Constance Merritt
Constance Merritt | Photo by Diane Dennerline

Constance Merritt is an award-winning poet based right here in Louisville. She made her way here by following her heart — a first date with a Louisvillian she matched with on an online dating site soon led to love and marriage — and she has since grown fond of the life and opportunity here.

Merritt is the author of four volumes of poetry — “Blind Girl Grunt: The Selected Blues Lyrics and Other Poems” (2017), “Two Rooms” (2009), “Blessings and Inclemencies” (2007) and “A Protocol for Touch” (2000). She’s won numerous literary awards and currently serves as the poetry editor for the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion.

On Thursday, June 27, Merritt will join a handful of other local poets, activists and writers at Spalding at 21c: Voice and Vision, a series that celebrates creativity in Louisville. Fellow speakers include Hannah L. Drake, Dylon Jones, Minda Reves, Ian Stansel and Sarah Anne Strickley, and it’ll be hosted by Lynnell Edwards, associate program director of Spalding University’s School of Creative and Professional Writing.

Blind Girl Grunt book
“Blind Girl Grunt” came out in 2017.

The event is free and starts with open-mic readings, followed by presentations from the guests. It runs from 6-7:30 p.m. at 21c Museum Hotel, 700 W. Main St.

Merritt tells Insider she’ll be reading three poems on Thursday, one by poet Laura Hershey, who she recently wrote an essay about. The other two will be pieces of her own work.

“I chose the poems I will read because I felt like challenging people,” she says.

The poet is most looking forward to hearing the work of her fellow writers.

“A few years ago, we attended a spoken-word workshop with Hannah Drake at the Writer’s Block conference, so I’m especially excited to hear her read,” adds Merritt.

Before she takes the podium on Thursday, we asked her some very important questions …

What was your first concert?

Heart album
Big hair, big Heart.

Heart. I won tickets off the radio, and my parents drove me the 40 miles from our hometown, Pine Bluff, Ark., to Little Rock to attend. My dad stayed in the van the whole time talking on the CB or listening to preachers on AM radio, while my mom and I went in.

I was really, really into Heart back then, so my elation outweighed my anxiety about being in such a large crowd. In our subsequent recountings, we tended to focus on how loud it was — how the thrum and throb of it made my mom fear she was having a heart attack, how there was ringing in my ears the next day.

At least, that’s what I’d like the answer to be, but before that there may have been a small group of blind and low-vision high school friends hellbent on an evening with Barry Manilow.

What could you give a 40-minute presentation on with absolutely no preparation? 

Everyday Paper for Everyday People — all the things you need to know and do to stay on top of your money in the day-to-day and how to put it to work for your future. Let’s talk budgeting, investing, financial planning! Cash transfers? Guaranteed Basic Income, anyone?

What job would you be terrible at?

Really, any of a vast number of jobs where doing your job is mutually exclusive with being a decent human being — robber barons, telescammers, politicians, predatory anythings.

What is your favorite restaurant or bar?

Ditto’s Grill is my go-to. It’s walkable from where I live, but also offers off-street parking. It’s comfy and cozy and quiet enough for talking — how is it a good thing for restaurants to be so loud? I like their menu. The food is always good, and a meal there won’t break the bank.

A few months ago my wife and I took visiting writer Carolyn Forché there for lunch, and she remembered being there with poets Nickole Brown and Jessica Jacobs on a previous visit to Louisville, so, yeah, Ditto’s is a solid choice — at least, for poets. I’m not really a bar person, but if I were, Chill Bar on a Sunday afternoon would be the place to be — it’s my favorite bar to walk by.

What is something you think everyone should do at least once?

Grow yourself some good food to eat. You will learn a lot about a lot of things. It’s good fun and hard work and confers just the right mix of humility and pride.

Where would you direct a newcomer of Louisville to get a feel for the city? 

My first impression of Louisville was WorldFest 2008. I loved it! And we have rarely missed a WorldFest in the intervening years.

WorldFest dancer
WorldFest 2019 will take place at the Belvedere Aug. 30-Sept. 2. | Courtesy of WorldFest

What could be better than welcoming new citizens into our community, celebrating our diverse cultures with a parade, and welcoming everyone to share in the celebration with live music and delicious food and crafts and a chance to connect with community organizations? WorldFest is Louisville at its best!

What keeps you here? 

I could say that my wife is a tenured librarian at Indiana University Southeast or that my mom is buried here or that we love our house in Cherokee Triangle or some such, but I think the grass is always greener and above the drone of what is there’s always the siren song of possibility.

So more than any particular thing, what keeps us here is that we are here, and at some point along the way decided to choose stability and fidelity over fresh starts and life upgrades — the freedom of intimacy over the freedom of the quest.

Sara Havens
Sara Havens is the Culture Editor at Insider Louisville, known around town as the Bar Belle (barbelleblog.com). She's a former editor of LEO Weekly and has written for Playboy and The Alcohol Professor. Havens is the author of two books: "The Bar Belle" and "The Bar Belle Vol. 2."