Showing posts with label word for word poetry blogs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label word for word poetry blogs. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Word for Word Winter Poetry with Nightboat Books

With Word for Word Poetry extended into the winter months, we have added a collection of guest blogs capturing a first-hand account of readings in our Bryant Park Reading Room sponsored by HSBC.

Don Yorty for Word for Word Poetry, April 19, 2016
Featuring the poets of Nightboat Books

During the winter months, the Bryant Park Reading Series takes place inside the Kinokuniya Bookstore at 1073 Avenue of the Americas. The idea is that until May, it is too cold outside for poets to read in Bryant Park where the summer series takes place on the north side of the park under a grove of trees near the statue of William E. Dodge, the great 19th Century defender of Native Americans. Tuesday, April 19th was the date for the last indoor reading; and Nightboat Books was presenting four poets. The 19th was also the New York primary, and a beautiful spring day as well, the most beautiful that had come along so far, a day you certainly wanted to be outside not in. Because I cover the readings, I try to arrive early, but on April 19th I lingered in Bryant Park enjoying the wonderful weather, and didn't go inside until ten before six, ten minutes before the reading started. Only two people were sitting on the folding chairs provided, a woman toward the back, and a younger man, college age, nearer the front, friends of a poet perhaps. I didn’t even see any of the poets. Where was everybody? Either enjoying the weather, I thought, or voting.

By six, Stephen Motika, Nighboat’s publisher, Paul Romero, the host, and three of the poets had showed up. Also, about a dozen more folks added themselves to the audience finally outnumbering the poets. While a few more people trickled in and we waited for Felix Bernstein, the final poet to arrive, I talked to Stephen Motika about the goals of Nightboat. “Poetry is at the heart of Nightboat's publishing program,” he told me. “Our challenge is to publish a wide and eclectic group of books, but make it seem like they belong together on a list. We have a vision, a commitment to publishing and seeking an audience for books that are adventurous, intelligent, resisting of convention, and transcending of boundaries.” I listened and wanted to split myself into four people, one for each of the poets about to read, and add a little more to the audience.
E. Tracy Grinnell

E. Tracy Grinnell was first. Her book is Hell Figures. She read from two parts of it, Helen, A Fugue and The Birds founded in the classics, Greek myth, both comedy and tragedy. She read from The Birds first. Notice the rhythm of repetition and notice too that this section of nine lines begins with is; there is no subject. The verb contains all.

is a rhyme, a repetition, or no reason
a throat closes, dying of words—Sphinx
from the Greek “to strangle”
an ecstatic mind becomes your own worst enemy and
your own madness is what you see, as nature turning against you
an ecstatic mind becomes your own worst enemy and
from the Greek “to strangle”
a throat closes, dying of words—Sphinx
is a rhyme, a repetition, or no reason

As Tracy read, I could hear the ancient choruses, words and phrases becoming important repeated again and again, helping me remember them. The Birds is a series of untitled sections from nine to eleven lines, an ocean of sorts out of which waves rise and fall, each section a wave with its own characteristics yet part of the rhythmic whole rising and falling back into itself, the roiling ocean, the poet’s voice, the order of disorder, riding the waves in a manner of waiting out, a poem:

a sonorous animal moves with and within the landscape it also defines
is no more capable of turning on than away
sadness rearranged to madness that by nature’s law
—to bend, to become—rends itself into
the order of disorder, riding the waves in a manner of waiting out
your own madness is what you see as nature turning against you
the order of disorder, riding the waves in a manner of waiting out
—to bend, to become—rends itself into
sadness rearranged to madness that by nature’s law
is no more capable of turning on than away
a sonorous animal moves with and within the landscape it also defines

The poetry in Hells Figures is not only to be listened to, but to be read on the page. I got to read Helen, A Fugue a little later, and the poem itself reminded me physically of e.e. cummings in the way it abstracted the syntax so that even a comma doesn’t follow the word it separates from the rest of the sentence, but winds up at the beginning of the next line with the rest of the sentence:

Blood people
in the roiling ocean

to fathom, where there is nothing

                        even a pregnancy, is
feverish, I secretly

                                    , beyond fantasy
ambition follows

in a figure, my


in flight, a footprint falls

Interesting beautiful earful stuff and interesting to look at as well. I would advise Tracy, however, as I would advise any poet, that what is made wonderful and exciting by repetition, can also become so hypnotic that it puts us to sleep. Poetry must be mnemonic, something to be remembered and not forgotten. That is where the struggle is and, for the poet ancient or modern, will always remain.

