Thursday, June 14, 2012

Word for Word Poetry with Cavan Kerry Press

We have the help of some very special guest bloggers at 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 the talented poets who present in the Bryant Park Reading Room sponsored by HSBC.

Amanda O’Connor on Word for Word Poetry, June 12, 2012
Featuring the poets of Cavan Kerry Press

While Tuesday’s rain showers may have kept some poetry lovers homebound, the dedicated and proud gathered in a warm, dry conference room 24-stories above Bryant Park.  With a direct view of the Chrysler building behind the poets, each transported us miles away of New York.  Carole Stone put it well, remarking, “Phillip Levine has Detroit, I have Newark.”  It seems that the same could be said of Paola Corso’s Pittsburgh and Kevin Carey’s Boston.  Regionalism was alive in the Bryant Park Reading Room.

Carole Stone opened the evening with poems from her latest collection American Rhapsody (CavanKerry Press, March 2012).  The cover photo’s amber glow of a mostly-drunk whiskey bottle begs the question, who drank all the liquor?  Stone wastes no time letting us know it was her father and mother.  The collection is an elegy for her parents who were once hopped up on bootlegged, bathtub booze and hot jazz.  Stone adeptly describes scenes she only could have imagined, from Josephine Baker to bars where the patrons smoke fat Cuban cigars.  She describes an exhilarating, perhaps even dangerous life.  The underbelly of these poems, though, is the life her parents left her, one that is sad and confused.  “English-American Duet” strikes this dichotomy well, noting poverty and corruption, money and middle class.  Between the highs and lows, Stone finds W.H. Auden.  At the end of the poem, the speaker remarks that she’s found her poets, “pastoral all,” which have provided a salvation. The collection is filled with wonderfully narrative work that blends Stone’s own experiences as an orphan with the dreams of who her parents were.  Really, we can only see as much as she does in the eyes of an old picture of her father.  “Black Dress” is a wonderful poem, breathing light and insight into the collection.  It begins with the speaker asking if she can give her black dress, the one she wore to her uncle’s funeral, to goodwill.  My heart sank as she confessed that no one at the funeral acknowledged that this man raised her as a daughter.  In the last lines, we learn that the poem was triggered by a Proustian memory, a lozenge in the pocket of another black dress reminded her of candies he ate.  The shifts between present and memories, memories imagined and experienced, are tightly controlled in form poetry, including a sestina and a lovely villanelle.  I have to admit, the simple rhyme of “rye” and “goodbye” still makes me tingle like a martini on my lips.

Before Paola Corso began reading from her forthcoming collection, The Laundress Catches Her Breath (CavanKerry Press, Fall 2012), she explained that Pittsburgh often comes in dead last on rankings of American cities’ air quality.  Indeed, the air is worse than in Los Angeles.  The soot and coal fill the lungs of its citizens.  Listening to Corso read, it was easy to forget that these were poems at all.  The deeply narrative work, characteristic of CavanKerry, felt like passages from a novel.  Over the course of the collection, each character is developed and a narrative arc rides through the work. And still, each poem is self-contained, with all of the stylistic twists and turns-of-phrase one expects.  The Laundress Catches Her Breath tells the story of a young woman stuck in Pittsburg, stuck watch her father’s factory clothes.  They never really get clean, though, as the soot stains go from dark gray to black and back again the next day.  The laundress never really gets clean either, constantly, perpetually, and always smoking a cigarette.  Three packs a day, Corso tells us.  Her teeth are stained, and so are her chances for getting out of the crummy old place, out of her father’s house.  At the end of the title poem, the laundress sneaks away in a car to smoke cigarettes, “sitting in the chamber of her lungs.”  I wonder which is the real prison, though.  Is the hot-boxed car steaming with nicotine a safe-haven, an escape from the confines of the laundry room?  Or, is she trapping herself in this car, not going anywhere, but breathing her own poison?  I really enjoyed Corso’s creative use of sections, especially “Step by Step with the Laundress” which poses 12 steps, for doing laundry, interjected with her biography.  I can’t wait for the release of this book in particular, to have a chance to really unfold all of the connections between the suffocating air pollution, the claustrophobic family and small-town mentality, and self-destructive smoking.

In full disclosure, Kevin Carey didn’t finish his first sentence before I was completely charmed by his dense, classic Boston accent.  To be fair, each of the poets who read on Tuesday had the earmark consonants of their hometowns. There was something about Carey’s dropped “R’s” that had me hooked.  His collection, One-fifteen to Penn Station, is written almost as conversation, and without pretenses.  Gone with the poet’s tongue and inverted sentences!  Carey writes with language as it is used, not reserved for capital-A Art.  He opened with a poem about his mother’s advice to keep his penis in his pants, musing on the times that advice was best kept, and perhaps when he wished he had broken it.  Even outside of the seventh grade locker room, if you repeat the phrase “penis in your pants” enough times, it’s still hilarious. Carrey, in addition to writing and teaching, coaches seventh grade basketball.  This instance led to one of my favorite lines of the evening.  After breaking up a fight between a redheaded young man and his teammate (the latter had just called the redhead “firenuts”), Carey advises “Coaching has little to do with basketball, and more about not laughing at the wrong moment.”  Carey masterfully takes the small, mundane, and nearly universal experiences and brings of insight and clarity.  By simply placing these moments and exchanges into a poem, it elevates them, and asks the audience to consider them in a different context, and prevent them from slipping away in passing.  On Wiley Coyote, a cartoon watched by generations of kids, he writes, “What’s the reward for reasoning? … You’d think they’d have pity one Saturday morning.”  These cartoons, movies, kids, and cups of coffee we share are such a huge part of our lives, and it is refreshing to hear them in poetry.

Amanda O'Connor is an editorial assistant at Cambridge University Press, and a consulting editor for Love Among the Ruins Press.  Currently, she is collaborating with Deepak Chopra on an ebook series of his advice column, "Ask Deepak."  

1 comment:

  1. Amazing how simple it can be to communicate with people and have them understand a certain topic, you made my day.

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