Monday, July 13, 2015

Word for Word Poetry Editions with Poetry Society of America (Week of July 13th)

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

Shane Michael Manieri for Word for Word Poetry, July 14, 2015
Featuring Poetry Society of America 

Imagine you’re at an amazing night of singing gospel hymns accompanied by a jazzy band or a snappy orchestra, sitting around a piano and other instruments including drums, cello, and a trumpet. Or that you’re outside under a tent eating southern food, or sipping a cup of coffee, taking time to meet and fellowship. What a beautiful night! That is what the evening, in partnership with The Poetry Society of America, is like. A church revival. There is a quality of instruction and inspiration in the air, the environment fills with hallelujahs and amens, feeling purpose-driven, as if the words coming from the poets’ mouths were instructions in righteousness, that through them the world—or rather the country: America— might be saved, might change.

There is no coincidence, then, that the great bronze sculpture of William Earl Dodge leaning against a podium giving a speech, oblivious (it seems) to the world around him, haunts the evening. It turns out, after doing a little Google research while the readers prep, that Dodge was one of the wealthiest New Yorkers of his time. A Wall Street businessman in the years leading up to the Civil War and who saw slavery as an evil and wanted to see it end—yet peacefully.  It did end, obviously, though not so peacefully, and its aftermath still troubles our country: our politics: and our people. The whole doom of the figure of the man, his metal heft, his broad shoulders, his dead speech; the grey skies and impending storm above us, reminded me of a poem by Sylvia Plath, ‘Gold Mouths Cry’:

The bronze boy stands kneedeep in centuries,
and never grieves,
remembering a thousand autumns,
with sunlight of a thousand years upon his lips
and his eyes gone blind with leaves.

Caroline Randall Williams
Yet here we are a century and a half later, in 2015, and the racial air is still tainted with a false gold, as the first reader, Caroline Randall Williams, a Harvard undergraduate, reminds us when she reads from her first poetry collection, Lucy Negro, Redux, which is a series of poems that were either in the voice of the character Lucy Negro or about Lucy Negro— “I declare that Beauty is black after all! I declare that Beauty. Is. Black. After. All.”  And this Williams chants over and over again, as if working her charm, conjuring up some sort of divination, feeding us with what one might call soulfood.  The poems that move the crowd the most are her love sonnets to Shakespeare’s Dark Lady. I couldn’t help but let Williams’s voice impale its magic: the gravel, the green, metal chairs, and even the trees all seemed to howl, as she delivered her alive, and often spiritual monologues.

Abdul Ali 
The quieter part of the evening—and by quieter by no means do I meanAbdul Ali, the author of Trouble Sleeping, reads, and the crowd’s mood suddenly changes. Ali, who’s pursuing an MFA in creative writing from American University, delivers his lyrical poems with a groundedness, a sense of location, as if a ball had landed firmly in my lap. If I closed my eyes, I swear I could I heard the voice of Isaac Hayes or Barry White. There was a lulling quality in the poem titled Flashback, an emotional elegy about a picture his grandpaw sent him before he died: ““I’m looking at the ground / and never up.” it ended. Which made me think of Dickinson’s “There felt a Funeral, in my brain / And Mourners to and fro.” And there we are, at a funeral, in the park, and it was pushing up through the darkness. The entire audience was completely affected as he ends his reading with a poem called Gotham Round Midnight, a list of situation, circumstances and emotions that the mind goes through: “My mind’s been running… / My mind’s been running… / My mind’s been running…. ” line after line repeating the same first four words over and over and over again, until even bystanders in the park couldn’t help but stop, leaning in, and listen.  Ali might have been the cradlesong part of the evening, but it was nothing short of an Awakening.
boring, but more alto, more bass-like—is when

Patricia Smith
Patricia Smith, the author of six volumes of poems, a Cave Canem faculty member, and a professor of English at CUNY/College of Staten Isaland, is actually more like a city on fire, and her poems are like that dust that might cover it afterward.  If there was any doubt about the evening being a new revival, or church-like, it was annihilated when she took the mic. The poem, New Kind of Worship was nothing short of a sermon with a line like “The voice we are not hearing.”  Or the poem Being Black When No One Asks Him To, the title alone is enough— Bopp! Period. Done (drops mic) (walks off stage)— but of course she doesn’t. The bomb-dropping poem, and I’m not sure if it was written to make you squirm, and scummier, especially if you’re a white American, is The Matinee of Mama, “My son / Shot / Mother of the darkest magicians / the gun said, ‘I just had an accident / Voodoo Mama.” Bravas and hands clapped and leaves rustle in the wind around us… and that’s how the evening ended. Was it an amazing evening? Did we all feel the spirit?  I’m not sure: but I am sure that it was a powerful reading: I’m sure that every little breath I took in between every melancholic and troubling image a mother, a mother of color in America might have or has had or will have was and still is haunting me with its haint-blue air.  One thing I know for sure about the evening is that poetry is not always a place to come to for safety or to be settled, sometimes, as Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "People wish to be settled: only as far as they are unsettled is there any hope for them.”

Shane Michael Manieri
Shane Michael Manieri is a poet and an avid truth-seeker. Shane helped create QueerDharma, a LGBTQ Buddhist outreach group, and has gone on to blog for Tricycle: A Buddhist Review magazine, and the New York Press, a weekly ragmag publication. He received his BA in creative writing and psychology from New School University in New York City. There he learned of Kohut and his theories on Self-psychology, which is the closest, he says, to Buddhology he has found in the West. Born in New Orleans, Louisiana (he misses his family), Shane currently lives with his two cats in Manhattan. He occasionally updates his poetry blog, The Red Shelley Blog.

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