Felix Bernstein

Artist, poet and student (getting his MA in English), Felix Bernstein came next. I sat right in back of him and could see on the pages he was about to read that he had crossed out huge sections of what he had written, not only crossed them out but totally obliterated them. Whatever was there, it was impossible to see to convey to read what he had written; in fact, it looked to me that on some pages Felix had crossed out more words than remained, impressing the editor in me. It’s important to edit, but the poet must be careful not to cut out too much, or the poem will become lame, missing an arm or a leg, and needing a crutch to go about. The title of Bernstein’s new book was Burn Book. I liked that title because it reminded me of Yoko Ono who published a book called Grapefruit in the early 70s that told the reader on the very first page: “Burn this book.” So when Bernstein got up, I was kind of expecting flames. Awkward and fragile and thin, Mr. Bernstein leaned over his words at the podium, or what was left of them, glancing from the page to the audience sizing us up with a thoughtful tentative look, deciding perhaps if he should stay or run—he had been late. And why? I thought. Had he missed the train, was he putting off an audience? Perhaps he’d been editing up to the last minute, what he was about to read, not from Burn Book, but from part of a new book, The Last Man. Because I had already seen the editing, I wondered how much of what we were hearing now would still be there when it was finally done.

Bernstein is also a performance poet and when he began to read I thought I’d do my own performance and started to write down what Felix read as fast as he said it without line breaks or anything, just what I heard:

Together we fight against negation, a third tier community where I’m supposed to not withdraw but nobody will let up. People and feelings are disorders, sad faces. There’s no point in no point in not point in not. Never felt worthwhile because love is not worth this while. Is it just me or is it you that I am milking, is it just us or is it that that I am milking? Frenzies hurt, they hurt and excitement is bad, trouble is cease, thin air somehow to be held refuses to give a helping hug…

The work was interesting and likable, critical of others and itself, a subjectively objective argument, denigrating and full of itself, awkward and fragile too. Was it too honest? I wanted to give the poet a helping hug. Felix quickly ruffled through his pages, skipping many, settling on something, reading slowly, puzzled as if he still weren’t sure what words should be there, and then at other times reading with a focused animated excitement that drew me in listening. A few days after the reading, Felix emailed me a portion of what he had read. It was interesting to see how the poet laid out his lines. What I heard and wrote, was not what Felix had written. I like how the poet gives shape to this poem and hope that he stays a you worth writing.

The coy orphan is gobbled up and spat on.
Her scarf just got caught in the door no biggie
Milton’s multitudes of virginal lambs are useless
Everything that has been written has already been slaughtered
He withdraws his hand but
One finger gets trapped
Man must keep it new to keep the father’s demand alive
The fathers demand for a spontaneous building of an order
It must be spontaneous because
We must pick it ourselves
All men contain a vista
That ends in the corner
Awaken yourself to that vista
And find you’re worse
Off than it seemed
You’re less than one
Man, maybe you’re
Not a good guy
Or a good dad
Or a good husband
Or a good friend
In all honesty,
You’re an abyss
Which is okay
But it means
There’s no
You worth

Paolo Javier

Paolo Javier, who was next, read from his new book Court of the Dragon. Paolo was born in the Philippines and told us that the dragon in the title has more to do with the idea of the dragon in the East where dragons are powerful and good and link us to the powers of the earth. Paolo’s dragon was not the fire breathing destructive dragon of the West. In a book of long poems, he read a few sonnets dedicated to Frank Lima, a mentor of his, which is impressive because Frank Lima is, though few know of him, a great (a giant, a dragon of an) American poet.


to Frank Lima


leaves the awash in desolate I miss you under twisted rope where
I was on streets of rusty cage
oscillate sun-tossed room
what this week alike face of tornado cabinetry
brute thaw
this poem occasion the end of time
why experience imagine loss of gendarme under roof bare like nexus offering
I believe happen squander tornado or impasse wrong due pain
etch in sky surrender roses
Nichiren is the difference. I weep & chant in the morning to see
tempestuous delay, love
Lorca in mid-February say mauve abundance embrace sudsy police
siphon planet Ill badger with gallows
whenever the night steals its shadow


inquire asunder law homage Ill kneel manic sunless sojourn vacate
a million miles salvation olive estate sequence renege
a lost train set enter a docent column blank space
I course through Florence a mile of rope inquire stab troubadour
think the way it is I like the sky a villanelle
alligator lion alligator fury under shell
disguised as self ask if you’ve eaten of its midnight levee
from hotels close down hearing to rim
storm worm through gloaming in painted Angkor Wat
red dawn New York give rope
own hurricane sample Negritude
over calm with storm wind across Angkor Wat
hurricane description plumb depths
not you too in red dawn of New York City entity

