June 13, 2010

Word Thursday, June 10

It's been awhile since I've been to the Bright Hill Center in Treadwell, NY but I always enjoy the warmth of the people & the words out there in the hills. Tonight I was one of the featured readers, with Sherry Robbins from the Buffalo area. The series & the Center is run by Delaware County's whirling dervish of poetry, Bertha Rogers.

Among the things that happens at Bright Hill Center are poetry workshops for children. The first performers up were some of her students, starting with Shiobhan Higgins with a clear, well-spoken recitation from memory of Richard Wilbur's "The Death of a Toad." Her younger sister was supposed to follow but was struck with the characteristic shyness of the age, so her mother recited the poem that was written by her father-in-law. Quite a poetic family.

Another family affair followed with pieces about Lake Okeechobee in Florida, a poem in rhyme by Glenn Nilson, "The Regular," about a fish camp on the lake, followed by his wife, Leslie Diehl, with an excerpt from a prose murder mystery she is writing, also set at the lake. Susan Spivak's "Out of the Dark" was filled with rich images of birth (of many kinds). Ina Jones' reminiscence of her daughter in "Tea Ceremony" also managed to work in a Manhattan cocktail in addition to the tea.

Richard Average was a bit challenged by Bertha's 5-minute rule with his multi-part piece set during the Revolutionary War with soldiers, a water nymph & a troll. Time limits (in minutes) are tough for poets at open mics, unless they time the poems beforehand (few do); but Bertha kept track & maintains a strong, but gentle, hand. Melinda Sulkey said she was new to reading & read an old piece from high school about her dad. Sue King an excerpt from a prose history she is writing of the area, which seems to be a rich source for these poets.

Another rich source of poetry is reminiscence, which was the basis of "Sunday School" by Bright Hill's young intern, Clara Barnhart. Albany poet, Carolee Sherwood, who had accompanied me here, read a tender "After We Kissed for the First Time," followed by a more cynical "The Little Red Hen Has Pecked the Farmer for the Last Time," which elicited some interesting conversation later during the break. Sharon Ruchlenik was able to squeeze in 3 poems, beginning with a myth she made up, "How Flies Came into the World" then a poem about a man mourning the loss of a daughter, & followed by a poem about regaining her sense of smell, "Brave New World," interesting poems piling up vivid images from the everyday.

Graham Duncan cracked us up with a description of man-bashing & his reactions, "My Wife & I Listen to a Friend Let Fly;" then his poem squinty poem "Self-Portrait." Then Evelyn Duncan read a couple of her older poems, the first about an old-time star baseball player & singer, the second a portrait of an apartment mate she had had in her 20's, "Ethel Moore & I." Ana Roth Seavey struggled with her computer to find poems to read, a couple of what she called "Catskill Snapshots" then a short piece on her devotion to poetry, "Lover." Bertha Rogers read "Dog Girl Tells the Truth" & "Black Rock Forest" from her new collection Heart Turned Back (2010, Salmon Poetry, County Clare, Ireland).

After a short break with good snacks (even some champagne) it was time for the night's featured poets. Sherry Robbins won (or lost) the coin toss & went first. She began with a tribute to Bertha with a poem referencing the earliest English language poet, Caedmon. Her love poem to her husband, "Vow," was composed solely of one-syllable words, then a poem for her father, "Dying in Florida." The remainder of her reading consisted of her "English to English translations" of American writers, beginning with a couple of Walt Whitman's poems. These were followed by her series of poems, Or, the Whale, based on Moby Dick. A selection of the poems are in a chapbook of that title from Shuffaloff Books (1963), but the complete series will be available soon from Blazevox Books. Each of the poems is titled with the Chapter title from Melville's novel, while the poems react, respond, sometimes directly, mostly obliquely (or not) to the text, the chapters acting as prompts. Interestingly enough hearing her poems & reading the chapbooks has awakened my interest in re-reading Moby Dick once again.

How do I write about my own reading, how brilliant or silly I was? I did try to blow bubbles, but they evaporated too quick. My reading was a mix of old & new pieces, beginning with the invocation of my heros in "The Communion of Saints." Then the anti-dream piece, "This Dream is Not About You," followed by "Baghdad/Albany," then the palate-cleanser "Dot Dot Dot." "My Sather Gate Illumination" was followed by the recent "On a Poem by ee cummings" then the Lark Tavern tribute poem. I ended with the ringing of a bell & "On Reading the Tibetan Book of the Dead." A distinct pleasure to read here with such a good audience of poets; I had fun.

This is a regular monthly schedule which you can find at the Bright Hills website, the readings start at 7PM. An hour & a half from Albany, but worth the trip for the fine local poets & the interesting featured poets that Bertha brings in.

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