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, July 12, 2014

Word for Word Poetry Editions with The Song Cave Press (Week of July 7th)

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

Safia Jama for Word for Word Poetry, July 8, 2014
Featuring The Song Cave Press

Despite dire weather predictions, the clouds parted and the torrential rains held off long enough for four poets to present new work by a relatively new press, The Song Cave.  The reading showcased verse that is in dialogue with both poetic tradition and gritty process.  

Jane Gregory

Jane Gregory began the evening with poems from her collection My Enemies. Gregory balances emotion and rhetoric in unexpected ways: “This is the sound of a sun on a loop.” Her poems remind us that poems are also science experiments.  For example, Gregory employs the conceit of writing a series of poems titled “Book I Will Not Write,” which in turn makes space for some innovative word-play: “I do not write this / book because I see all the applause is just prayer / undecided.” Gregory’s words shape-shift in mid-line, as the speaker follows taut through-lines through mysterious fields.

Nate Klug

A city park seemed the perfect setting for Nate Klug to read Rough Woods, subtitled “Passages of Virgil’s Eclogues. “ Klug’s aesthetic feels both old and new; he embraces tradition and in doing so, insists on a living poetic tradition.  The passages are peopled by shepherd boys who meet Silenus, drunken mainstay of Greek mythology, singing of “burning planets,” “the earth spinning dry,” when “pine forests started popping up.”  Klug’s translation-poems circle around the yearning for a respite in song from angst and psychoses: “This pastoral life can’t cure my madness.” Klug’s clear language leaves the poems free to grapple with deep concerns.

Todd Colby

Todd Colby read poems from his upcoming collection, Splash State, out in September. Known for his humor and wit, Colby read poems both edgy and vulnerable: “I ran my hand along the back of your leopard”; “I want to do with you what rich people do every Sunday morning.”  His background in music and performance showed in a dramatic-monologue-style reading of “Sweetie,” a poem whose discordant music still sticks in my ear.  As Colby read “Love Poem,” he cracked a smile as the wind blew so hard the poet had to use both hands to keep his papers from drifting away.  

Sarah Nicholson
Sara Nicholson, final reader of the evening, reminded us that a poem is made of up lines, and Nicholson’s lines take surprising turns: “I learned nothing from the woods/ but my social security number.”  Her debut collection, The Living Method, is aware of the context of contemporary poems, which is often an academic context: “the humanities help us stomach our myths.” Nicholson also read a number of new poems—those poems delve into greater emotional vulnerability. In a poem titled “Q & A,” the speaker admits: “I’ve embarrassed myself too often / by sleeping with pronouns.”

Alan Felsenthal

All four poets gave the sense of a nurturing and supportive press of auspicious beginnings.  Word for Word curator Paul Romero noted the enviable youth and talent of the poets, and offered congratulations to co-editors Alan Felsenthal and Ben Estes.

Safia Jama currently teaches writing and pursues an M.F.A. in poetry at Rutgers-Newark. A Cave Canem fellow and a graduate of Harvard College, her poetry appears in Reverie and The New Sound; her nonfiction appears on NPR's SchoolBook and The Volta.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Word for Word Poetry Editions with Blue Flower Arts (Week of May 26th)

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

Elizabeth Whittlesey for Word for Word Poetry, May 27, 2014
Featuring Blue Flower Arts

Since the clouds threatened possible thunderstorm, the evening's proceedings sought last-minute shelter inside the high-ceilinged, echoey foyer of The General Society of Mechanics and Tradesman, a magnificent space I'd never before entered, replete with beautiful, wrap-around balconies, bookshelf-lined walls, and a bonus grand piano. These readers definitely deserved a heftier crowd, but then again I could probably say that about most poetry readings in the city on any given night. I do know of at least two other formidable events that were happening elsewhere at the same time, and by formidable I mean because my friends were in them.