As Paolo read, I was reminded of other poets from an earlier era in New York who thought language was the thing, the word itself, the sound of it, its physical appearance, its being, but conjuring up what comes next when one word is simply followed by another with or without syntax becoming its own sense, its own being, what it then means:

tornado cabinetry
alligator lion alligator fury under shell
brute thaw
etch in sky surrender roses

These abstract combinations Paolo balances by other lines that are literal, that make perfect sense:

I weep & chant in the morning to see

The poet who works with this kind of poetry—let’s call it language school—has a rough row to hoe, a tough seed to sow. Poets I know and have known have done it well, when they did it, like Bernadette Mayer and Jackson MacLow. It requires poets who know their craft and have not only faith in themselves, but faith in an audience that will follow. Paolo’s work reminded me a little bit of the first reader, Tracy, too. His use of repetition, anaphora, the hypnotic. During his reading, Paolo told us that the art of writing poetry was “falling asleep and staying awake enough,” which is a perfect description of the poet’s goal. Falling asleep and staying awake enough, poetry must hypnotize the reader, transport the listener, but most important of all, it must keep us awake as well, and not be a sleeping pill.

After dinner, I talked with Paolo. In fact, he talked my ear off, he and his lovely wife (they have a young daughter). Paolo, though a slight fellow, is both handsome and engaging. Is he handsome because he’s engaging or engaging because he's handsome? Perhaps he is neither, and what makes him so likable is that he is a good listener, which is an art, and a way to understanding too, and if he cultivates that in his writing, his interest and his curiosity will keep the reader guessing, not sleepy but excited. I wish him the best.

Cole Swensen
Cole Swensen was last to read. She read from Landscapes on a Train published by Nightboat in 2015. I wasn’t aware of her work and listened.

Planes of migrating geese. The geese are hundreds, they are sheets, hundreds of
Feet up there are two sheets of geese only barely each other and shifting screens,
The infinite splitting of finite things.
Light keeps up. Light touch on building, light builds on. On the inside of the window.
Cut and form. Most colors amount to this without names. It happens in sun and there
Is little else.
Pale bond. Grain runs. Embarks upon. It’s mostly rain and we pass on. Past a
Tossing road through a stand of hay. Stand among graves. Stand trees in a line
Migrating through rain, the rain first a green and then a form.
Cows turn to crows in a field alone. Dovecote grey in wind, now mill, now wall
In the hedgerows a birdhouse. All the hares are facing east. And the cows walking
Left between. Five men building a stone wall. Stones the size of hands. And shape.
The hands and the stones are equal parts of the wall.

There is a magic quality in this poetry that really puts me in the here and now. Now mill, now wall. I see Cows turn into crows, which is exactly what poetry is supposed to do: to see what we have not seen or to see what has always been there, but not seen before. We do not know until we do. How quickly it all passes beyond the window. How quick we must be to catch it. Swenson’s poetry does catch it; it is quick, it is even ephemeral, but with work and craft and skill, Cole manages to put into our hands a book that lets us examine the ethereal, which is rare and almost impossible to do.

Nightboat is going to publish a book by Cole Swenson about writers and walking. Writers walk. I know this to be true because I am a writer and I walk too. After the reading, I mentioned to Cole that the poet Bill Kushner and I used to do a lot of walking. In fact, two weeks before Bill died of a heart attack at the age of 84. we took a walk. During our last walk, I complained to Bill that my inspiration for writing sonnets was drying up, and Bill told me, “Walk fourteen blocks and for every block you walk, write one line.” Cole, I found out, is a fan of Bill’s work. What do you know? It’s a small world.

Cole read one poem from her upcoming book, On Walking On, to be published by Nightboat in 2017. It’s about the poet Nerval, who had a pet lobster that he walked at the end of a blue silk ribbon through the streets of Paris. “Is it anymore ridiculous,” Nerval argued, “to walk a lobster than a dog?”

