July 13, 2009

Riverwood Poetry Festival, June 26 (Part 1)

The first of the night's 2 readings was held a the Faxon Branch Public Library in West Hartford, CT. About 45 minutes before it was to start, a thunder storm knocked out power to the library, but the reading must go on & it continued in the entrance foyer, with a fading emergency light & then flashlights for the poets to read by. Our host was Tom Nicotera who moved the night along. This ran the spectrum from the cold, clinical academic book-making assignments to fun with language to the deeply felt personal experiences.

The first to read was Susan Kinsolving, who effectively short-circuited the audience applause for the rest of the night (except when each poet concluded their readings) by asking us to hold our applause until the end of her reading. Appropriately she began with a poem called "Summer Storm" & another about a storm in an exclusive California town. Her gift is to be able to rhyme unobtrusively while presenting clever, researched prosaic stories -- & in a flash I discovered a new genre: journalistic poetry. The best example was "Imitating the Anaconda" which sounded like an entry in an field guide, but with rhyme. Many of her poems were from her collection My Glass Eye, which if she has one was it not apparent from the cold, journalistic nature of the writing.

Dennis Barone is the new Poet Laureate of West Hartford & this was his first reading in that role. He read a piece about/to West Hartford, "Progress, a Fragment." Then he read from & discussed his translations of the Italian poet Emanuel Carnavali as a preface to reading his own poem in (faux?) Italian, without translating it. He also read pieces by Paul Auster & Carl Sandburg from the anthology Visiting Wallace Stevens, then on to his own poems. "Elegy" & "Adages" were both composed of short short pieces, then others. His poems often played on language, with a quirky, intellectual humor, often tinged (soaked?) in irony.

Marcia Lewis, a librarian at Faxon library, made a cameo appearance with 3 poems, "The Theory of Almost Everything," "The People in the Old Photo," "The Soul of Polka Dots." Each of them to one degree or another dealt with themes of impermanence & the transitory nature of existence, while we are all inter-connected, themes associated with Buddhist texts. The beauty of such a short reading is that it leaves the audience wanting more.

Marilyn Johnston's poems were the most personal of the night. First a series of poems about her late father & her late brother (a Viet Nam vet), confronting her grief & the issues that these men in her life had to confront themselves. Then from a new manuscript, "Weight of the Angel," poems about her mother & her grief. These were poems written out of the need to remake in art the experiences that make our lives. They were poems that make themselves, not written as a "project" or assignment. And all the more moving for that.

Dana Sonnenschein's selection of poems were also in 2 sections. The first from her chapbook of poems based on the work of the great American photographer, Man Ray, No Angels But These (Main Street Rag). I was particularly drawn to these poems by my own love for, & familiarity with, Man Ray's work, but the poet also is clearly touched by his work. The second group of poems were more like history & natural history story telling, great, entertaining stories nonetheless, of bears, another topic the poet clearly loves & needs to share with us. Included was "On Seeing Bears" the night's only concrete poem.

By the end of the readings, the outside light through the windows was almost gone & the emergency light was fading. It was an eclectic set of poets, perhaps a short lesson in (some of) the myriad styles, approaches & manners of American poets in the beginning of the 21st Century.  Once again be sure to check out the festival's website for more photos & information about the poets.