Stephen Burt tinkered a bit on the piano while we waited for latecomers and stragglers from the park. Rowan Ricardo Philips took a turn on the keys for a moment too. I suppose had Katha Pollitt tried her hand and exhibited any kind of proficiency, we would have had a surprising hat-trick of musical talent in the house. After a nice introduction by the generous-hearted Paul Romero, the readers proceeded in alphabetical order, poetry appropriately sandwiched there between leaf-bound book and musical instrument, with a large banner overhead declaring them tradesmen and tradeswomen, mechanics of the word.
Stephen Burt
I'd never heard Stephen Burt read before, and it was a treat. Clearly this is someone who is comfortable performing in front of—and satisfying—a classroom full of hungry Harvard undergrads. Minutes into his reading he decided to forego the microphone altogether so he could move about freely. I found his animated, emphatic style refreshing and engaging. I felt transported back to the origins of poetry as oral tradition and theatre—it was a welcome deviation from the typically staid, somber approach, with reader hiding bashfully behind the microphone rarely looking up at the audience. (I am usually that reader.) As Burt paced to and fro in that space, dare I say it all felt—for a moment—mildly Shakespearean?
He commenced with a new poem,“My 1979,” and the lines, “I was Mr. Spock being raised by Dr. Spock,” which garnered a hearty laugh from the audience. I laughed too, even though I'm ashamed to admit—especially in front of Stephen Burt—that I've never watched a Star Trek episode in its entirety, not even once throughout all of the 80s or 90s, otherwise known as The Great Age of Syndicated Star Trek Reruns, so I didn't know exactly what he meant. But I did know what he meant.  I felt what it meant to others and to him through the sheer force of it, because that's what poetry is: you don't always know exactly what it means, you don't always get the reference, but you feel it, even if sometimes via the rhythm and sound alone: it is an experience occasioned by words that occurs beyond the words, or as ineffable sum total.
His next poem “Cicadas” began, “They wanted the same thing: to be born and then turn seventeen.” I related to that sentiment keenly. I've long felt the bulk of my childhood consisted in biding my time until I was old enough to do all the things adults could do of their own volition, such as eat dessert for three meals a day, or transport myself independently to the mall.  (See, that was the whole purpose of requesting a go-cart for my birthday that one year, Dad. As much as I appreciated your sweet gesture of building with your own two hands that wooden cart with wooden wheels that I could pull up Regency Street using the affixed rope in order to then let gravity work its magic down the hill, my aim all along had been vastly different: I had wanted REAL, AMERICAN, PETROLEUM-BASED-LOCOMOTION-REPRESENTING-FREEDOM, DAD!!)
Thanks to the New York Times profile of a few years ago, I was aware of Stephen Burt's reputation (as a critic) as enthusiastic supporter or "fanboy" of often younger, under-appreciated poets, so it wasn't entirely surprising when at one point he interrupted his reading to say, "I believe the author of Crowns of Charlotte is now in the audience, is that correct? One of my favorite books from last year—Lee Ann Brown, everybody. It's a really good book." At another point he sought pronunciation help from his charming wife of fourteen years, Jessie, who was also in the audience. I appreciated this easy fluidity between performer and audience. I find it delightful the delight Burt takes in his children—his unabashed inclusion of them in his poetry. Of course, whenever they appear, we instantly recognize that we are all still those children: "I threw my hat in the river. I would like my hat back now," says his two-year-old son, Cooper, at the close of "A Covered Bridge in Littleton, New Hampshire," and there we all are, standing by the glistening river, having just discarded something we cared for. 
Now comes the inevitable moment when I feel compelled to report on Stephen Burt's appearance. True, I could just as easily not do so, too.  After all, purple, low-top Chuck Taylors, gray jeans, and a blue-and-white floral button-down shirt easily fall within the normal parameters of standard, male 'literary casual.' I’d rather interrogate why I might feel more inclined to mention his appearance and not that of the others.  Simply because Burts' ensembles are known to contain (often far louder) gestures towards the traditionally “feminine,” and he is male? Well, tricked you all, because this has all been merely a ploy to talk about his charcoal-colored, glitter nail polish. I admired it.  I like the challenge posed by a little flamboyance. I admire people who have the courage to dress in whatever way the mood strikes them in whatever given moment. Of course we are all always making statements through our clothing choices, even if that statement is simply that we don't care all that much about fashion, or that we are too poor to care, or that we don't care enough to test the boundaries of whatever received ideas of male/female acceptability govern our specific cultural moment.  Perhaps Burt’s lines from "1979" provide some useful insight into his own particular gestures: "I was free to be me, but only me . . . I wanted to stay at Annabelle's house and wake up as a new girl or a new mutant or a new kind of humanity engineered to travel at more than half the speed of light, but I wasn't allowed—my bedtime and I were both eight." Here is a poet interested in otherness, play, superseding of boundaries.   And with perfect comedic timing, just as I was noting his sparkly nail polish in my notebook, he shot out the line, "Too many people care what we are wearing" from his poem "Draft Camp," which he likened to the showmanship involved in competing for academic tenure: "Don't we all wait through life, 'Choose me, choose me?'" Yes, yes we do.

