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.

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