Monday, May 11, 2015

Word for Word Poetry Editions with Dos Madres Press (Week of May 11th)

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

Don Yorty for Word for Word Poetry, May 12, 2015
Featuring Dos Madres Press

On May 12th I attended the first outdoor reading for the Bryant Park Word For Word Series featuring four poets published by Dos Madres Press. I got to the park early and lounged on the lawn for an hour watching people come and go, locals reading newspapers, some lingering after work for a rendezvous or chat, families hanging out, and tourists too wandering in from Times Square. The setting sun, reflected from glassy skyscrapers along Sixth Avenue, gave the park an extra added glow. During the winter months, the poetry readings had been held at the Kinokuniya Bookstore, which was quiet, and the readings there focused and intimate. Bryant Park was full of noise and action, the beeping horns of rush hour and police sirens. How would the poets handle reading out in the open? The sound system ensured they be heard above all the commotion?

Michael Heller
The Bryant Park Reading Room is on the north side of the park under a grove of trees near the statue of William E. Dodge, the great 19th Century defender of Native Americans. Here, an hour before the reading, chairs were set up in rows, and by seven o’clock were filled by a waiting audience. Forty-Second Street had quieted down, but when Michael Heller, the first and oldest of the readers, got up to read, gusts of wind blew the pages of his poems. “Be still,” Michael commanded the wind. “Be still, O Book,” he commanded the pages. The wind did die down and Michael began with a poem appropriate for beginning.

7 PRAISES     

Be drunk.
Be the body
drunk.  Drunk.

Move to become;

Wind become.
Be as
brought here.

Be loosed.
Be kept.
Be loosed. Lost.

Wind you are;
know it.
Be light.

Find light.
Be found
as in it.

as being is.
Be born.

Michael read from his recently published collected poems, This Constellation Has A Name. Buriani Beach was erotic, and another, Okay, Everybody, Let’s Do the Mondrian Stomp, was sculptural and surprising, and Heteroglossia on Fifty Third played with language and insanity: A bag lady shouts "I am entitled!"  I also/ am entitled to my thoughts at least, yet all day,/ dream or nightmare do my talk, undo my walk,/ so I let talk pitch self into doze or dream and chat:/ man, woman, testicle, dessert. The language falls,/ a chunk of disembodied sound through space. When a man, who wasn’t too far off, began to shout, Michael paid no mind and spoke clearly into the microphone, the time and place his own. His following poem about death and the end of the world is very much alive.


I don’t know where spirit is,
outside or in, do I see it or not? 

Time turned the elegies
to wicker-work and ripped-up phonebooks.  

All that worded air 
unable to support so much as a feather.


If there’s hope for a visitation,
only the ghosts of non-belonging will attend.

And now death is slipping back
into the category of surprise.
I sit up at night and pant, fear
half-rhyming prayer--  

self beshrouding itself
against formlessness.

In-breath; out-breath. 

Aria of the rib-cage equalling apse.

Skull, the old relic box. 

Rick Mullin
The next poet was Rick Mullin. His most recent book is Sonnets from the Voyage of the Beagle. He’s been widely published in magazines, a diversity, but his poems share a well-wrought quality, the music of meter. Dressed in black from head to toe and adorned with a striking gray beard, Rick’s first poems were for the Muse. ”I owe it all to her,” he told us. Amity is a Muse we rarely see.

Amity After the Fire  

My muse returned from war. Her swollen stumps
were wrapped in rags and paper as she pumped
her arms and pushed her yellow skateboard down
the sidewalk. Amity is back in town
and living in my basement now. I hear
her castors on the floor at night—I’m near
exhaustion, with my inspiration stuck
for benefits despite her service. Luck

would have it, sleep is not among her needs.
There’s constant feeding, though, and when she bleeds—
it happens intermittently—my heart
contracts and ices up. I have to start
compression on the remnant of her thigh.
She gently strokes my hair, and then a sigh
I never heard in all her teasing days
accompanies an unfamiliar gaze