Rowan Ricardo Phillips
Rowan Ricardo Phillips' presence is immediately commanding, but in this poised, subtly magnetic way, as is his speaking voice. (Crowdsource: Have any of you writers out there found a tolerable way to describe a voice that doesn't sound ridiculous?—Lush? Lilting? Velvety? My thesaurus was of no help.  Maybe all adjectives are embarrassing, anyway, riddled with assumptions and cliché.)  Regardless of my ability (or lack thereof) to accurately convey voice timbre through words, I can at least take a stab at the poems themselves: they ranged freely between the spiritual and mundane, contemporary and historical, interior and exterior; they rocketed from earth to space then back again in a mere breath; they truly surprised me at every turn.  "I don't have any proscriptions for what poets should do," he said before his next poem, but I do think all poets should write a poem about their name." I can totally get down with whimsical proscriptions like that. (Oh, and thanks for my next poem idea, mate!) Phillips' own exploration turned out to be a beautiful meditation on ancestry, history, and identity: "Still, it sounds typically West Indian to me. And, like the West Indies, indefinite. An indefinite now in an indefinite poem. It took me a while to accept it."
In "Tabula Rasa," Phillips asks the poem itself whether it can ensure his poetic survival, "Tell me now poem, if you know, in the end when I'm gone will you go too? Or are you your possible answer?" I respect writers who openly scrutinize/lay bare their artistic ambitions in their writing. And by respect, I mean, of course, because I still feel compelled to do so in my own work, too.  Thanks to some of Phillips’ stunning imagery, I realized we still seem to need metaphor and simile after all:  "We live like the one sequin / In a sequined dress that thinks it's the dress." Yes, yes we do.
And then there was that moment when the ghost of Bob Marley entered the room. Marley's appearance in Phillips' loose translation of the 26th canto of Dante's Inferno is his equivalence for the only time in all of the Inferno that Dante abandons his "rich Tuscan Italian" to break into another language (Provençale) in homage to Arnault Daniel—which moment Phillips deems "one of the great examples of love for another writer." Apparently this poem came to Phillips in its entirety one night in a dream. (Also, can you please teach me how to dream an entire poem like this, sir? Thanks.) And now comes the obnoxious moment when I say you just had to be there for what unfolded. All I'm saying is it was the kind of experience you can't get from reading silently to yourself in your bedroom. Especially, because, let's be honest, there are very few of us who could pull off as convincing a Bob Marley accent as that.
Phillips closed with "Aubade, Vol. 2: The Underground Sessions,” "about the last time I went clubbing in Barcelona." Little did he know that this blogger is a hobbyist DJ in her spare time who has spent way too much over the years in dark clubs and warehouses the world over, including Barcelona—a fact that makes me all the more wary of others' attempts to capture a scene I know so intimately and hold so dear to my heart.  But I was quickly forced to cast aside my ready dismissiveness when he dropped this sonic treat: "The DJ rubs the mood of the room as though it were his womb." I've often likened the feeling of being in those dark muggy rooms, engulfed by that incessant 4/4 beat pumping away (= heartbeat) to a kind of communal return to the primeval womb—just with a lot more drugs.  When Phillips hit the refrain, his voice crescendoing and crescendoing and then almost breaking into song, I think it's safe to say the entire room was riveted: another had to be there moment. Here, how about I help you be there right now:

