We've tapped some very special guest bloggers to help us celebrate this summer's Word for Word Poetry series at Bryant Park. They provide a behind-the-scenes look at each event and divulge about the talented poets who share their work in the park. Experience Word for Word Poetry yourself every Tuesday through September 14, from 7pm to 8:30pm, at the Bryant Park Reading Room.
Anne Lovering Rounds on Word for Word Poetry, August 3
When Paul Romero introduced the poets in Tuesday’s Word for Word Poetry lineup, he remarked that they would read in alphabetical order: Tara Betts, Marcus Jackson, and Dante Micheaux. In the context of poetry, that phrase caught my ear…alphabetical order…the arrangement of lyric language into a frame for experience. The works of these three writers conveyed everything from anger to love to amusement, and each reader was living proof of poetry’s power to distill.
Tara Betts’s debut collection, Arc and Hue, came out in 2009 from Aquarius Press/Willow Books, and she read a number of pieces from the book before turning to new work. At the microphone, Betts was confident and sensual: she incanted her poems. Whether musing on the “fibrous gleam” of strands of hair in the love poem “Lock Maintenance,” speaking up against the national response to Hurricane Katrina (“Hurricane Kwame Offers His Two Cents”), or cataloguing the allure of the body (“Houdini didn’t have these,” as one line in “Hips” put it), her poems assert, rather than just describe. This poetry often drew attention to the pleasure of repetition, the pleasure of plain utterance: “Call me, call me, call me”; “Hey honey”; “Hey baby.” New poems included “Ode to Incense,” an evocative portrayal of what for Betts is a sign of both the familiar and the enigmatic, and the elegy “This Woman’s Bones,” a poem that becomes a protest against mediocrity, a call not to “[turn] into fallow chalk.” Challenging words, and as her reading made clear, Betts is committed to meeting that challenge through her art.
The voice of emerging poet Marcus Jackson is a mix of wry, deliberate, and forthright. Jackson told the audience that he was from Toledo, Ohio, and there was an element of Midwestern wistfulness—the melancholy of the landlocked—in certain poems he read: in “Scarlett’s,” where the speaker enters the title strip club populated by erstwhile girls next door and truckers on solitary “Chicago-to-Buffalo stints”; or in “Day Drinking,” with its resignation, “Of course we’ll have another.” In a piece he called a “hindsight poem,” Jackson addressed an 8th grade English teacher he had failed to appreciate, wondering how “Mr. Bernard” had managed to continue, day after thankless day, to endure the “muddled box cars of our clauses.” Not all was nostalgia and bittersweetness in Jackson’s set, though. In “This Morning,” a young New Yorker’s version of John Donne’s “The Sun Rising,” Jackson took part in the long tradition of poets writing to their beloveds upon waking up. And in “Ode to Kool-Aid,” to the laughter of his listeners, he lingered over the drink’s deliciously kitsch flavor names: Sharkleberry Fin…Purplesaurus Rex.
Dante Micheaux’s poems can slip by before you realize they were there. The author of Amorous Shepherd (Sheep Meadow, 2010), Micheaux makes gracious, musical poetry that is also unabashed about its complex syntax, heightened diction, and profound passion. As he read, crafted gems of language would emerge, never forcing themselves, from such a lush background. This happened in his opening poem, “September 13, 2001,” in the perfect yet casual iambic line, “I cast them out and breathe them in again,” and in the turning of “World Trade Center,” a phrase I don’t recall the poem ever saying outright, into “We trade the world.” It happened, too, in the internal rhyme and verbal elongation at the opening of “Torso”: “I swirled inside the sculptor’s world…” In “Negation,” Micheaux played with all forms of no and not: “A man is not his body,” “No man is his body,” “No man is anything becoming of a man.” From this list, with its lilting hints of Donne (“No man is an island, entire of itself”) and Shakespeare (“What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot, / Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part / Belonging to a man”), Micheaux ultimately delivered an affirmation: “Man is the method of being.” But no less a writer of personal and the intimate, he also read two poems for his boyfriend. One of them, “Darcy’s Dilemma,” suggests that “There is no sophisticated way to talk about love.” Isn’t there? From their outside in, the works Micheaux shared were expressions of desire.
Anne Lovering Rounds is Adjunct Professor of Humanities at Metropolitan College of New York and an editorial assistant at Cambridge University Press. She holds a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Harvard University.