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

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Word for Word Winter Poetry with Song Cave Press

With Word for Word Poetry extended into the winter months, we have added a collection of guest blogs, as we report for the summer series. They capture a first-hand account of the poetry readings, as well as help to interpret the work of the talented poets who present in the Bryant Park Reading Room sponsored by HSBC.

Patricia Spears Jones for Word for Word Winter Poetry, January 29, 2013
Featuring the poets of Song Cave Press


WISE MEN FISH HERE was the sign above the entrance to The Gotham Bookmart on w. 47th Street and for some reason that sign came up in my memory as I sat listening to three poets reading their poems at Kinokuniya Bookstore on Sixth Avenue right across the street from Bryant Park.  A new Winter Reading Series of the successful Word for Word Poetry series for the Bryant Park Reading Room was given a great start on Wednesday, January 29.  An earlier date had been cancelled because it snowed enough to make folks nervous.  Me, I love going to events in “inclement weather” because whoever shows up really wants to be there.

And folks really wanted to be at the Kinokuniya Bookstore to hear Monica de la Torre and Charles North read new chapbooks published by poet Alan Felsenthal, whose Song Cave Press is gaining a great reputation.  The Reading Room’s impresario, Paul Romero puts together interesting events and given the great success of the summer series (which I’ve read in) and other programming, I guess he thought he needed even more to do.

So actual chairs from Bryant Park were brought into the bookstore—adding a casual air to very high style Japanese designed space.  So slowly the chairs filled up with poetry aficionados and shoppers attracted to the set up.  By 6:15 or so the poets had met up; chatted a bit; signed chapbooks and the reading began.


First up, Monica de la Torre wearing her signature striped poncho and leather skirt.  I love it when women poets show some serious style—I got mine, she has hers.  She read from “The Happy End” which she saw for the first time when she walked into the store.  She explained that this work is based on a German artist installation based on a Kafka’s Amerika, a book the artist had not read.  Already, the layers are layering or more precisely the sprawl is sprawling, indeed the text is a sprawling conference room of ideas.  Sections are “Tables” where job seekers are interviewed.  The language in these texts range from the randomly lyrical to the truly sinister—she uses found material which must have included job application questions that in her rendering become deeply intrusive and bizarrely normal.  “The Happy End” reminds me that the best of her work is often located in the real world where real immigrants face linguistic barriers, exploitation, and an American culture that seems both fixed and protean.  “My English is no good/my English is nowhere near perfect” says the speaker at Table 17.   It is always fun to hear a poet read from a new publication just as it arrives-a special treat for poet and listeners.


Next up, Charles North who is one of best poets in this city, maybe this nation and so modest most folk don’t know his work.  Tis the pity.  North and his artist wife Paula, who did the cover, were there for his new chapbook Translation from Song Cave.  The publication as he put it allowed him to translate English into English. Okay-this is one way to allow a poet to revisit earlier work, but create an entirely different poem.  He read two of these “translations” one of them “Suspensions” is a translation of an earlier poem, “Urban Landscapes” for Ron Padgett. He also read a witty Baseball Line Up poem that included tall poets, football players, actors—it was a nice variation on the list poem, the baseball poems and a good reminder that even poets (Olson) can be tall.

But in his very brief (like a little over 10 minutes) he packed some serious poetic wallop.  “Pain Quotient” which was published in Bomb Magazine, which Monica edits is one of those poems that even while listening you know you’re hearing living language in its complexity and suppleness.  In part 2 of the poem he says: “Someone David knew, an actress, referred to the café Pain Quotidien as Pain Quotient, apparently with a straight face. The Daily Pain (which I seem to remember my father bringing home from work).”  Who hasn’t thought about that daily pain or found themselves faced with a language that at first seems the same as the one you speak, but is not?  And most of our parents did bring home that daily pain from work.  The silence as we listened to this often witty poem was one of deep recognition of a poet who like the best pitchers on the mound makes it look easy while working every muscle in his body.


