October 29, 2010

False Memory, BookMarks: the Memoir Project Reading Series -- October 25

This is the first in this year's series at the Arts Center of the Capital Region in Troy, NY. I was the (as they like to say) "curator" of this night's program. I had been sent a selection of poems from 6 area poets, with their names redacted. All the work was excellent so I decided to have all 6 read. It turned out that all were women & most were poets I have heard (& written about) at local open mics. One poet had a conflict & couldn't be there to read. Since this was an event I organized, hosted & participated in I can't or shouldn't say how fantastic the readings were, but then it's not me, but these fine poets, who generated the glittering work.

A word on the theme. "False memory" is not meant in the clinical sense, but that all artists "make it up." Artists, & especially writers, use their life experiences in their work to one degree or another, changing details, taking things out, putting things in -- indeed, that's what makes it "Art" rather than simply reminiscence. I like to say that all writing is memoir, except if your spouse is in the audience, then it is "art", it's made up.

Carolee Sherwood, a frequent reader at area open mics, started the night with an almost theatrical program of poems & linking commentary on the theme. She began with the apocalyptic "Once the Men Were Gone," & continued with a poem-letter to Beth "who was dead for a while." She described an affair with an actor when she was in her 50s (I don't think she is quite there yet) & another with Picasso (or was it his Minotaur? or both?). So it was difficult to tell if the poem "That Feeling that Winter is Near" or "Slip-Knot" for example were "more true" or not, or that "To Girls Who Smile as a Way to Survive in the World" (about the April Albany WordFest) "really" happened.

Elizabeth Gordon wanted to begin with a piece for 2 voices, the pincer-like/double-threaded "The Urge to Dance," so I joined her, unrehearsed. Many of her poems were based on family memories, of her father (e.g., "He Rose"), or an aunt telling the story of being molested as a child ("Aunt Theresa's Fire"). A couple poems mixed bad memories with images from popular horror movies, "Going into the Shed" & "Creature from the Black Lagoon." As she seemed to sum it up at the end, perhaps memories are like going into "a field of dandelions…"

I was pleased to see that Mary Kathryn Jablonski had submitted her work to this project, since I've been a fan (& publisher) of her poems over the years. She began with quotes from Wallace Stevens & Pablo Picasso (again tonight!). Many of her poems, too, used childhood memories of growing up on a farm, such as "Fidelity," "Elderberries," & of her father ("Coffee & Cigarettes") & mother ("Josephine Sky"). Her poem "Escape" included the paradoxical "you need to have the right kind of memory for forgetting" while "What Remains," with its image of Italy, seemed to be about learning to forget. I'm glad she included 2 of my personal favorites "Praecepe, the Beehive" & "First Snow."

After a short break, I read 3 short "Wonder Woman" poems by Diane Cameron who unfortunately had another commitment tonight. When I had read the anonymous entries I was sure I had heard these poems somewhere at an open mic. But, no, it must've been someone else's Wonder Woman poems. I guess you could say that the idea of Wonder Woman is "in the air."

But I have seen Sue Jefts read at open mics, particularly at Caffè Lena in Saratoga Springs. Her poems often use her presence in the outdoors as a starting point for her musings, such as "Driving to Missouri" & "Walking Home" or "Days." A rare foray into politics, "Coming to Terms," was inspired by environmentalist activist & author Bill McKibben. "Returning to the Earth" with its piles of tactile images was inspired by Pablo Neruda's "Odes to Things." Her poem "Festival of the Madonna of the Bikers" was an attempt to get away from "nature writing" & effectively combined images from Catholicism with motorcycles. She ended with breath: "After Meditation" on breath itself, & "This Breath" about poetry & words as breath, like the end of a yoga session.

The last poet for the night, Jill Crammond Wickham, proudly announced "false memory is my thing." Each of her poems were about telling stories, or as she styled it "revisionary mythmaking," in one form or another. Some of her titles were a challenge for us note-takers, such as "In the Telling of an Anecdote the Wife Remembers …" (it wrong), or "If this were a True Story I Wouldn't be Standing in the Kitchen Whipping the Soufflé into a Fury," or "This Will Be the Home You Remember Growing Up In…" And while some poems re-told family stories ("Origin of Marriage," "Fort Ticonderoga," "Hemorrhage") we can't be sure whose story is "true".  Jill even retold a story from Ripley's Believe-it-or-Not, but of course had to make up most of it. It's all Art.

If I wasn't the one who put this night together & selected the poets I'd say how great it was, but then those of you who were there can judge for yourself. The series continues through April at the Arts Center, 265 River St., Troy, NY

1 comment:

caroleesherwood said...

so nice to hear local poets i was familiar with and ones new to me! your theme brought out some great poems!