The sun is a sequence of flash and din
In the sunken club’s slack black ceilings.
And where once the crowds were mere pent peacocks,
Twiddling half chatoyances, shimmers in the dark,
Now only dancers remain.
The DJ rubs the mood of the room as though it
Were his womb. We dance: we ripple in place.
The twin black lakes of vinyl blend
Stirred to life by the dipped needle.
No one I know knows the real ends of when. (What?)
No one I know knows the real end of when. (What?)
No one I know knows for real when to end. Again.
No one I know knows for real when to end. (What?)
No one I know knows the real end of when. (What?)
No one I know knows the real ends of when.
And when we thought we’d reached the end
It was remixed again.
No one I know knows for real when to end. . . .

(I would like to take this opportunity to confess publicly that this was the first time I'd ever heard the word "chatoyances.")
Katha Pollitt
When Katha Pollitt got up she joked that the review cited in her introduction might not have been quite glowing enough for her liking, and then quoted Joseph Conrad who said, "I don't want criticism—I want praise!" "I know just how he feels."  I admire this kind of openly-worn vulnerability. And by admire, I mean, of course, because I'm that way too. (Vanessa Place recently expressed her belief in an interview that "any interview is about the interviewer.” I hope you can tell that I am trying desperately—and succeeding—to make this entire review all about me.  I hereby invoke blogger's license and onus!)
Pollitt commenced with “A Walk,” from The Mind-Body Problem. She preambled, "One of the things that you notice if you've lived in New York a long time, you walk down a street, and the street you know is just gone, they've just torn it down and are gonna build something else—and I just hate that. I want everything to stay the same." But she quickly retracted, “Well, not the people, but the things—people have to get better." Known for her avidly political, feminist leanings as showcased regularly in her columns for The Nation or The New Yorker, Pollitt has clearly been working in the "people have to get better" mode her whole life. “A Walk” wasn't so much political, rather it was a pleasing meditation on impermanence, that tried-and-true obsession of the poets: "I admire more than ever the ancient Chinese poets / who were comforted in exile by thoughts of the transience of life . . . A melancholy restraint is surely the proper approach to take in this world."  (Speaking of impermanence, Lucie Brock-Broido loves to joke with her students that 'all poems are about love, death, or the changing of seasons.' She then continues along a deductive path like so: And what is any poem about fall or winter about, anyway? And what is love but the thought of its loss or end?  So, really, in the end, there's really only ever one poetic topic: death.) 
Pollitt's next poem, "Playground," which starts out as a seemingly innocuous poem about mothers at a playground, startled me with these tremendous lines: "A man could slice his way / through us like a pirate! / And why not, didn't we open our bodies recklessly / to any star, say Little one, / whoever you are, come in?" She continued:

Broad-hipped in fashionable sweatpants,
we discuss the day—a tabloid
murder, does coldcream work . . .
and when we talk
not one of us isn't thinking
Mama! Was it like this?
Did I do this to you?
But Mama too is busy,
she is dead, or in Florida,
or taking up new interests,
and the children want apple juice
and Cheerios, diapers and naps.
We have no one to ask but each other.
But we do not ask each other.