So here comes Alan Felsenthal, who as Paul Romero pointed out is a newer poet and so he was not able to find many things to say about him.  Paul loves finding quotes from or about the poet’s work to include in his introduction.  So he said to Alan, you’ll have to do that.  And Felsenthal did. He pointed out that he and his co-editor/publisher Ben Estes started Song Cave to bring out work that they really wanted people to read and that many people had urged him to develop his own chapbook and he is doing just that—a new book that will be called “Furniture Without Friends.”  Using a crane as an opening image, he began a poem in which nature, mechanics, life and death interact: “The crane, unlike us,/cannot dream of bees and, therefore, does not die—he/caresses the bee, whose soul would wander, like ours, out of the/crane’s/dark palm.”  This well-composed and deeply felt work’s last stanza brings things to a stark , yet ordinary place: “You should walk around a little bit, count the/yahrzeit candles, pick up thistles, stay away from thorns. It’s not yet/yet, so I’ll wait here by the car.”  I am certain that each of us will be eager to see this poem, that chapbook in print.

The Word for Word Poetry Series is an excellent complement to Bryant Park’s Summer one.  But what is really great is to know that a bookstore in mid-town Manhattan has once again started to host readings by poets in the heart of a city. Kinokuniya Bookstore has its own wonders (books in Japanese, English and many other languages), but it now has made that space for poets.  May wise people fish there.



Patricia Spears Jones is an African American poet and playwright and author of three collections, most recently Painkiller Tia Chucha Press (2010) and four chapbooks, the newest one, Living in the Love Economy will be out in February 2014 from Overpass Books. A not yet titled New and Selected is scheduled for publication in 2015 from White Pine Press. She was appointed Program Coordinator at St. Mark’s Poetry Project, 1984-86, where she has led workshops and was named a Mentor for Emerge Surface Be, a new fellowship program in 2013. She is a Senior Fellow at Black Earth Institute, a progressive think thank.  She has taught at Parsons, The New School University, Sarah Lawrence and the College of New Rochelle.  Currently she is a Lecturer for CUNY at LaGuardia Community College and Queens College.


Thursday, January 16, 2014

Word for Word Poetry Moves Indoors This Winter

Over the last decade, Word for Word Poetry at the Bryant Park Reading Room  presented by HSBC has emerged as the city’s premier outdoor poetry series. Traditionally kicking off in April, Word for Word Poetry brings renowned, up-and-coming, and novice poets to Bryant Park throughout the warm weather months for live readings and book signings. Now, we are pleased to announce that poetry lovers won’t have to hibernate until spring to enjoy these free readings.

The Reading Room location blanketed in snow. 


Designed to quell the thirst for poetry readings through the cold winter months, Word for Word's Winter Poetry series will be held indoors at Kinokuniya Bookstore, who happens to be our retail partner for all Word for Word events. Beginning on January 21, the events will be held the third Tuesday of each month through April. The sessions will be held on the street level floor inside the store, located at 1073 Avenue of the Americas (between 40th and 41st Streets), across the street from Bryant Park. The readings are free and open to all.


The first reading is at 6:00pm on Tuesday, January 21, and is co-partnered by Song Cave Press. It will feature readings by Charles North, Monica de la Torre, and Alan Felsenthal. The February session, co-partnered by Kundiman, will include appearances by Ocean Vuong, April Naoko Heck, and Purvi Shah. In March, Bryant Park welcomes Michael Broder, Julie Enszer, and Cheryl Clarke. For more information, check the Word for Word calendar.

We are currently putting together the 2014 Word for Word outdoor series, which will include author appearances, poetry readings, children’s events, Reel Talks, and much more. Keep informed by checking for poetry-related posts after each event this Winter, or by signing-up for the Reading Room newsletter.

Bryant Park Reading Room presents...
Word for Word Winter Poetry
January 21**, February 18, March 18 at 6pm
April 15 at 6:30pm
Kinokuniya Bookstore
1073 Avenue of the Americas,
Between 40th and 41st Streets

**Due to Winter Storm Janus, the January 21st Poetry event has been rescheduled to Wednesday, January 29 at 6pm.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Word for Word Poetry Editions with Etruscan Press

We have a collection of very talented guest bloggers to cover the Word for Word Poetry series this summer. They capture a first-hand account of the poetry readings, as well as help to interpret the work of our visiting poets who present at the Bryant Park Reading Room sponsored by HSBC. 

