Monday, April 20, 2015

Word for Word Winter Poetry with Marsh Hawk 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.

Don Yorty for Word for Word Poetry, April 21, 2015

Featuring the poets of Marsh Hawk Press

During the winter months, the Bryant Park Reading Series takes place inside the Kinokuniya Bookstore at 1073 Avenue of the Americas. It’s a great bookstore, by the way; check it out. The last indoor reading, on April 21, presented four poets. I noticed that two of them were older (in their fifties) and two were younger (one poet in her twenties, and the other in his early thirties). “Would the age differences make a difference in the tone and sound of the poems?” I wondered as I waited for the reading to begin.  
Jon Curley
Jon Curley, a red-haired thirty-one year old, was the first to read. As he was introduced by host, Paul Romero, I could see he was full of energy and anticipation, anxious to get up and read; and when he finally did break free from his seat, he gave us a rapidly clear reading from his new book, Hybrid Moments. “These poems,” he said, ”tend to swerve and zig zag pretty much in concert with how people now walk absentmindedly on their electronic gizmos.” And not only do his poems do that, but they are full of word play and word games, imagery with a lot of rhyme, and near rhyme in the lines as well as at the ends of them, fast as the Whiz Bang! poems he reads, “the thing that sounds itself outside itself.” I got the feeling sometimes that older poets like e.e. cummings and even Ogden Nash were lurking behind a word or two too, a territory tentative with both discovery and disaster, pitfalls of repetition that one might fall in; so far his poems constantly change and sparkle like that infinitesimal part of second that constitutes the blink of an eye, seeing the same thing but always new. I was glad to hear Jon say that Ovid was his “home boy” because Ovid is a homeboy of mine too. In the engaging poems that follow dedicated to Ovid, you can feel what Jon strives for. 
Ovid’s aphids offer stamens statements,
symbiotic simpatico, draining each other
mutually, enclosures in the nurturing noose of nature’s
sense. Fertile the futility that under pain
of command requires duality to drift into
infinite forms of fructified frissons, bestrewn
with clamorous visions of delay-decay,
defiance of gravity, the viridian livening
of cellular encirclements, blended conventions,
the fusing and cross-hatching of process
and decline. Metamorphoses is observable
as the lush witness of contact highs between
the higher and lower animals, imaginary gardens
grown devoid of secret meaning, glorious
in their vegetal babble.

“Taking myself out of the picture”—
The verdict on this premise.
Curious ph(r)ase, a quick-fix cop-out
maybe or sin—
cere protective measure, perhaps
an artificial obsolescence or tact
shedding of skin, all those
protective layers taken off
and out as you move out
of frame. Anxious waiting
and wondering, a sovereign
grin game as you make your
way to the door. Is it unlocked?

“Taking myself out of the poem”—
A clinical extraction which involves
bloodletting you do not get to see
arranged in discrete droplets all across
the page. Actually, each of these
words surround the dried
invisible traces and mourn accordingly.
This attribution of human agency,
this inscription of a script and spirit
self might seem preposterous
but I assure you it is true.
I took the key and let myself out:
The lock was the world with a hell in it.
Burt Kimmelman, gray beard and shaggy head of hair, distinguished in a blue sports coat, 
Burt Kimmelman
was next to read. Although he’s had eight books of poems published, he began by reading unpublished new ones. “I want to try out some new things,” he told us: “They’re really new. I have no idea if they work. You have no idea till you read them.” This made sense to me. The published book is done. What matters is what’s to come. The poems he read took us to museums, New York streets, and Europe too, then he read from his new book, Gradually The World; New and Selected Poems. As he read, I thought, “Burt is an everyman whose steady voice and vision let us see what he sees and feels, the aura of a common day.” Here’s a poem like art itself abstracting into short lines:

5.2.87  Waiting For Diane At The Klee Show / Museum Of Modern Art

If in the space
there are 2

lines, let one be
the wild happiness

the edge

measures.  And if
there are faces,

we are
their round eyes,

or the hat   the foot

the finger   all the lighted

there. if
in the warm

light we must be

them, then we must

them. Let
the o

in oh you

mean we are

any form.

For Burt, despite holocaust and horrors, there is beauty too, art, and last but not least the mystery of love, even among the birds.

Arctic Terns

            White clouds like kerchiefs at parting
            Are waved by the wandering wind,
            And the heart of the wind
            Aches at the silence of love.
-  Pablo Neruda

Arctic terns touch down from the sky
every few years, leaving their life
of flight to raise their young and then,
in the waning light, lift off the
firm earth of Greenland to make their

way south – roving high above the
ocean, not too close to land but
looping east to trace the coast of
Africa or west along the
shores of South America, then

finally crossing the open
sea to the farthest reach of ice –
for a second season of days.
In large flocks they eye the water
for food, and once a male has fed

his future mate her fill of fish –
in a rite beyond gravity –
they join for their entire lives.
Yet flying must be an act of
solitude, an unfed longing.