"So that's a feminist poem," Pollitt said after reading the above, "People often say, oh you're a big feminist, Katha, how come your poems aren't so feminist? But I think they are, in a sort of subtle way." After the reading, Rowan Ricardo Phillips laughingly asked Pollitt, "What do those people need—for a woman to kill a man in your poems or something for them to be considered feminist?"
Pollitt is a master of retelling, reworking. In her slightly sinister "Rereading Jane Austen's Novels," she writes, "At least he's got some land and gets a joke—but will her jokes survive the wedding night?" Apparently this poem ruffled a few feathers in the Jane Austen scene, a tidbit I find highly amusing: "When my book came out you'll be pleased to know The Jane Austen Society read this poem and found every single detail was wrong that I had carefully selected from her books." I also thoroughly enjoyed all of Pollitt's 'remixes' of biblical material. In "The Expulsion," "Even God was secretly pleased: Let / History begin!" I especially loved this brilliant twist at the end, "Only the Tree of Knowledge stood forlorn, / . . . How pleasant it had been, how unexpected / to have been, however briefly, / the center of attention." Who, in all these years, ever thought to empathize with the Tree? All three of the evening's readers dealt with the foibles of the ego with refreshing humor and honesty.
I adored Pollitt's cheeky new poem "Angels." "Have you ever wondered how your guardian angel feels about guarding you?" she queried the audience as introduction. (Well, yes, yes I have, very much so recently, but that's a different story for a different day.) Since I don't have the text of the poem in front of me and am transcribing from rickety smartphone recording, I'll refrain from guessing at her line breaks:
They thought the job would be more musical. Rainbows and trumpets. They'd burst through clouds of marble streaked with flame and offer blinding demonstrations of the ontological truth of God. People would look up and say "ineffable." Instead they swooped through the mall calling 'Ashley? Cammie?'  Fished Mrs. Bain's wedding ring from the drain, again, and suspended the laws of physics on the freeway while simultaneously fielding the collective pleas of Sister Perpetua's seventh grade. . . . "Why don't you just study?" One angel would gripe to another, "She told you Latin America would be on the test." Eventually, they stopped showing up. They moved into studio apartments and took day jobs working with plants and animals.
Pollitt's charming irreverence illuminates a commonality I noticed in all three of the evening's readers' work (not that there had to be one.) Although all dove rather unflinchingly into the dark, difficult parts of this river we call existence—into the very real sufferings, inequalities, heartbreaks, lonelinesses—I nevertheless sensed in all of their work a lightness hovering just above the troubled surface, or wry sense of humor running as undercurrent just below. These are serious poets who know how to embody, in life and on the page, that old adage (or at least one my yoga instructor likes to repeat frequently) that, at the end of the day, life is too serious to be taken—to take ourselves—too seriously.

Elizabeth Whittlesey
Elizabeth Whittlesey's poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Boston Review, Gulf Coast, jubilat, Western Humanities Review, POOL: A Journal of Poetry, Jerry, Two Serious Ladies, Explosion Proof, Phantom Limb, and Noncanon Press. Elizabeth grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah and lives in Manhattan.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Word for Word Poetry Editions with CUNY Poets (Week of May 19th)

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

Meghan Maguire Dahn for Word for Word Poetry, May 20, 2014
Featuring CUNY Poets

The desert, the body (quantified), the two-week grudges of lobsters, the disputes overheard in convenience stores, the unspoken rebuttals of 18th-century execution sermons, the parts Faulkner left out, the book that opened its mouth, the block of marble only partly carved by Michelangelo – all of these were posited as correlatives for poetry during the Evening of CUNY Poets at the Bryant Park Reading Room on May 20, 2014.

Anne Lovering Rounds

Organized by Anne Lovering Rounds, assistant professor of English at Hostos Community College, the evening featured Carl James Grindley (associate professor of English at Hostos Community College), Alexander Long (associate professor of English at John Jay College), Salita Bryant (assistant professor of English at Lehman College), and the work of Isaac Goldemberg (distinguished professor at Hostos Community College) presented by Ángel Morales (a teacher in the Humanities Department at Hostos and Artistic Director of the Hostos Reparatory Theater) and Annelly Chalas (a Hostos sophomore).

Carl James Grindle

Carl James Grindley read primarily from his new collection Lora and the Dark Lady, which won the 2011 Ravenna Press Cathlamet Prize for Poetry.  The collection reconsiders two of the most prominent objects of the western canon – Petrarch’s Laura and Shakespeare’s Dark Lady.  The poems Grindley read don’t necessarily refer to a real Lora or a real Dark Lady.  Rather, they’re amalgamations of women he’s known or heard of over the years – the nice ones are Laura and the others, the Dark Lady.  If this sounds reductive at first, it’s not.  The poems are linguistically playful, lending such an appealing, embodied voice to the women that any criticism involving the false dichotomy of good woman/bad woman disappears.  And that is where Grindley’s significant skill lies: in writing his way through a vast range of voices, each of them fully textured.  It could be a marine biologist, a paper, a man down on his luck, a casual conversation between strangers, an address to the history of poetry.  From the highfalutin to the day-to-day, everything feels justified in Grindley’s work.