Gerard de Nerval

What is the wander, what aimless shelter, what within
a very small room. Or we could call it a city. Or we could build a city

in which you could walk without a future. The habit of detour
that prefigured the dérive. Or simply the gentle persistence of walking

from friend to friend. In mid 19th-century France, there was a distinct
turn in the literature of walking from the country to the city—“Where

was I when” became “Where am” against the night, if I moved slowly
enough, if I turned and struck. And in its stone we find. And now of stone,

we glide, and now we fall upon Apollinaire spread out in a thin layer
over the whole of Europe in a single night’s walk across Paris.

Although many people stayed outside enjoying the weather or casting their vote, those of us who were lucky enough to be inside at the Kinokuniya bookstore enjoyed a reading of four poets that was intimate, well-written and well-timed too. I think when it was over, everybody wanted a little more.

Don Yorty

Don Yorty was born in Lebanon, Pennsylvania in 1949. He has a BA in Latin and Greek from the City University of New York. A poet and garden activist, he has two published collections of poetry, A Few Swimmers Appear and Poet Laundromat, and was included in Out of This World: An Anthology of the Poetry of the St. Mark's Poetry Project, 1966-1991 (Crown). His novel, What Night Forgets, was published by Herodias Press. And his poems have been recently published in LiVE MAG! and the Literati Quarterly. He lives in New York City and also keeps up a blog at

Monday, February 29, 2016

Word for Word Winter Poetry with Ugly Duckling Presse

With Word for Word Poetry extended into the winter months, we have added a collection of guest blogs capturing a first-hand account of readings in our Bryant Park Reading Room sponsored by HSBC.

Don Yorty for Word for Word Poetry, January 19, 2016

Featuring the poets of Ugly Duckling Presse

The Bryant Park Poetry Series started its 2016 winter season with a reading at the Kinokuniya Bookstore across from the park on Sixth Avenue at 6 pm on January the 19th. It was a very cold evening, freezing, but that didn't stop folks from coming to listen to four poets read from their books recently published by the Ugly Duckling Press, a nonprofit publisher of poets that evolved out of a 1990s magazine by the same name, and now resides in Gowanus, Brooklyn. Every poetry reading is its own creation made up of those who read and those who come to listen, and I was curious to see and hear how this one would be different. It was standing room only and obvious that the poets and the press had a lot of fans in the audience.
Callie Garnett

The first poet was Callie Garnett, a PhD candidate at the University of Iowa, reading from her first book, Hallelujah, I’m a Bum, beginning with a poem called

The Artichoke

the grass today is so green it repairs a 
drive-in movie screen

flapping, defunct
soaked in gin

even the hay is healthy, hay colored songs 
come in my head and burn away

what cruelty, its body eaten
and then its heart eaten.

This little gem of a poem is written in couplets of opposites, images of growth and ruin. The grass isn't just green it is flapping, alive, yet defunct and soaked in gin—Does something soaked in gin move? The artichoke we eat is good for us, but that is it for the artichoke. Callie’s poems were comforting about home and love with a grandmother, a boyfriend or a father fishing at the pond, except that’s not a pond, that’s a lake. Life is real, but in surreal ways, not always making sense, but we are home at least. Callie’s poems kept me interested reminding me of a child beginning to understand the meaning of things, inchoate, before knowing their proper names.

Laura Sims
Laura Sims read next from her new book Staying Alive that begins with a quote from H.G. Wells, “I want to go ahead of Father Time with a scythe of my own,” and at first that seemed what Laura had in mind, mowing down all in front of her. Would that include us? She read about an apocalypse, war torn and distraught. I grew up in the fifties when the threat of nuclear annihilation was real, so the idea of being on the eve of destruction is no stranger to me. As it turned out, Laura’s reading wasn't grim because her language was engaging. Read, and while you read, listen:

The present sheared
Asunder from its parent cliffs and all the past was just 
The sound of metal
At the edge of space
At dawn. Every blasted city
The light! It came from underneath—inside the earth— 
And shining upward, through
The rocks, the ground, and everything 

Laura’s each new line, short or long, evoked images and thoughts, poems that turned out not to be about dying, but about living, about surviving. There was hope:

We happened on no dead
Instead we happened on a man whose palms 
Filled with berries. We packed up our needs (amidst vapor 
And smoke) to make for the virtual fortress. In a sliver 
Of light, something crystal
Or crystalline
Graced the court of manhood then was gone 