from eyes that used to tell me something strange.
They’ve lost their mystery. As I arrange
a knee-high desk for Amity, prepare
myself to take dictation, I’m aware
she’s crossed a line. I used to chase her form,
those perfect thighs. Her arms and hair would storm
into my life and leave me nights of sweet
fulfillment or frustration. God, her feet,

those perpetrators of a marathon
of disappearing acts, are gone. The Rubicon
is in her rearview now. I couldn’t touch
her then, yet here I dress her wounds. So much
has changed since Amity embedded with
the wind, “Before the Fire!” her shibboleth.
It echoes in my soul—the soul that longed
to lie with Amity, the soul so wronged

and yet rewarded. Now, I want to sleep.
But I’m on call. Her needs are dire, and deep
into the night my ministrations plait
a prelude to the work that she claims fate
prefigures. “Canto I…,” her voice, without
its old élan, surprises through a bout
of smoker’s cough, behind a cloud of blood,
an engine in the wind before the flood.                                 

[Shit Creek Review]

Rick read Aubades, morning poems, one called Alba wandering through Paris, jet-lagged and waiting for the hotel to open, nowhere to go but the Tuileries, fresh with vandalism: Someone is conking the Tuileries Putti,/ Some malcontent whispering, “Off with their heads!”/ A miscreant murmuring Cosi fan Tutte/ to stubby-necked angles undone in their beds. You can see and feel the rhythm. One poem written in Sapphics, the meter of Sappho, ancient music in the present was full of lyric longing.

Still Life with Rose in a Crystal Vase

"But all this must be suffered by those who profess
the stern order of chivalry" ~Cervantes

Feeling all the butterfly years, the seven
rays of windowed solitude in Manhattan
settle on your shoulders about the kitchen,
wouldn’t you call me?

Surely I’m the confidant you’d remember.
One whose shattered letters and hidden poems
light the detailed minutes of furtive meetings.
Haven’t I told you

how your West Side garret by day disguises
earthly flesh in shadows that hold no value
set against the elegant moon that waxes
into the morning?

How I see you lingering at the table,
face and hands composed in a Goya etching?
How my heart inclines in a thorny tangle,
bleeding in doorways?

No. This heart shall never unwind its rose of
fifteen years, its labyrinth of devotion,
hands that fold and lips that maintain their rigor,
always this yearning.

Nor could I dismantle the love that anchors
worlds within the chrysalis of my armor,
thunder in the beautiful code of silence
cut from the garden.

Seeing how a dream will unfold like petals,
might we say our time is a mist that rises?
Might the truth arrive in a masque of madness
carrying flowers?

[Lavender Review]

Daniel Shapiro

Daniel Shapiro, who was next, was one of the catalysts for this reading, and I could see he was very happy to be there. His most recent books are The Red Handkerchief and Other Poems and Child with a Swan’s Wing, a beautiful title. His first poem, about a bird that isn’t there, awakens the senses with one short line right after the other full of changing images.

This Bird

has never been seen,
its skeleton
never found.
Frail as a pinkie,
under ferns,
it leaves no trail,
nest or eggshell,
its wing brushed against
dawn. But
sketches in caves
depict its tale
among dripping
a group of stick-figures
huddled beneath
its wings, wings raised
to the circle
of a sun. Missing
link between
orchid and swallowtail,
bluebird and moth,
this is
the one
that got away,
bloomed in the dark
and sang.

Daniel’s poems, observations that sometimes looked inward and sometimes outward, regard the self as well as the street. From time to time passersby would stop forgetting their destinations and listen for a minute. In one poem, Disguise, the poet looking at himself in a mirror thinks of disguising himself with a mustache resembling Clark Gable who looked like his father: He was a man who scribbled/ faces on his eggs/ before releasing the yolks,/ in the bowl the floating globes/ like twin suns. In another poem, a bald lady named Phyllis also looks in a mirror with comfortable recognition.