Anne Lovering Rounds for Word for Word Poetry, September 10th, 2013
Featuring Etruscan Press
This past Tuesday, an unseasonably warm night, brought a triptych of Etruscan Press authors to the Reading Room’s Word for Word Poetry series: Renée D’Aoust, Carol Moldaw, and Diane Raptosh.  
  Renée D’Aoust opened with an invocation for peace, and with her poem “Pearl Street.” On the eve of the 9/11 anniversary, the poem’s vivid downtown snapshot was a poignant reminder that we may always be, in some sense, “looking up,” “look[ing] for the tops of the World Trade towers.” D’Aoust continued by reading from her creative nonfiction memoir, Body of a Dancer. Her prose is infused with lyric, even as it describes the marks dance leaves on its practitioners and its practice spaces— “the sweat in the air and blood on the floor”—and the price the art form exacts from the body. D’Aoust spoke to the visceral and mesmerizing rhythms of the dancer’s life: “You breathe. Then stop breathing. This is how you start every day. For blood. For art.” The pacing of D’Aoust’s language, especially as she performed it for the listeners in the Reading Room, compellingly reflected the corporeal tensions and releases she had taken as her subject. 
    
Carol Moldaw’s poems captured the counterpoint, in the act of artistic making, between the exact and the mysterious. In works like “Quilted Pantoum,” and sections from the long poem “The Lightning Field,” Moldaw dwells on the act of putting art together: how it may be, for example, “pieced and layered, a little bit off the square,” or how “the grids of the layers overlap like voices.” At the same time as they address the complexities of creation, representation, and reception, these poems never become burdened by the abstract. Moldaw’s attention is equally trained on the smallest particulars and measurements of art: the horsehair that ties together layers of a quilt; the heights, angles, planes, and perimeters of sculpture. Moldaw’s deep reverence for landscape and vista also emerged from her poems, in striking images of “a stand of yellow irises / ris[ing] from the pond muck,” “mudcurls,” a “rust ring of cloud.” Again and again, her poems underscored the alluring ways in which “composition,” whether of nature or of art, “is an absolute mystery.” 
Diane Raptosh, the final reader of the evening, shared a swath of her novella in verse, American Amnesiac. In this account of what she called “the state of the United States” circa 2008, a John Doe (or is he Cal?) awakes in a respite home in Denver, Colorado, with nothing but one box of his possessions. Raptosh’s lines seemed both to multiply and flash by as she took us inside the crevices of John/Cal’s mind. As the poem questions whether a single or genuine identity is even possible for its protagonist, it simultaneously partakes of and cuts through a world of projections, corporatespeak, and onscreen, online chatter. “Please keep calling me John Doe”: Raptosh causes us to recognize the contrast between the many names we may be called, the persona on an “ID card,” or the “entities invented by the state,” and the potentially unattainable authentic self. And yet “I thank my nurse for each kind turn,” Cal says—a brief moment of plainspoken tetrameter, perhaps Raptosh’s reminder that even as sinister simulacra threaten to obscure personhood, succor and respite should not be out of reach.  
 

Anne Lovering Rounds is Assistant Professor of English at Hostos Community College, City University of New York.

Word for Word Poetry Editions with Alice James Books

We have a collection of very talented guest bloggers to cover the Word for Word Poetry series this summer. They capture a first-hand account of the poetry readings, as well as help to interpret the work of our visiting poets who present at the Bryant Park Reading Room sponsored by HSBC. 

Michael Klein for Word for Word Poetry, August 27th, 2013
Featuring Alice James Books
 
It was lovely summer evening and the wonderful cooperative publishing house, Alice James Books based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, took to the Bryant Park stage.


   Tamiko Beyer read first and began, as she says she always begins a reading, by giving us the work written by someone else. She then proceeded to read three silly little poems by Yoko Ono, which, frankly were lost on me. Thankfully, Ms. Beyer’s work is a bit more, shall we say, complex and seems – at this outing, anyway – to be fairly dominated by water imagery. She is practically obsessed with it – as it takes the form of an ocean or the rain – and the poems she read almost all had something to do with the water world. Her first poem was about a manatee in New York Harbor in the form of the water as water and witness: “I stink. All that clutter in my gut,” New York Harbor says to the manatee. And then, “Adventure over, kid. From here on out, it’s all propeller.” Advice to get out of town. The strategy of getting something like New York Harbor to talk is one that works well for Beyer, as she is, I think, much more interested in giving voice to the things of this world that may not have one people can here.