Karen Weiser
When Karen Weiser got up, she told us she was going to read something she hadn’t planned on reading because Laura’s reading had moved her so much. She was going to read a post apocalyptic poem that spoke from the place of being already dead in the voice of Billy Budd. Karen is an American literature scholar, and her book, Or the Ambiguities, is taken from the title of a novel by Herman Melville, Pierre, Or the Ambiguities, a book I happen to be reading now. The Billy Budd poem Karen read was called The Darbies, but first she read a new poem:

air + force

Even the magic of looking turns air into a volume
music that is perhaps a musculature
every reaction a mysterious note that hums
with a minimum of information, this documentation
is transmutation—car horns bleat a communiqué—
some kind of universal knowledge the magpie
spells out from a telephone pole in the desert;
our conversation snakes single file but for
the desire for one second of a life to be recorded
with an almost mystical precision,
not the abyss of the disjointed, but the fair hum
of phenomenal revelation in an order particular
to one person: the glinting reflections of traffic
or water cresting the river; the gully, the magpie
calls, is also a music desiring to be fixed
an orbital movement permanently adapting itself
to perception, its own living eyewitness

I like how this poem about communication, some kind of universal knowledge the magpie/  spells out from a telephone pole in the desert, and about perception, of phenomenal revelation in an order particular/ to one person, ends with, its own living witness, which describes what Karen’s reading of The Darbies did, using her words and words by Melville, the living and the dead, to communicate and share with us. Darbies are an anachronistic name for handcuffs and the words of the poem are written in the negative space of handcuffs. Poems written in the shapes of things are called Concrete Poems, which was a very popular form of poetry in the 19th Century around the time Melville wrote. Here are the first Darbies written and read by Karen spoken by Billy Budd, and typed out by me as best I could:

                                                 these     darbies
I’m a visual ana-   gram; my  self sliced and
             mirrored so I can make sense of floating, and sink-
   ing, they’ll lash in hammock            and drop me deep, fathoms
down, though hands in paint- ing always tell of something,
            the fingers divinities, the palms bronze and held near the waist,
pointing to that which is out-        side the frame, but not in your world
neither, pendant pearl from the yard-arm end, the thing that
can’t be seen but only   felt: is the hand of the artist, so
       I’ll shake a     friendly one ere I sink,

Karen’s channeling of Melville is something I have thought about myself. We need a reader and a writer for communication to happen. Everyone who reads has favorite authors who passionately speak to them. In the act of reading, the understanding between the writer and the reader is timeless. The reader may be alive and the writer might be dead, but still there is the conversation, the sharing in the shape of a poem that is written and read. Karen’s poems, receptive to this idea and practice, soundly happen.

Jennifer Stella
Jennifer Stella, who is a doctor as well as a writer, read poems that all began with the same title: Your lapidarium feels wrought. A lapidarium is a place where jewels are stored and a jewel is an apt metaphor for a poem. You can move both in your fingers and see something new with every new angle in the light as you turn. Jennifer’s abstract angles sometimes seem to have a funny bone, playful with words:

My ring size or cow skulls
and pelvis in frames say
there are sierras
in the waterhouse you keep
of my poems. Your favorite copied 
anachronistic charcoal I 
wear if it’s raining. Or bone flowers 
in pueblo. It’s
still. Asked twice without knees and
it was in Faneuil and on worn white
leather and I thought
you were kidding

During Jennifer’s reading, she told us: “I really like the thought of poetry as palimpsest, as the history of everything layering on top of itself, that we are all coming from the same source.” I like this thought too. Poems certainly are wrought out of what is rough, every book a lapidarium of sorts, a place where precious jewels, or poems, can be stored and viewed again and again. Jennifer certainly had this in mind when she read the last Your lapidarium feels wrought:

The symphony last
night! Amazing like
nothing I kept starting
you letters
in my head, saying
to myself,


For this reading, every reader had prepared well and easily kept us focused while she read. We started at home, then traveled an apocalyptic landscape grim with hope, and afterward came to the realm of the dead and spoke to them, conversations that were poems, lapidariums, bright repositories of thoughts shared by us humans. The audience itself was a testament to this tradition of writing and reading, speaking and listening. The audience, some without chairs, stood and stayed; as many folks as there were at the beginning, there were that many at the end.