Phyllis is Bald

Phyllis is bald.
She has alopecia.
She polishes her scalp
with a towel,
wears turbans in winter.
She first noticed it
when her eyebrows disappeared
and tried
every kind of cream,
every vitamin, special brushes,
French wigs
to make her look like
Catherine Deneuve
instead of
a Krishna or a mannequin,
endured the whispers
of neighbors,
her embarrassed daughter
(imagine, a bald mother!). 
But one day,
winding a ring-curl around her finger,
she slipped the wig off,
tossed it away,
she tossed them all away,
one by one. She sent
the afro to her hairdresser,
the silver flip to her daughter.
Boxes tumbled from
the closet
until she found it,
the right one,
the strawberry blonde for her son.
He was a dancer in a drag club,
the wig
full and red as her face
the first time he told her
(lips drawn as if to state it again).
She let it slide
between her fingers,
let it fall
to its own silky form,             
finally looked in the mirror
unashamed (she spoke his name).
Instead of
the thing that was missing,
instead of old age,
instead of rage,
she saw a pink, fleshy egg
smiling back at her,
mysterious and bold.

Anne Whitehouse
The last poet to read was Anne Whitehouse in a sleeveless red dress. She began by reading poems that weren’t published yet before opening her new book, Refrain. It was dusk. The floodlights came on casting tulip shadows against the marble pedestal of William E. Dodge, but there was nothing withering about the poet who began with a poem called E that was full of noise. The following poems were quieter, full of memory, childhood, mindful moments we forget to remember again, the past in the present. Forgetting and remembering in her poem, Delete, Delete, the metaphor was e-mails: My brain has reached capacity/ and is starting to shrink./ I try to delete more than I add/ to the heavy baggage of self. Deleting may partly define our times, but there was no deleting or forgetting the smoke and the fog in the following poem, a favorite of mine.

Smoke and Fog

On one side of the road
was ice and fog,
on the other, smoke and fire.

We were driving by the river
while the fire burned above us
a quarter-mile away.

Cool on the driver’s side,
and on the passenger’s,
the closed window glass
was hot to the touch.

Suffocating smoke
billowed into the air,
suffusing the atmosphere
like waterless blood.

The river was clogged
with floes of ice
melting in a sudden thaw.

Drawn out of the snowmelt,
a hazy fog hung low
over the water.

Above our heads,
above the roof of the car,
the smoke from the fire
met the fog off the ice.

The road took us
straight up the middle,
as if that were a choice
we were free to make.

Speaking truths she couldn’t unsay, Anne read a poem about transcendence and wonder; it was poignant and reminiscent, universal and individual, and appropriate to end with.

Life’s Continuous Chain

The music of wind in trees
and rain across wet grass
binds me to earth and its abundance—
every vine, leaf and flower vibrant
along this path where I have gone in trouble
for the wind to ease my sorrow,
or in despair until it seems
the red sunset is my own blood
dissolving into the night.

The swamp is a reflecting pool
stained dark by leaf droppings,
where light falls in silvery shafts,
and the shadows are emerald green,
like longings from childhood
that begin and end in mystery.

Below dark, glossy leaves,
under a tangle of vines,
a dappled pattern catches my eye—
a wild sow lies nested
at the base of a magnolia,
breathing deeply, absorbed in rest.
At a little distance is her litter,
a mass of shifting bodies,
birth-damp still upon them.
One piglet, pied black,
with a white band around its middle,
wriggles out from under the others
and wobbles to the sow’s side.
It gives a delighted whimper,
and the rest of the litter
ambles over to discover
the miracle of the hairy breasts.

A silent pulsing, steady and vital,
by dark, shining waters,
under rustling leaves.

Of course, this blonde poet in a red dress, did attract people who stopped—and not only men—to listen, but all of the poets had commanded attention, and when the reading was over, they went off together for a late evening of wine, olives, entrees and conversations, well-deserved because all had contended with the elements. The chairs were taken up, the sound system was taken down, the statue of William E. Dodge dissolved into the early evening’s dark, while people continued to come and go making their way through Bryant Park, the lights of Forty-Second Street not far off.

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 Project1966-1991 (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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