Laura Villareal for Word for Word Poetry, June 16, 2015
Featuring Four Way Books
On June 16th, after an afternoon of heavy rain, the sun came out just in time for an evening of evocative readings by poets from Four Way Books. The lambency of the setting sun against the buildings surrounding Bryant Park provided an idyllic backdrop for the readings.
First to read, Andrea Cohen, whose resonant lyrics set the tone for the evening by evoking an immediate and sustained hum of appreciation from the crowd. Cohen, an author of four books and recipient of multiple awards including the PEN Discovery Award, read from her most recently published book Furs Not Mine that came out this April. Cohen read thirteen poems, one called “Clasp” in which she says, “because the desire to hold/ fast what we hold/ dear is as old as sanity. / Great griefs are antidotes/ for lesser sorrows.” The final two lines present a paradox that exemplifies the erudite incisiveness of Cohen’s work.
Following Cohen, Elizabeth T. Gray, Jr. read seven exciting poems from her book Series| India. In her reading, Gray gave the audience a taste of the journey spanning from New York to India that is woven in her book. Series| India is composed of a complex sequence of poems that commingles shifting and juxtaposed perspectives, which Gray demonstrated in her reading by providing poems from the point-of-views of two characters. The plot points she revealed were tantalizing enough for several audience members to remark that they needed to know what else happened in the book. Her poems not only gripped the audience through their fascinating narrative, but also had a gorgeous sonic appeal. For example, “The Jeweled Deer” contained skillfully attentive lyrics, such as: “in a forest of strange trees, a clearing, where he and I / would gather delicate renunciations” and “shook its slender antlers of ivory, beckoned, and shyly, / dappled in diamond and topaz, disappeared.” Gray’s work is filled with these spectacular images and sounds.
Pulitzer Prize winning poet Gregory Pardlo, whose two young daughters were among the crowd for the evening, read from his award-winning book Digest which probes a range of topics, most notably fatherhood. During the reading, Pardlo jokingly mentioned that he couldn’t read “the grocery store” poem (“Problema 3”), because one of his daughters didn’t like it since it has to do with his other daughter. One of his daughters giggled and the other frowned at his remark before Pardlo read “Problema 2” and “Problema 4;” both poems that deal with fatherhood from different perspectives. In “Problema 4,” the speaker asks his father for a tattoo. His father says “no” to which the speaker says, “How can I beautify what I do not possess and call it anything but graffiti?” The line is seemingly simple but creates a stunning visual image that delves into the philosophical. Pardlo’s work investigates the everyday finding a reservoir of questions and ideas that reverberate yet to be explored intuitively and logically.
Daniel Wolff closed the evening with three poems from his book The Names of Birds. Chronogram appropriately describes Wolff’s poetry as: “Seldom exceeding a page, airy offerings suggest fleeting glimpses through binoculars.” Acknowledging the opaque, fleeting quality of his work, Wolff read two of his poems, “Common Crow” and “Bufflehead,” twice to allow the audience a second chance to absorb their depth and to reflect on the larger questions posed in his work. In full “Common Crow” reads as:
“I could name this Worship, this
call from somewhere in the top of the elm.
Could point to the obvious strain of the caller:
head lowered, tail rising, gross throat stretched.
Could declare that prayer was as common and coarse
as need. And what would that make me?”
Terrance Hayes described the process of poetry as: “Poems are not read, they are reread. Reread the poem, then read between the lines, then look at it, then watch it, then peek at it: handle it like an object. Contemplate its shadows, angles and dimensions.” This is how Wolff’s poetry must be approached.
The evening showcased the transformative quality of words and way language can reach people viscerally and intellectually when brought together by skillful writers. Special thanks to Paul Romero for curating the Word for Word Poetry series.
LauraVillareal is currently pursuing an MFA at Rutgers University—Newark, where she also teaches Composition. Her work has appeared in Persona Literary Magazine and is forthcoming in Dos Gatos Press’ 2016 Texas Calendar.