Don Yorty
Don Yorty was born in Lebanon, Pennsylvania in 1949. He has a BA in Latin and Greek from the City University of New York. A poet and garden activist, he has two published collections of poetry, A Few Swimmers Appear and Poet Laundromat, and was included in Out of This World: An Anthology of the Poetry of the St. Mark's Poetry Project1966-1991 (Crown). His novel, What Night Forgets, was published by Herodias Press. And his poems have been recently published in LiVE MAG! and the Literati Quarterly. He lives in New York City and also keeps up a blog at

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Word for Word Winter Poetry with Indolent Books

With Word for Word Poetry extended into the winter months, we have added a collection of guest blogs capturing a first-hand account of readings in our Bryant Park Reading Room sponsored by HSBC.

Don Yorty for Word for Word Poetry, February 16 2016

Featuring the poets of HIV Here & Now

The Reading Room Bryant Park on February 16 featured HIV Here and Now, an online poetry project ( where a poem a day has appeared throughout the year, a countdown from June 5, 2015 until June 5, 2016, when it will be 35 years since the Center for Disease Control first reported five cases of AIDS in Los Angeles. “Will I enjoy this?” I thought to myself as I sat down and waited for the poets to begin. I had my doubts. For someone like myself who lived and survived the awful era of AIDS, while hundreds of my friends and associates did not, I felt a foreboding and braced myself for some depressing stuff.

Michael Broder
Michael Broder, the coordinator of the HIV Here and Now project, was the first to read and he introduced the other five poets as well. The poets, he told us, would read poems of their own, and poems by other poets that had appeared online for the countdown. Michael has a PhD in Classics, runs a small press, Indolent Books, and has had one book of poems published, This Life Now (A Midsummer Night's Press, 2014) which I happen to own and enjoy. A modest host, Michael read only two poems, powerful poems of his own. One poem addresses the Judeo-Christian tradition of judgment and damnation, the religious tradition that shuns. Michael stood up to that tradition. He would be noticed. He would be honest. He stood right there. Hang on to your hat when you start to read this poem because it doesn't back down.

Standing Before the Ark

I am becoming what I will be
said the voice in the bush that burned but was not consumed.
What is ever truly without a breath of foreshadow?
What do we not seek even as we flee?
You know the consequences, your head on the block,
you cum buckets over that executioners blade.
Do you want this scarlet letter, pink triangle?
Are you becoming what you will be?
This tag in my blood a kind of invitation, proposal, corsage.
Marked, branded, identified, known associate—believed.
This, at least, is not a phase, not about shy, awkward, a late bloomer.
This is down on my knees, I pray to the God of Sodomites.
Infection triumphant, like dying for my country, the shema on my lips—
Hear, Oh Israel, I suck dick, I get fucked!

Lonely Christopher 
Lønely Christopher read next. He’s a poet and film maker who has had a book of poems published, Death and Disaster Series (Monk Books, 2014). Lønely read a poem titled His Lips Were on That Glass. In July of 2009, New York state senator, Tom Duane, gave an after midnight speech in favor of legislation that would cap the rents of poor people living with AIDS. I remembered that rallying speech very well. Tom Duane’s impassioned plea moved the House to pass that rent cap bill 52 to 1. Lønely uses some of Tom Duane’s words in the poem as well as his own, a collaboration of two becoming the strength of one. It was the first poem Lønely had ever written about AIDS. He was twenty-two at the time. This poem though long on the page is minimal, often one word to a line, which makes it intimate and immediate when you read it just like a speech being heard word for word.

Michael Broder is going to include His Lips Were on That Glass in the HIV Here and Now  Anthology that will be coming out in November. I was glad that he gave me the OK to include it here. This poem, both long and short, captures what the AIDS epidemic was really like back in the day.

His Lips Were on That Glass

I don’t think you know
what Im doing here.

Let me take
you back
the early eighties
visiting friends
in hospitals
wed go in
wed go in one night
in the morning theyd be
Id bring them
food my family
bring them food my
friends bring someone
food but
whoever was in the
bed would be
before they could
eat it.
Wed leave it
maybe the
nurses will take it
home no
they wouldnt eat it
cause its


wouldnt touch it wouldnt
go into the room
wearing masks
gloves gowns.
get sick
in the afternoon
theyd be
the next day
and that went on
for months and
then years
You think if you
got sick
and your friends
were dying
that I would
sit there
and do
nothing no
but thats
what happened
what happened.

