Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Word for Word Winter Poetry with Indolent Books

With Word for Word Poetry extended into the winter months, we have added a collection of guest blogs capturing a first-hand account of readings in our Bryant Park Reading Room sponsored by HSBC.

Don Yorty for Word for Word Poetry, February 16 2016

Featuring the poets of HIV Here & Now

The Reading Room Bryant Park on February 16 featured HIV Here and Now, an online poetry project (www.hivhereandnow.com) where a poem a day has appeared throughout the year, a countdown from June 5, 2015 until June 5, 2016, when it will be 35 years since the Center for Disease Control first reported five cases of AIDS in Los Angeles. “Will I enjoy this?” I thought to myself as I sat down and waited for the poets to begin. I had my doubts. For someone like myself who lived and survived the awful era of AIDS, while hundreds of my friends and associates did not, I felt a foreboding and braced myself for some depressing stuff.

Michael Broder
Michael Broder, the coordinator of the HIV Here and Now project, was the first to read and he introduced the other five poets as well. The poets, he told us, would read poems of their own, and poems by other poets that had appeared online for the countdown. Michael has a PhD in Classics, runs a small press, Indolent Books, and has had one book of poems published, This Life Now (A Midsummer Night's Press, 2014) which I happen to own and enjoy. A modest host, Michael read only two poems, powerful poems of his own. One poem addresses the Judeo-Christian tradition of judgment and damnation, the religious tradition that shuns. Michael stood up to that tradition. He would be noticed. He would be honest. He stood right there. Hang on to your hat when you start to read this poem because it doesn't back down.

Standing Before the Ark

I am becoming what I will be
said the voice in the bush that burned but was not consumed.
What is ever truly without a breath of foreshadow?
What do we not seek even as we flee?
You know the consequences, your head on the block,
you cum buckets over that executioners blade.
Do you want this scarlet letter, pink triangle?
Are you becoming what you will be?
This tag in my blood a kind of invitation, proposal, corsage.
Marked, branded, identified, known associate—believed.
This, at least, is not a phase, not about shy, awkward, a late bloomer.
This is down on my knees, I pray to the God of Sodomites.
Infection triumphant, like dying for my country, the shema on my lips—
Hear, Oh Israel, I suck dick, I get fucked!

Lonely Christopher 
Lønely Christopher read next. He’s a poet and film maker who has had a book of poems published, Death and Disaster Series (Monk Books, 2014). Lønely read a poem titled His Lips Were on That Glass. In July of 2009, New York state senator, Tom Duane, gave an after midnight speech in favor of legislation that would cap the rents of poor people living with AIDS. I remembered that rallying speech very well. Tom Duane’s impassioned plea moved the House to pass that rent cap bill 52 to 1. Lønely uses some of Tom Duane’s words in the poem as well as his own, a collaboration of two becoming the strength of one. It was the first poem Lønely had ever written about AIDS. He was twenty-two at the time. This poem though long on the page is minimal, often one word to a line, which makes it intimate and immediate when you read it just like a speech being heard word for word.

Michael Broder is going to include His Lips Were on That Glass in the HIV Here and Now  Anthology that will be coming out in November. I was glad that he gave me the OK to include it here. This poem, both long and short, captures what the AIDS epidemic was really like back in the day.

His Lips Were on That Glass

I don’t think you know
what Im doing here.

Let me take
you back
the early eighties
visiting friends
in hospitals
wed go in
wed go in one night
in the morning theyd be
Id bring them
food my family
bring them food my
friends bring someone
food but
whoever was in the
bed would be
before they could
eat it.
Wed leave it
maybe the
nurses will take it
home no
they wouldnt eat it
cause its


wouldnt touch it wouldnt
go into the room
wearing masks
gloves gowns.
get sick
in the afternoon
theyd be
the next day
and that went on
for months and
then years
You think if you
got sick
and your friends
were dying
that I would
sit there
and do
nothing no
but thats
what happened
what happened.