     The poems that followed had the same kind of quiet reverence for things greater than Ms. Beyer’s self and went back and forth between the actual world and the smaller, more intimate, familial world. And she reads those poems – even the more intimate ones – as if she is delivering the latest news: in a clipped, somewhat urgent voice. Her strongest poem may have been another poem about New York and taking a long walk through the fabled city: “We’re mislead by water towers … a drink without end.”

     Beyer is also fascinated by the haibun form – a short prose poem (I’m not sure if there is a line count inherent here) that is then followed by a haiku. Her re-invention of the form, however, is to make the haiku sit on top of the prose poem which then, in a way, makes the whole thing read like a longer haiku. The strongest haibun she read had to do with a Nan Goldin photograph of a drag queen putting on her make-up in front of a mirror. “Gender becomes water becomes body becomes mirror,” the poem concludes. That blurring between the natural world and the one which inhabits the imagination, is, I think the driving force for Beyer and authenticates the work.
     Jamaal May is almost blind in his left eye, and he writes dazzling poems that live somewhere between the street and academia about how he sees because of that blindness and in spite of it. They are forceful poems and emotional and timeless and in their way concern diction, love and violence, and the heartbeat/heart-felt push of history – particularly, at this reading, the history of Detroit and the now-dead empire of the automobile. Three men, in one poem, circle a “Chrysler’s dead left side…” and later one of them, remarks “I don’t get cars, but I get this..”

     Like Beyer, May is also concerned with discovering and experimenting in new forms and read a wonderful poem about the names for certain fears (i.e., macrophobia, the fear of waiting) in a form attributed to poet Tyehimba Jess (who was in the audience). It was unfortunate, however, that he only read four or five poems and the audience really didn’t get enough of his work.

Matthew Olzmann really was the hit of the evening, I have to say. His poems were rhapsodic and elegiac and, most notably, really funny. He reminded me of two other Matthew poets – Dickman and Zapruder – as all three of these guys have a wondrous and sort of happy/sad way of looking at personal experiences and the world in general. There’s also a Dean Young and Mark Halliday influence here as well – a riffing quality that can be heard as a kind of stream of consciousness, but also manages to go pretty deeply into the complexity of the soul and what if found there. Aside from the varied and wondrous and wide array of subject matter available to him, Olzmann is really a terrific reader – engaged with his work in a way that many – if not most – poets who read their work out loud just aren’t. He should do a crash course for writers on how to read out loud.

     The titles for these poems are also terrific and really give a strong sense of the quality of things to come. Some of the poems from his book, Mezzanines, are: “Mountain Dew Poem Disguised as a Love Poem,” “Planetarium with Deformed Elephants,” and “The Tiny Men in The Horse’s Mouth” – a poem which has this wild epigram by Dan Cummins: Never look a gift horse in the mouth? But what if on the horse’s tongue there’s a tiny little man playing piano? Why would you not look at that? That’s incredible.

      Olzmann’s poems concern fractured youth and culture and science fiction and various other obsessions that all feel as though they’ve been keeping him awake for a long time. The poems are richly nuanced and completely inventive and illogical and their brilliance is in how they all sort of come together when they don’t always feel like they possibly could. They’re risky, in other words, and completely generous and are hell bent on raising the stakes in the sometimes pedestrian, narcissistic world of contemporary American poetry. 

Michael Klein’s second book of poems, "then, we were still living"(GenPop Books), was a Lambda Literary Award finalist and his first book, "1990", tied with James Schuyler to win the award in 1993. His new book, “The Talking Day” was published in January, 2013 by Sibling Rivalry Press and a collection of short, lyric essays, "States of Independence" won the 2011 BLOOM Chapbook contest in non-fiction judged by Rigoberto Gonzalez and was published in 2012. His poems, essays and interviews with American poets have appeared in American Poetry Review, BLOOM, Fence, Tin House, Ploughshares, Provincetown Arts, Poets & Writers and many other publications. He has taught writing at Sarah Lawrence College, Binghamton University, Manhattanville and for the last 15 years has been part of the writing faculty at Goddard College, in Vermont. He lives in New York City and Provincetown, Massachusetts. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Word for Word Poetry Editions with Red Hen Press

We have a collection of very talented guest bloggers to cover the Word for Word Poetry series this summer. They capture a first-hand account of the poetry readings, as well as help to interpret the work of our visiting poets who present at the Bryant Park Reading Room sponsored by HSBC.

