movement, who using the audience as an active participant, delivered a rousing performance. But the true stars of the evening were undoubtedly the kids from Youth Speaks, who came on stage last, and literally dazzled us with their bright talent. None of these kids is older than 16, and theyre already accomplished, brilliant writers and poets.
As the show ended one of Youth Speaks spokespeople reminded us that this was a benefit, and urged us to open our wallets and be generous. And he added: "Now, Viggo Mortensen, hes a very handsome man, right?" "Yes!" replied the audience, half laughing. "Well", he continued, "someone in the back of the room told me that if anyone writes a check for $30,000, they get to take him home for the weekend!" He paused in the middle of the laughter and applause that followed, and added: "It may be a joke, but who knows? After all, its Hollywood!". (Oh, didnt we all wish then to be wealthy?!!!).
Poetry reading had ended, but the evening was far from over, as a large group of people started moving towards Viggos corner. I ran back to my car and grabbed my two LOTR books which I had brought just in case. Back inside, as I joined the line I recognized a few faces from the Brentanos book signing. For over an hour, Viggo mingled with his fans, tirelessly shaking hands, accepting presents, giving autographs, occasionally giving hugs, and having his picture taken. Always patient and gentle, always giving his full attention to the person speaking to him, never distracted or anxious to leave.
When my turn came to have my books signed, he thanked me for waiting (how gracious is that?!). As he grabbed my Official Movie Guide, he remarked "This is a great book", and asked for my name. I said "Catherine, with a C". He asked: "Are you French?". "Yes", I replied, amused and somewhat astonished. People usually have a hard time identifying my accent (accent, what accent anyway?!) but Aragorn cannot be fooled. He knew! To my delight, Viggo wrote a special autograph on my book IN FRENCH! Yes, among his many talents, the man can also speak some French! Like many other Eowyns before me, I had fallen under the charm of Aragorn, son of Arathorn. A poet, a true artist, a being of light, a prince. He wrote something that said "Catherine, thank you for your visit. See you next time. Viggo" (by the way his signature is quite extraordinary, like some form of ancient Elvish ).
Then I asked if he could also sign my brothers LOTR Visual Companion, and he replied (in French!) "Sure, whats his name?". "Francois" I said, and as I watched him writing, I noticed hes one of the few people Ive ever met in this country who didnt struggle with the spelling of that name ! I thanked him for a great evening, and he said "Yes, arent these kids fantastic? How do they do it?!". One last "thank you", and I quickly stepped out of the crowd. I lingered on for a while, taking this opportunity to admire Viggos paintings and photos in the gallery. A great way to end a perfect evening. My only regret is that I didnt get my picture taken with him. Everybody was doing it, and Viggo always accepted gracefully. I guess I was as bashful as a hobbit caught eavesdropping! But there will be other chances. As Viggo wrote in my book, "See you next time". Indeed, Strider.