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


            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. 

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