Michael Klein for Word for Word Poetry, August 20th, 2013
Featuring Red Hen Press

“Where do you think they’re going?” asked Paul Romero, our great Word for Word host, to the group gathered for the Red Hen Press reading on August 21st. He was referring to a small group of protesters (the Egyptian coup) walking East down 42nd Street. “To the UN!” came back the answer, collectively from the audience. And so we waited until they passed, and then Paul introduced the first reader of the night, the wonderful and enigmatic EvieShockley, reading from her gorgeous new book, The New Black.

Ms. Shockley had just gotten off a plane that came in from Santa Fe and warned that she might appear discombobulated at times. She didn’t appear anything but in complete control of her poetry and its moving and dramatic delivery and actually reminded me of the poet Thylias Moss who also reads each poem with a different inflection which shows, in a way, how each poem gets made. It’s an original way of performing literary work and the results – through a wide array of subject matter including issues of post-racial America, Nashville, and an iconic figure for her, the poet Jayne Cortez – were terrific.

     Like many of the poets that read on this particular evening, Shockley’s poems go in and out of history and seem in their great generosity to take in music, lyrics, popular culture at the same time. The first poem, “My Life as China” even took on a whole country: “I was imported…,” the poem begins and ends with: “I was translucent but not clear.” Shockley also likes to make lists, and give names, and give tribute. The work, as a whole, felt somewhere between the rhetorical poem and the slam poem and is never too far away from the political.

     In the poem “Post-White” she opens with: “My Country tears of thee” and goes in and out of so many voicings – speaking voice and singing voice both – that she started to remind me of the kind of loose freestyle opening moments of Spike Lee’s brilliant “Do The Right Thing” which gives us a DJ’s patter and narration of a hot, hot summer day. Shockley’s poem also gave me the incredible sense of how culture and history – and the forgetting of history – inhabit the rhythm of the language we use to describe the world.

The next reader was Tess Taylor, whose terrific debut, “The Forage House” is about, in part, Thomas Jefferson’s America – his lineage to slavery and further back to a revelation (in the haunting poem “Eighteenth Century Remains”), of the physical country he inhabited: “a grassy burn that was a road”. And seeing into a strange and somewhat irresponsible legacy, some interesting facts about Jefferson are revealed: he died in a debt greater than the nation’s and he could not afford to free his slaves. Taylor writes: “Where the enslaved went after auction is partial – not written down.”

     Taylor’s is a burning lyric conjured from American history and, like Shockley, black history (in an interview, Taylor said: “I think I am ever and ever more attuned to the fact that white people and black people are related to one another in this country. We are actually family, blood relations”). She also crosses – with some of the newer poems she read – personal history as well with a poem called “Feast” which lovingly recounts a meal in Grand Central’s Oyster Bar – a backdrop for a first date with her soon-to-be husband.

     The poems are incredibly well wrought and reminded me, in some ways, of the poems by the late Deborah Digges – smart and always questioning. A kind of restless transcendence permeated much of what she read: “Where the enslaved went after auction // is partial— // not all written down” she writes in “Southampton County Will 1745.”

The next poet who read, Peggy Shumaker, likes birds. A lot. And the first poem she gave us was memorized – something rarely seen in the contemporary poetry landscape and ironic, too, since at the beginning of poetry as an oral tradition, memorizing – not reading, necessarily – was how the poems got handed down.

     What ensued after Shumaker’s first poem was a kind of exercise in light verse for naturalists. Shumaker lives in Alaska and writes of her life there and what she sees moving and flying or buzzing in the natural world. She also spoke of a trip she recently took to Costa Rica where she marveled at the sight of hummingbirds in seven different pools. Animal imagery runs deep in a Shumaker poem: “bright caution” she says. And, in another poem, looking closer at a macaw: “when she opens her mouth, daylight spreads.”

      The poems were poised and gentle and I think considered a world that most people don’t see as closely as they might think they do. Shumaker reminds us that the beauty of that world is at the place where the creatures in it live and fly and breathe and sing.