Every cold every
virus every
I thought Id be
and so did so many
people that
I knew
You think you
scare me
you think you
can make
me back off
scares me.
There were
gurneys backed
up into
the avenues
because they
wouldn’t let
people in the
rooms the public
they had to
they tried not to but
they had to
you know what
the Catholic hospitals
the only ones
the only ones.
Scared that
was scared.
people they could
people could stay alive
a few days
a few days
people thrown out of
their homes
people evicted from
their apartments families
didnt want to know
who their kids were.

His lips were on that glass
dont touch it
sterilize that plate.

Every cold every
fever every
virus Im gonna
die thats
what it was
like. Scared
no. Mad
you bet.
Then they were
oh you know
this this uh
you know we could
put you on this
antibiotic for a
while it will wreck
your lungs
but well well
well give you a
few more weeks here
try this try this uh
additive maybe
thisll help.
Nothing helped.
Hundreds hundreds
of my friends
died and
every day I
thought that I
could be
the next one.

I wish I
could say
things are
different now
but theyre
not not much
different at all.

Jee Leong Koh
Jee Leong Koh, a poet and essayist from Singapore, read next. He is the author of three poetry collections, Steep Tea (Carcanet Press, 2015) being the most recent. He matched the power of the preceding poems by reading a poem by John Humpstone, an interior designer who died of AIDS in 1996 shortly before his 40th birthday. When he knew he was dying, John wrote the poem, and left it behind in his papers. With a calm clear voice Jee read with careful precision; John Humpstone was alive as we listened.

The fireflies who drifted on summer evenings
Warm and reassuring dark
And seemed to my young eyes a thousand
Tiny boats afloat on sunsets lapis sea
Called to us still playing hide and seek
To keep nights magic dancing in the air.

And though the sky grew darker
With each moments passing
I teased and hid and kicked and screamed
At being called and sent to bed.
Id plead for just a minute more
But knew full well the time had come
To rest before tomorrows break.

In later years in smoke-filled clubs
We danced until the sky grew pale
And as the morning sun replaced the fractured light
Of spinning mirror balls, we laughed and screamed
And pleaded for that one last song
But knew the folly of our chants, as time had come
To face the day that blazed outside beyond
The neon and the strobes.

And now although my world has moved indoors
And withered limbs defy my dance,
Despite a life that shrinks at nearly every bend
Ill plead for just a minute more
And hide and plead and kick and scream
But know that I am being called
To rest again in cool but reassuring dark.

There is a poem by Jee called Eve’s Fault. For the sake of brevity, I will not include it here, but it can be found online at http://www.hivhereandnow.com/poems/poem-135-%C2%B1-october-17-2015/.

I like the last two lines in the first stanza of this poem. It’s about Eve losing her virginity by the seaside. Jee writes:

On a beach raised from the ocean with a shout, he entered her
and she realized, in rolling waves, that love joins and separates.

“Love joins and separates” is a very powerful thought, and a sexy one as well.

Guillermo Filice Castro
Guillermo Filice Castro read next. He’s the author of Agua, Fuego (Finishing Line, 2015), a book I am looking forward to reading. Like Jee, Guillermo’s first language isn’t English, and that always interests me. He’s from Argentina where he was in the military during that short war with England over the Falkland Islands. How exact would his English be? I was interested to hear both syntax and sound. Guillermo’s English, short lines with a stark image, added to the sensibility of his growing up in Argentina, a country that’s had its death squads and disappearances; his poem The Last of the Bees addresses that intolerance in English telling us something Spanish and South American. Here are the last few lines, a young man taken off to be tortured or shot wishes to watch, for a little while, bees buzzing in an arbor:

To the last of the bees
In the vines above
Their wobbly lines made more
Disorderly through the sudden
Afternoon draft

Guillermo read a poem about his mother, a poem about death, but also about living, that uses clear concise language with interesting assonance, alliteration that make it real and present.