Every cold every
virus every
I thought Id be
and so did so many
people that
I knew
You think you
scare me
you think you
can make
me back off
scares me.
There were
gurneys backed
up into
the avenues
because they
wouldn’t let
people in the
rooms the public
they had to
they tried not to but
they had to
you know what
the Catholic hospitals
the only ones
the only ones.
Scared that
was scared.
people they could
people could stay alive
a few days
a few days
people thrown out of
their homes
people evicted from
their apartments families
didnt want to know
who their kids were.

His lips were on that glass
dont touch it
sterilize that plate.

Every cold every
fever every
virus Im gonna
die thats
what it was
like. Scared
no. Mad
you bet.
Then they were
oh you know
this this uh
you know we could
put you on this
antibiotic for a
while it will wreck
your lungs
but well well
well give you a
few more weeks here
try this try this uh
additive maybe
thisll help.
Nothing helped.
Hundreds hundreds
of my friends
died and
every day I
thought that I
could be
the next one.

I wish I
could say
things are
different now
but theyre
not not much
different at all.

Jee Leong Koh
Jee Leong Koh, a poet and essayist from Singapore, read next. He is the author of three poetry collections, Steep Tea (Carcanet Press, 2015) being the most recent. He matched the power of the preceding poems by reading a poem by John Humpstone, an interior designer who died of AIDS in 1996 shortly before his 40th birthday. When he knew he was dying, John wrote the poem, and left it behind in his papers. With a calm clear voice Jee read with careful precision; John Humpstone was alive as we listened.

The fireflies who drifted on summer evenings
Warm and reassuring dark
And seemed to my young eyes a thousand
Tiny boats afloat on sunsets lapis sea
Called to us still playing hide and seek
To keep nights magic dancing in the air.

And though the sky grew darker
With each moments passing
I teased and hid and kicked and screamed
At being called and sent to bed.
Id plead for just a minute more
But knew full well the time had come
To rest before tomorrows break.

In later years in smoke-filled clubs
We danced until the sky grew pale
And as the morning sun replaced the fractured light
Of spinning mirror balls, we laughed and screamed
And pleaded for that one last song
But knew the folly of our chants, as time had come
To face the day that blazed outside beyond
The neon and the strobes.

And now although my world has moved indoors
And withered limbs defy my dance,
Despite a life that shrinks at nearly every bend
Ill plead for just a minute more
And hide and plead and kick and scream
But know that I am being called
To rest again in cool but reassuring dark.

There is a poem by Jee called Eve’s Fault. For the sake of brevity, I will not include it here, but it can be found online at

I like the last two lines in the first stanza of this poem. It’s about Eve losing her virginity by the seaside. Jee writes:

On a beach raised from the ocean with a shout, he entered her
and she realized, in rolling waves, that love joins and separates.

“Love joins and separates” is a very powerful thought, and a sexy one as well.

Guillermo Filice Castro
Guillermo Filice Castro read next. He’s the author of Agua, Fuego (Finishing Line, 2015), a book I am looking forward to reading. Like Jee, Guillermo’s first language isn’t English, and that always interests me. He’s from Argentina where he was in the military during that short war with England over the Falkland Islands. How exact would his English be? I was interested to hear both syntax and sound. Guillermo’s English, short lines with a stark image, added to the sensibility of his growing up in Argentina, a country that’s had its death squads and disappearances; his poem The Last of the Bees addresses that intolerance in English telling us something Spanish and South American. Here are the last few lines, a young man taken off to be tortured or shot wishes to watch, for a little while, bees buzzing in an arbor:

To the last of the bees
In the vines above
Their wobbly lines made more
Disorderly through the sudden
Afternoon draft

Guillermo read a poem about his mother, a poem about death, but also about living, that uses clear concise language with interesting assonance, alliteration that make it real and present.