I’m not sure if Ron Carlson is a real friend of poetry or one of its merry pranksters. (I think Billy Collins can be a merry prankster at times, just so I’m clear about prankster here). For instance, Carlson said on more than on occasion that the titles for his poems (prose poems, to be accurate and fair) have everything you need to know about the poems. So, a poem called “Room Service” is about a man who calls from a hotel phone and asks for an actual room; a poem called “The Bull” opens with: “when they lead me into the china shop, I didn’t mind”; and “The Chance” places the proverbial snowball in hell. You get the idea.

     So, who accepts the challenge here? Is the bar on Carlson’s poetry and his aesthetic high enough or is Carlson pulling a fast one? I think a combination of the two, perhaps. While the poems are well made (funny and simplistic as they are) and, I suppose, are written beyond their triggering conceits, any surprise here becomes somewhat deflated by each poem’s hand being revealed so early. What finally is surprising – and this was evident in the few poems he read – is that there was something tender at the root of the game playing – a love for language, certainly, but also a love for seeing beyond what we always thought was just reality.

Michael Klein’s second book of poems,
"then, we were still living" (GenPop Books), was a Lambda Literary Award finalist and his first book, "1990", tied with James Schuyler to win the award in 1993. His new book, “The Talking Day” was published in January, 2013 by Sibling Rivalry Press and a collection of short, lyric essays, "States of Independence" won the 2011 BLOOM Chapbook contest in non-fiction judged by Rigoberto Gonzalez and was published in 2012. His poems, essays and interviews with American poets have appeared in American Poetry Review, BLOOM, Fence, Tin House, Ploughshares, Provincetown Arts, Poets & Writers and many other publications. He has taught writing at Sarah Lawrence College, Binghamton University, Manhattanville and for the last 15 years has been part of the writing faculty at Goddard College, in Vermont. He lives in New York City and Provincetown, Massachusetts.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Word for Word Poetry Editions with Sibling Rivalry Press

We have a collection of very talented guest bloggers to cover the Word for Word Poetry series this summer. They capture a first-hand account of the poetry readings, as well as help to interpret the work of our visiting poets who present at the Bryant Park Reading Room sponsored by HSBC. 

Monica Wendel for Word for Word Poetry, July 30th, 2013
Featuring Sibling Rivalry Press


The poets of Sibling Rivalry Press dug up the graves of their parents and imagined future children. They resurrected Britney Spears, Wonder Woman, and Madonna. They constructed mazes, and then fell through unseen trapdoors. They detoured into history, teaching, history-making. Above all, they lived up to the mission of Sibling Rivalry Press: to disturb and enrapture.
     Bryan Borland, the founder and publisher, began the evening by introducing his husband, Seth Pennington. The “lungfuls of river” a friend swallowed may as well have been the audience swallowing Pennington’s images: love compared to a silo, heavy glasses framing a face. One of his strongest poems, “The Florist,” evoked an Ophelia-like coming of age amidst water and flowers, a poem we listened to knowing that Pennington’s father was a mortician, and that flowers commemorate life and death:

            Keeping you

            from tearing out your own

            thorns, stripping them like

            roses


            before being placed in

            glass. Maybe it’s the tenderness

            from stripping bare … 

I look forward to hearing more work from Pennington. His exactitude and attention were unique. Pennington introduced Stephen Mills with the words, “He is dangerous, and he is in love with himself.” Mills rose to the occasion, beginning with a humorous poem about teaching. (Sibling Rivalry Press recently published an anthology called This Assignment Is So Gay: LBGTIQ Poets on the Art of Teaching.) His reading turned the reading international, with a stunning poem called “Iranian BoysHanged for Sodomy, July 2005.” There’s a childlike innocence to Mills’ wondering, but it’s not naïve; instead, it’s honest and unwavering. 
           
      Collin Kelley read next. Hailing from Atlanta, his Southern accent lent a musical quality to his poems, which touched upon issues of family and fatherhood, as well as changing identities. The speaker reflected on his childhood in the first poem, “Wonder Woman,” in which, in an act of kindness, the father spray paints a rope gold to complete the boy’s Wonder Woman costume. Women, in Kelley’s poems, are strong, complex, and powerful; his poem “Why I Want To Be Pam Grier” begins, “I want to pull a gun out of my hair / and blow your head off.”