On a New Anniversary of Her Death I Make Myself Buckwheat Pancakes

One scoop
And a world is born
In this skilled skillet
With gravity
And a clumpy mixture
That flattens into
An almost round
Moon so hot
Blueberries begin to bleed
And smear eye shadow
Across the pock-
Marked face
I flip
& judge
Its less bubbly
Darker side
With my spatulas
Bird foot
Under which
The tart and naked disc

Firms up
Hissing a wish
To be
& cheered

By sliced strawberries
Then forked into my mouth
Filling with the murmurs
Of water and milk
And the one egg
That in cracking
Bound it all

Debra Lidov
Debora Lidov read next. Up to now, all the poets had conjured up memories of my own experiences with AIDS and sex and death. When Debora read, I found myself focusing on the poet herself because her poems were unique and important. She has been a medical social worker for over ten years. At the same time she was dealing with HIV mothers working at a neonatal unit, she was also dealing with her own cancer treatment for Hodgkins Lymphoma. It gave Debora’s reading a poignant immediacy. I wasn’t remembering friends who had died; I was in the here and now with Debora and her trials. Here is one of her poems about the neonatal unit:


Baby Boy with necrotizing enterocolitis three inches viable gut. Baby of maternal diabetes, maternal fever, maternal utox, maternal HIV. Baby of domestic violence. Baby Boy they were trying for a girl this time. Baby Girl they were hoping for a boy. Baby the fathers Indo-Caribbean side will not accept your blackness. Baby intubated, brain dead on arrival, mother seized and expired prior to induction. Baby born with one arm one leg external bladder but two perfect lungs and excellent heart breathing easy. Triplet A, born at 1,200 grams, home in 12 weeks; Triplet B born at 1,400 grams home in 12 weeks; Triplet C born at 800 grams never leaves never off the vent, on and off the oscillator high-frequency vent. Baby X of ambiguous genitalia. Baby, she whispers in recovery-room trance, of revenge rape, baby, she says to the aide in Creole, of gang rape, baby of incest, one nurse notes to another in the hall about the baby. Baby with fused lids get ready to see, baby on new baby trache get ready to breathe, failed kidney baby recover your function, baby, filter and excrete, arrhythmia baby steady whenever youre ready your baby baby baby baby beat.

The poems Debora read, Working from Home, Atheist, Like, and Newborn can all be found in her recent collection, Trance (Finishing Line Press, 2016). They are well worth reading. When Debora finished, I noticed that the clapping was tentative, starting slowly until everyone was applauding quietly at once. I think the audience was moved; Debora’s reading had put them so much in the present, they were startled to find out it was over. The Struggle Continues.

Sarah Sarai 
The generous Sarah Sarai was last to read. She has a collection, The Future Is Happy (BlazeVOX, 2016). Like her book’s title Sarah’s poems were optimistic. She moved us with joy, a joy that one could say was religious, not the religion of strict tradition, but a religion of poetry, the joy of spiritual discovery. “God is what makes us better,” Sarah tells us in a poem about loving a woman, Miracle Fiber. And God, if you didn’t know, is a woman. Here is a poem that gives you a good idea what Sarah’s reading was like.

An Interrogatory

Nothing but smooth sailing.
     [The Isley Brothers]

Those arent birds are they are they,
are they?, or are they insects of an ilk

glowing and hovering hummingbird-
like though not hummingbird, not bird,

no, I see it, that which I wasnt seeing,
a lingering phosphorescence, no

luminescence, oh!, it is incandescence
and those are seraphim I see, I am

seeing seraphim, six-winged seraphim,
seraphim having six wings or so said

Isaiah, a seraphim seer, two wings, fans
over a mighty face, two enfolding feet

and two neon wings to lift them aloft,
smoothly sail above prophesies for our

tangled times, two wings golden as honey
is gold, as amber is gold, as transparency

is gold, carry us to a feared eternal now,
tolerable, almost, when we sing along.  

An hour had passed since the reading began. Sarah’s poetry brought us back to the beginning and answered the poem by Michael Broder that confronted stern tradition. This moving powerful reading had come full circle from intolerance to tolerance, from frightened hate to understanding love. A good thoughtful time, I believe, was had by all, but with the sober realization too that the fight against AIDS is not over, nor the fight against intolerance as well.
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 donyorty.com

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