On a New Anniversary of Her Death I Make Myself Buckwheat Pancakes

One scoop
And a world is born
In this skilled skillet
With gravity
And a clumpy mixture
That flattens into
An almost round
Moon so hot
Blueberries begin to bleed
And smear eye shadow
Across the pock-
Marked face
I flip
& judge
Its less bubbly
Darker side
With my spatulas
Bird foot
Under which
The tart and naked disc

Firms up
Hissing a wish
To be
& cheered

By sliced strawberries
Then forked into my mouth
Filling with the murmurs
Of water and milk
And the one egg
That in cracking
Bound it all

Debra Lidov
Debora Lidov read next. Up to now, all the poets had conjured up memories of my own experiences with AIDS and sex and death. When Debora read, I found myself focusing on the poet herself because her poems were unique and important. She has been a medical social worker for over ten years. At the same time she was dealing with HIV mothers working at a neonatal unit, she was also dealing with her own cancer treatment for Hodgkins Lymphoma. It gave Debora’s reading a poignant immediacy. I wasn’t remembering friends who had died; I was in the here and now with Debora and her trials. Here is one of her poems about the neonatal unit:


Baby Boy with necrotizing enterocolitis three inches viable gut. Baby of maternal diabetes, maternal fever, maternal utox, maternal HIV. Baby of domestic violence. Baby Boy they were trying for a girl this time. Baby Girl they were hoping for a boy. Baby the fathers Indo-Caribbean side will not accept your blackness. Baby intubated, brain dead on arrival, mother seized and expired prior to induction. Baby born with one arm one leg external bladder but two perfect lungs and excellent heart breathing easy. Triplet A, born at 1,200 grams, home in 12 weeks; Triplet B born at 1,400 grams home in 12 weeks; Triplet C born at 800 grams never leaves never off the vent, on and off the oscillator high-frequency vent. Baby X of ambiguous genitalia. Baby, she whispers in recovery-room trance, of revenge rape, baby, she says to the aide in Creole, of gang rape, baby of incest, one nurse notes to another in the hall about the baby. Baby with fused lids get ready to see, baby on new baby trache get ready to breathe, failed kidney baby recover your function, baby, filter and excrete, arrhythmia baby steady whenever youre ready your baby baby baby baby beat.

The poems Debora read, Working from Home, Atheist, Like, and Newborn can all be found in her recent collection, Trance (Finishing Line Press, 2016). They are well worth reading. When Debora finished, I noticed that the clapping was tentative, starting slowly until everyone was applauding quietly at once. I think the audience was moved; Debora’s reading had put them so much in the present, they were startled to find out it was over. The Struggle Continues.

Sarah Sarai 
The generous Sarah Sarai was last to read. She has a collection, The Future Is Happy (BlazeVOX, 2016). Like her book’s title Sarah’s poems were optimistic. She moved us with joy, a joy that one could say was religious, not the religion of strict tradition, but a religion of poetry, the joy of spiritual discovery. “God is what makes us better,” Sarah tells us in a poem about loving a woman, Miracle Fiber. And God, if you didn’t know, is a woman. Here is a poem that gives you a good idea what Sarah’s reading was like.

An Interrogatory

Nothing but smooth sailing.
     [The Isley Brothers]

Those arent birds are they are they,
are they?, or are they insects of an ilk

glowing and hovering hummingbird-
like though not hummingbird, not bird,

no, I see it, that which I wasnt seeing,
a lingering phosphorescence, no

luminescence, oh!, it is incandescence
and those are seraphim I see, I am

seeing seraphim, six-winged seraphim,
seraphim having six wings or so said

Isaiah, a seraphim seer, two wings, fans
over a mighty face, two enfolding feet

and two neon wings to lift them aloft,
smoothly sail above prophesies for our

tangled times, two wings golden as honey
is gold, as amber is gold, as transparency

is gold, carry us to a feared eternal now,
tolerable, almost, when we sing along.  

An hour had passed since the reading began. Sarah’s poetry brought us back to the beginning and answered the poem by Michael Broder that confronted stern tradition. This moving powerful reading had come full circle from intolerance to tolerance, from frightened hate to understanding love. A good thoughtful time, I believe, was had by all, but with the sober realization too that the fight against AIDS is not over, nor the fight against intolerance as well.
Don Yorty
Don Yorty was born in Lebanon, Pennsylvania in 1949. He has a BA in Latin and Greek from the City University of New York. A poet and garden activist, he has two published collections of poetry, A Few Swimmers Appear and Poet Laundromat, and was included in Out of This World: An Anthology of the Poetry of the St. Mark's Poetry Project1966-1991 (Crown). His novel, What Night Forgets, was published by Herodias Press. And his poems have been recently published in LiVE MAG! and the Literati Quarterly. He lives in New York City and also keeps up a blog at