July 7, 2009

Riverwood Poetry Festival, June 25

The festival took place at various locations in the central Connecticut area from June 24 to June 28. I had read at last year's version, the CT Beat Poetry Festival, at the Buttonwood Tree in Middletown, CT with George Wallace (see earlier entries on this Blog & also on my Flickr! site). I got invited back again this year to the re-titled festival to read again with George & with LisaAnn LoBasso who had also read last year. We were at a double-header at the Wood Memorial Library in South Windsor. The earlier event was upstairs, featuring a group called "Partners in Poetry." But I arrived too late from my drive from Albany to catch anything but the schmoozing afterwards. Then on downstairs to the basement to the "Underwood Cafe" for a late night reading & open mic hosted by poet "Mother Superior" Julia Paul. She urged us to be rowdy & not to limit ourselves to the polite snorts of "gerbil orgasms" one usually hears at "polite" poetry readings. So we didn't. Julia had also asked each of us featured poets to list a color, a vegetable, weather, a car & an animal for her to use in our introductions.

George Wallace's intro was: black (for Michael Jackson), "mallioc" (whatever), desert rainstorm, Karmin Ghia, & gypsy moth. His poems are high-energy streams of phrases, words, ideas connected on many levels, sexy, urban (though he got us all saying "yee-haw" after "Right Square in the Middle of It"). He had us "Walking on 10th St." & on the BQE, as well as driving with "This Redhead," at his first dance, & with a bluegrass band in Virginia ("I Know a Dwarf When I See One"). A righteous writer & performer who will be at the Robert Burns statue in Albany's Washington Park in this year's Poets in the Park series.

Coming back again from Bakersfield, CA LisaAnn LoBasso had a red bra tucked in her handbag, the significance of which will become apparent soon. She was: Indigo, a tomato (for her Italian/American heritage), a hurricane (oh yeah!), a 1966 dusty-rose Mustang, & a feral horse. Reading from her books (which overlap in content) Oleander Milkshake & In the Swollen, her style lets the power of the words speak for themselves, but with enough emphasis, gesture & humor to create a stimulating performance. Her topics spin around herself, her family, as in "D--" (a letter to her cousin), or how we, then our children, carry our ancestors ("Elsie In Us"); they are sexy & lush, & scary too, for herself & her children. I like that 2 of her titles had "sugar" in them: "In Sugarloaf" & the love poem, "Sugarcoating." She too will be reading in the Poet's in the Park series.

My introduction was: purple, celeriac, grey (skies), 1957 Chevy, monkey. I began with my tribute to last year's festival, "When You Finally Arrive Home," then the old piece on "Dina's Hummingbird," the widely published (in Other__) "Dot Dot Dot," then more poems on poetry: "I Meet an Old Friend on the Subway," & "27 Things You Can Do with An MFA." I ended with a couple of performance poems with props, bubbles for "Dancing on the Mandala" & the obvious for "The Bra Poem" (LisaAnn's red bra would have been more dramatic, if that's the word, but I already had my own; I'm certain I couldn't have filled hers). Fortunately I was the last of the featured poets so the audience could look for its composure during a short break before the open mic.


Julia Paul began the open mic with "Diary of a Hot Tomato" which she dedicated to LisaAnn. Bev Titus's poems included one about Lancelot & the other a memory of an "Old Mill on the River." Delores Lawler read a sad poem about her deceased son & a funny, obsessively alliterative poem written because someone told her she "shouldn't". Emerson Gilmore responded to a poem by Hayden Carruth. Sherri Bedingfield read us "Crows" & "Love Struck" (ah!). Tom Nicotera used his Irish drum "When I Think of You" & "The Road to Enlightenment," then performed his hilarious "me/not" poem.

The first of the "Victorias," Victoria Rivas read her "Sermon to My Students on the Last Day of School," then "Distant Early Warning." Pat Hale read from her chapbook a poem called "Secrets." Lori Desrosiers read new poems, "Knocking at the Door of the Universe," then imagined an improbable perfect "Skinny Dipping." Kate Rushin read "The Trees of Syracuse" & a workshop assignment about her room at a retreat. Victoria Munoz took us through a mixed media display, "Walking & Thinking." Sympetalous was right up with the day's news with a piece on the death of Michael Jackson & an oh-so-breathless description of open mics he has been to. Steven Kelly, who had done the layout for the festival's program, was also the night's virgin poet, with his "My Queen Day." Colin Haskins, the festival's Executive Director, was unprepared to read, but gave us a piece on the Lord of the Rings, something on pepper mace, & one on fireflies.

I had a ball, not just being a featured poet, but hearing the fine open mic poets in all their variety & sharing the limelight with fine poets like George & LisaAnn. I was only able to stay for the next night's readings, but have heard that the festival continued on quite successfully. Check out the festival website for the program, pictures, summaries, accolades & commentary.