Joanna Hoffman, a spoken word poet, was the sole female reader. “Fences,” her first poem, examined the boundaries the speaker creates (or feels) between herself and others. “I don’t belong here,” she said in her second poem, “Why I Had To Leave The Party Early.” Love, however, works in her poems as an opposing force against the desire to be alone: “I am a master of Escape. Show me a body, / I’ll show you an exit ramp,” she declared in “Learning To Open My Eyes.” In her final poem, “Trap Door,” (the title poem of her collection) the lover dismantles the speaker’s defenses in the form of a “trap door I didn’t see coming.”

      An intermission took place after her reading with the music of Primitivo. Matthew Hittinger began the second half of the evening by drawing our attention to the oppression gays and lesbians are currently facing in Russia. His poem “Orange Colored Sky” also invoked Wonder Woman, who was piloting an invisible jet in this imagining. His poems spoke to each other as well as to the environment around us: “Lunches in Bryant Park” gave a new perspective on where the reading was taking place. His final poem, “Samson In Reverse,” was a coming of age poem, peppered with details of Madonna and haircuts. 


D. Gilson began with poems from his chapbook Brit Lit, a collection of poems about Britney Spears. From the vantage point of Brit, we journey to an earthquake in Myanmar, watching her watching the news, as well as into the psyche of her most avid fans. Gilson has a knack for titles: “At the Bathhouse, Scholars Discuss Oceanic Theory,” for example. He dedicated his final poem to Bryan Borland, the founder of Sibling Rivalry Press, and “the reason we’re all here.” 
           
      Borland took the stage again to deliver the final reading and his hopes that the poets of Sibling Rivalry Press will overshadow him. His poems moved from the idea of his own potential fatherhood to the gifts his father gave him. “Instructions On How To Approach the Bereaved” should be required reading for anyone with a friend in grief. As if to perfectly close out the evening’s themes of love, loss, and family, it was Borland’s birthday, and cupcakes and punch appeared on the back table beside the booksellers. What better way to celebrate, I wondered, than with celebrating the family we are born with and the family we create. 

Monica Wendel is the author of No Apocalypse (Georgetown Review, 2013) and the chapbook Call it a WIndow (Midwest Writing Center, 2012). She holds an MFA in creative writing from NYU, where she was awarded both Goldwater and Starworks teaching fellowships. Her poetry has appeared in the Bellevue Literary Review, Lamba Literary Review, Nimrod, and other journals. The former writer-in-residence at the Jack Kerouac Project of Orlando, Florida, she currently lives in Brooklyn and works as a visiting instructor of composition at St. Thomas Aquinas College. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Word for Word Poetry Editions with Poets & Writers

We have a collection of very talented guest bloggers to cover the Word for Word Poetry series this summer. They capture a first-hand account of the poetry readings, as well as help to interpret the work of our visiting poets who present at the Bryant Park Reading Room sponsored by HSBC. 

Monica Wendel for Word for Word Poetry, July 23rd, 2013
Featuring Poets & Writers
 
In magic and mythology, the living transform into inanimate objects, and vise versa: the dead become living again, whether they are pseudo-scientifically animated (as in this summer’s zombie movies), or brought back from Hades across the river Styx (as in the ancient myth of Persephone). The poetry this week at Bryant Park, in partnership with Poets & Writers, achieved a similar feat. Animating spirits abounded in the poems of Tyehimba Jess, Joseph Legaspi, Patricia Spears Jones, and Samantha Thornhill. 

Tyehimba Jess is the author of the astonishing collection leadbelly (Wave Books, 2005), “an exploration of blues musician Huddie ‘Lead Belly’ Ledbetter’s life,” as the Poetry Foundation describes it. Before reading his first poem, “When I Speak of Blues Be Clear,” he pulled out a harmonica and played; the words that followed became music:
when i speak of blues
i speak sunshine and rain from one mouth.
i am a two headed doctor spitting bullet and gospel verse,
coffin and cakewalk,
stagolee and ma rainey,
jazz in the juke of the jailhouse jump 

     His next poem, “Mistress Stella Speaks,” spoke in the voice of Stella, Lead Belly’s faithful guitar. In this love poem, Stella describes how Lead Belly “stroke[s] the living song from my hips,” and though he has paid money for her, she owns him. Jess’ mastery of stepping into other voices continued with an ekphrastic poem from the perspective of Cleopatra. Jess’ work then shifted into the present with poems about Afghanistan, Bradley Manning, and 9/11, describing war as having “one eye of napalm, one eye of ice.”