Stephen Paul Miller
Next was Stephen Paul Miller, a poet I’ve known since I came to New York in the late 70's when the East Village was really hopping. Over the years Stephen has gotten a PhD in English, teaches at Saint John’s University, was a Fulbright scholar who has had both poetry and academic work published, and his plays have been performed at La Mama, P. S. 122, and Saint Mark’s Church to name a few. When Stephen gets up to read, the first thing one sees is his disarming smile, and the audience gets comfortable. From time to time he will leave the poem and chat directly with the audience, an impromptu aside, laughing at his own joke or gossiping about poets he’s known like Taylor Mead, David Shapiro or John Ashbery, engaging the audience in an intimate conversation they might have sitting in his living room drinking a glass of wine. Stephen says, “I finger paint with language.” Any Lie You Tell Will Be the Truth is his new book. As he read, I transcribed a poem by ear without line breaks, but you get the feel of it as a poem, the vernacular formally written. The poem I wrote down is called Theater: “I’d like to keep the concept of the world up there like a volley because that is how theater works. You keep something in the air until time itself hangs there. That is why the most innovative playwrights of the last century plus: Ibsen, Strindberg, myself, Jarry, Becket, Brecht, and so forth have been poets because conventional wisdom’s wrong, theater like this poem has more to do with stillness than moving from one place to another. It looks at the menu, orders this here demitasse and says, “Bring me a cup of coffee too.”

Here are two poems complete with line breaks.

The Bible’s Chewy Center

I’m actually writing poems that mean something
                             (unlike ones that do)
            pinch yourself
don’t tell

Sing Like Stephen Miller

Meaning Paul
    is the larynx,
     Every night
Before I go to bed I

     twist it. The night air
Clears my throats. Then
   even the birds sing
Like Stephen Miller.

Not just the idea of birds
Did you count every bird
     who sang just like
me? A bird chewing

Tobacco. A bird telling
     a Canterbury Tale.
A bird writing a love letter.
A myopic, cussing bird.
I am the loneliest bird

Singing like Stephen Miller.
These birds
       are the creation
               of language
             one day
        Stephen Miller
Will be a real bird. 

Christina Olivares 
Before she read, Christina Olivares, the youngest of the readers who has earned her MFA at CUNY Brooklyn and BA at Amherst, told Stephen Paul Miller that he was the funniest man she had ever met. The audience joined in with a laugh as the older poet and the younger poet connected. She had the pleasure of reading from her first published book, No Map of the Earth Includes Stars, which won the 2014 Marsh Hawk Press Book Prize. A map might not hold stars, but this poet’s book certainly does. “Enjoy it as it comes to you,” she told us reading from a series of poems about her paranoid schizophrenic father, built from things he had said, plus her own thoughts, and excerpts from medical studies, a prayer to a Cuban deity, rhythmic heritage and continuity, at turns nightmarish and divine, the world of a schizophrenic who often feels that he is God. Here are some of the words my ear caught as I wrote them down: “Viciously blessed.” “Tongued water tangling into a dividing mind. These angels a drowned chorus straining to be heard by you.” “You are a brimmed vase filled with light, a brimmed light of veins and snow, the skin you are begins to sing.” “God casual as morning coffee.”

And here is a poem from her new book, remarkably beautiful, even sensual, about a subject that might repulse some, the menstrual cycle (and that’s what poetry is all about).

Sunday Morning: Ars Poetica
Outside the Latin grocery, two crates full
of mangoes in the shape of plump commas, the size
of children’s palms. Yellow-hued,
brown-freckled, here and there streaks of green,
an uncommon flush of rose. Deep within my own
tendons some other fruit swells and aches, 
heavy as an unsung song—tonight it’ll burst,
yield a clotted dark honey, a thin
red rain on my shorts. Curled beside me, you’ll
press both hands on the razored skin
below my belly where a child could be.
I’ve started to love the body’s thunderstorm,
drug it less. Limit what I feel and I’ll quickly forget
limitlessness, our shared need to be
generous or close. I choose six,
three in each hand. My cycle begins to set
teeth on the inside of my abdomen. I remember
standing on the beach in Cuba once with a girl,
peeling their small ripe skins back with our mouths,
sucking the pulp then the threads from
each other’s tongues, clear down to the pit,
then throwing the pits and skins into the bright
sea & diving in afterwards. There must be groves
of mango trees down there, she said. Imagine
the warm salted dark, silvered by fish nibbling their new
treasure—first unaccustomed, then expert,
their tiny fins seeking, while mangoes
float on firm stems, a cloud of planets. That day I’d fled
from language, swimming like a fool
till each limb went slack—I floated, I was just an eyelash

on the turning waves, curious about drowning—
can we say the beauty that comes into us after we go,
before we leave our lives? Everything said, finally, nothing wasted, like
a finished bloom bedded into and becoming soil, a loosening blood rinsing
me clean. It’s just a dollar for all six: heft of liquid sweet.
two for me, two for you, & two for the ones who like small things.

As the poetry reading ended, I remembered my question. Does the age of a poet make any difference in the poem? Of course it does, but I also think that poets by definition are souls who have been blessed and cursed with seeing; nothing human shocks them, and that makes the young old and the old young, and like their words kind of eternal. Was the young Whitman, for example, so much different from the old one?
Don Yorty

Don Yorty was born in Lebanon, Pennsylvania in 1949. He has a BA in Latin and Greek from the City University of New York. A poet and garden activist, he has two published collections of poetry, A Few Swimmers Appear and Poet Laundromat, and was included in Out of This World: An Anthology of the Poetry of the St. Mark's Poetry Project, 1966-1991 (Crown). His novel, What Night Forgets, was published by Herodias Press. And his poems have been recently published in LiVE MAG! and the Literati Quarterly. He lives in New York City and also keeps up a blog at

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