Alexander Long
If these different registers play nicely together in Gindley’s work, the language Alexander Long uses is sometimes jarring.  In the poem “Style in Slow Motion,” a pair of muggers “take their own sweet autumnal time.”  He uses the pristine imagery of poetry to describe a scene of remarkable violence.  The poem itself takes on that scene, but from within the larger framework of an etymological examination of the word “style.”  This is a series of juxtapositions that keeps a listener alert.  Other poems also used this tactic – in particular, an ekphrastic epistolary poem about photojournalist Paul Watson, who took the famous photos in Mogadishu of the mob that dragged Staff Sgt. William David Cleveland through the streets.  After describing some of that terrible violence (the incident inspired the film Black Hawk Down), Long’s speaker mentions that he “heard an interview with Watson on NPR.”  How conversational! It’s an audacious move in the midst of such violence, and such formal vigor, to express something so plainspoken, so every-day.  It agitates us out of a default to placidity we might make when listening to poetry.
Salita Bryant

Salita Bryant’s work takes a very different approach.  While she also writes about violent subjects (the execution of children, the murder of children, dead corpse-mothers written out of the canon, the body broken into its absurd functions and quantities), she does so with an unflinching attention to the beauty of language.  Her book Addie Bundren is Dead is a series of persona poems from the perspective of the deceased mother in Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying.  It would take a writer who has the unflinching attention to language and its beauty to take on Faulkner.  It helps that Bryant’s command of language is akin to his.  Hers unfolds at a somewhat more consistent pace, rather than the undulating loops of big time that his books tend to engage. This consistent unfolding is also a quality of a long poem cycle from which Bryant read called “Anatomy Lesson.”  Each section related to a part of the body – skin, blood, bones, etc.  At times lyrical (the tongue, “the silver spoon of rust” is the strongest muscle) and, at other times, ruthlessly quantitative (pointing out that we have enough iron in our blood to make one 3” nail), the poem works as its own system, full of wonder, but equally concerned with being thorough.  In this way, Bryant gives us the sense of a knit theater of intimacies, both in terms of our anatomy and in terms of the way we relate to others, to culture, to history.

Isaac Goldemberg

If Bryant’s work is tightly knit in its relation to all these things, Isaac Goldemberg’s work treats them with wild leaps.  In his work – read beautifully in the Spanish by Ángel Morales and translated into English by Annelly Chalas – subjects take on unlikely behaviors.  In one poem “Cain and Abel act as brothers.” In another there is “a whistling that calls you black.” In “Funeral Oration” Goldemberg declares that “the desert is text woven in sand.”  The poems ask us to take these leaps of faith about what the world is and what it can do.  And we do so without a fuss, because they progress with their own kind of logic, unfolding wonderfully, culminating with some element of marrow-knowledge.

The gathering showed the remarkable variety of styles and overall quality of the work that CUNY professors are producing, of course, but there were also some concerns they held in common.  One was grappling with what it is that poetry does—sometimes this took the form of an ars poetica (from Bryant). Goldemberg reflected on the shift in poetry from communally spoken to printed in a book. Grindley used his poems as a means of synthesizing of academic and colloquial talk.  And, for Long, the space of the poem was one that allowed for meta-conversation (an ekphrastic poem in the form of a letter, written in conversation with an earlier ekphrastic poem in epistolary form).

The other common attention of the poems was to the source of the speaker’s voice.  This was perhaps most prominent in Bryant’s work, which is sometimes drawn from historic figures (she read from a gorgeous poem in the voice of Hannah Occuish – a young girl executed for murder in colonial Connecticut).  And the Addie Bundren poems work in a similar vein.  Grindley, who grew up in working class western Canadian city of Victoria, invented a persona from which to write poems so he wouldn’t “feel weird” about it.  Long’s ability to pick up on the syntaxes and rhythms of everyday speech also work to complicate a speaking “I” of a poem.  Does this voice come from a unified speaker or from whatever local social group the poet moves through?  Goldemberg considers the same issue but with a more historical lens, in the shift from sung verse to published poems that we read solitarily.  It might seem somewhat counterintuitive to count the intended audience in a discussion of the speaker of a poem, but not in this case.  If the early role of sung verse was to have the poem learned and re-sung from town to town, then the sense of the speaker (and sometimes the very text itself) would have changed accordingly.  A solitary reader is in a position of more passivity, receiving the text as fixed, a step removed from its embodied performance. 