Joseph Legaspi, who took the stage next, also presented politically engaged work. Born in the Philippines and raised in Los Angeles, the idea of being a “poet in exile” came up before he began his reading. These poems were notable for their frankness about the body, and for their humor tempered with compassion. Legaspi began with a love poem in the form of a sonnet to his v-neck t-shirt, then offered “The Homosexual Book of Genesis,” which, we learned, “is a short book.”           
      Legaspi is a co-founder of Kundiman, an organization serving Asian-American poets. Before reading a poem for Trayvon Martin, he mentioned a Kundiman-sponsored project called “writing race and belonging” that took place in the Bronx and on Governor’s Island. This “living monument” was a collaborative poem on the experience of making a home in America. Legaspi’s poetry takes on that same challenge – “you are the neighbor, my neighbor,” he wrote. Another found poem, taken from directions heard and seen the subway system, also echoed ideas of home and belonging (“whatever falls on the tracks is not as valuable as you are.”). We laughed during this poem, its re-imagining of the drone passengers have learned to ignore, but it also became a commentary on race in America. Is violence just another thing we tune out, just as we don’t notice the subway operator telling us to “stand clear of the closing doors”?           

Patricia Spears Jones’s first poem, “Female Trouble,” followed a pig that stopped traffic for miles in New Jersey and New York. It served as a reminder that even the seemingly powerless can have an outsized influence on the world around them. Her next poem “What the First Cities Were All About” brought us three thousand years back, to a time and place where “beer-drinking Mesopotamians” danced “to the music made on the bull-headed lyre.” Her love for cities continued in “A pillow in the city,” which animated the relationship between a sleeper and a pillow in “an ugly summer night’s air.”   
     No city can stay quiet with a pen in Jones’ hand. Her poem, “Freedom Tower,” about 9/11, described it as “building over a graveyard.” Shifting gears for “Beuys in the Blonde,” this Pushcart Prize-nominated poem imagined a meeting between the German artist Joseph Beuys and Marilyn Monroe. “I’m a poet,” Jones declared, “I can make [stuff] up.” Of course, the ghosts that wandered through her poems were all too real, reminders that we must live with the past, not leave it behind. In her last poem, “Last Day of Passover, 2006,” she praises language and music:
 
          Oh rhythms Southern African Indian the New World honored.
          Oh first kisses and last goodbyes.
 


Samantha Thornhill was the final reader of the evening, or, as she put it in characteristic warmness and humor, she was on “clean-up duty.” Her stage presence was infused with the experience of being a spoken-word poet and a teacher of children; she commanded the audience’s attention with confidence and poise. She began her reading with a poem by Dereck Walcott, “Love After Love,” then moved on to her poem, “Ode to a Starfig,” with “all this pink and all this promise.” Reciting her poems from memory, her next poem, “This Camel’s Back,” continued in the same vein as the political poems heard earlier in the evening:
 
If more boulevards named after dead men;
if nooses resurrecting
from the shallow graves of history;
if black gold proving yet again
its invisibility
to the scales of justice …
isn't straw enough--then

it fears me to think
of what it will take
to break
this camels' back
at last.
Thornhill’s compassion and empathy were evident still in her next poem “Signs”: “everywhere / I go I see the people I love in the faces of strangers,” she said, transforming a banal movie scene into a commentary on “the paradox of the human struggle.” She then brought up to the stage a violinist who accompanied her on her next poems, “West Indian Woman Speaks from the Dead” and “Ode to Odetta,” a version of which was published as a children’s book. During these poems, boundaries between poetry and music, and the living and the dead, became meaningless. Thornhill used accents and theatrical conventions, moving her arms and hands as the words moved. She closed out the evening with two words: “Peace, y’all!”

Peace, indeed. 


 Monica Wendel is the author of No Apocalypse (Georgetown Review, 2013) and the chapbook Call it a WIndow (Midwest Writing Center, 2012). She holds an MFA in creative writing from NYU, where she was awarded both Goldwater and Starworks teaching fellowships. Her poetry has appeared in the Bellevue Literary Review, Lamba Literary Review, Nimrod, and other journals. The former writer-in-residence at the Jack Kerouac Project of Orlando, Florida, she currently lives in Brooklyn and works as a visiting instructor of composition at St. Thomas Aquinas College.