But we were not solitary for this event.  We were in a public space, one of the gems of New York, sitting together as the day ended, listening to poems.  Passersby sometimes paused, sometimes took a seat, and sometimes went along their way.  Poetry was in the open air.  We have not, as Goldemberg wrote, “sold the house to oblivion.”

Meghan Maguire Dahn

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Word for Word Poetry Editions with Coffee House Press (Week of May 12th)

FWe 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

Safia Jama for Word for Word Poetry, May 13th, 2014
Featuring Coffee House Press

The month of May ushered in the first of 24 Word for Word poetry readings curated by Paul Romero through the end of September. The inaugural outdoor reading featured four diverse voices from Minneapolis-based CoffeeHouse Press

Lightsey Darst
Lightsey Darst read selections from her new collection, Dance, beginning with the phrase: “Remember this.” Darst’s is a poetry of movement through music: “You live in a quarter-turn, pane of glass, a midstep misstep—burn between a mockingbird’s note.” Halfway through, Darst told the audience that she "is writing about paradise.” Although the poems are not about dance, they do seem to bend reality the way a good dancer might. In her crisp delivery Darst emphasized caesura and space, as did her imagery: “Stars for doors”;They have hollowed the trunks with their singing.” As she read her final selection from “Paradisical,” the sounds of the city only seemed to underscore the lush serenity, the “grasspools,” in Darst’s imagined paradise.
Sarah Fox
Sarah Fox’s work makes experimentation appealing in The First Flag, her latest book.  The long poem “Comma” is printed over vintage-looking anatomical drawings, and each poem gels into a larger whole that subverts male-centric science: “Woman and poison share an alliance.” In her poem “Transitional Object,” the speaker is trapped in “the cage made of the bones/ of my mother.” Heard aloud, the "cage" repeats and morphs until the speaker emerges free from hackneyed definitions of self: “And I imagined/ a Yes that birthed out star pour, each bone recomposing.” Fox palms words and then breaks them apart to reveal a linguistic clearing, a “Yes.”  Fox ended her reading with “A Kiss is a Kiss Named Little Apple (After Gertrude Stein),” a poem that shows her speaker to be in dialogue with kindred spirits, evident in the last line she read for the evening: “Don’t stop dancing!”

Sun Yung Shin
Sun Yung Shin braids fairy-tales into Rough, And Savage, making them her own in lines like this: “I made a replacement child of plant matter.”  Between poems, Shin cited Pinsky’s translation of Dante’s Inferno as an important influence; she ended her reading with what she described as “a seven part poem in the voice of Satan.” Did I mention Shin’s poetic swag? Each section of the persona poem has subtitles: “Wanderer,” “the Scapegoat,” and “the Artist.” The poem’s final line seems to loop endlessly, eating its own tail: “Everything I make is unmade, a bed in the morning, your memory of me.”  
Anna Moschovakis

Anna Moschovakis, the last reader of the evening, approached the microphone as the air turned chilly. Moschovakis made an unusual choice and delivered a reading of all-new material, one long poem titled “What it Means To Be Avant-garde." The poem juxtaposes notes on Roma culture, anxiety disorders, depression, and the problem of beauty.  The poem lives up to the title and its tone evokes Dostoevsky: “I am dissatisfied”; “I expect to be punished.” I'm eager--even anxious!--to read this new work by Moschovakis in print.

While the four poets from Coffee House Press could not have been more different, each took imaginative and linguistic risks.  All in all, the reading was an auspicious start to this year's Word for Word poetry series. 
Safia Jama

Safia Jama currently teaches writing and pursues an M.F.A. in poetry at Rutgers-Newark. A Cave Canem fellow and a graduate of Harvard College, her poetry appears in Reverie and The New Sound; her nonfiction appears on NPR's SchoolBook and The Volta

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.