March 17, 2014
Frequency North, March 13
Another in the continuing series of readings by some of America’s writers who haven’t quite yet made it to the New York Times Best Seller list, as if that matters. Tonight’s reading was particularly interesting with 2 writers of compelling, moving poems, in contrasting styles, but in spite of appearances sharing common experiences. Or is that what America is really like? Professor Daniel Nester, coordinator of the Frequency North series served as host & MC.
January Gill O’Neil was originally from Virginia but now lives in Beverly, MA. She began with poems from her Southern childhood, “How to Make a Crab Cake” & “In Praise of Okra,” a poem about her Dad in the military “Service” & her mother as a nurse taking care of newborns, “Nightwork.” Next, a couple poems about her children, “Kerning” for her daughter (eating crayons), & “Advice for my Son on Entering Kindergarten” about being multi-racial. A new poem, “Brave,” mixed sections with images of being married immediately after 9/11/2001, with images of going to court for divorce years later. She ended with another cluster of family poems, “At Wolf Hollow” on wolves & children, “Night at the Rubber Palace” as a parent at the roller-skating arena, & another poem for her son, “Maybe the Milky Way.” January’s poems were discursive, with a touch of narrative, & meditative without being abstract, filled with images from daily life.
In contrast, the poems of Sean Thomas Dougherty, while often also telling a story, were more incantatory, piling up images, more performative, even Slam-style. I had met Sean many years ago in the poetry circuit, as early as 1995 in Syracuse, & later Sean stayed at my house after a reading at Changing Spaces Gallery & a night of partying in 2001. Tonight, he read mostly from his new book, All You Ask For Is Longing: New & Selected Poems 1994 - 2014 (BOA Editions, 2014) that contains selections from his books already on my shelf, but the new poems are worth the price of admission. He began with a family memoir, “Nine Innings to Go,” a poem about his black step-Dad being taken to see the Dodgers by his grandmother, but a story of racism & America & Sean’s own son. In a similar vein, “Double It” was a more contemporary story of a character in a pool hall where he works, while “Arias” was about the music of the sounds of his working-class neighborhood & the death of Pavarotti. He performed “Oranges” from memory, a sad song of love & sex & jazz in Manhattan. “Fuck Me Like Being Born,” a 10 in any Slam venue, was commissioned for a punk-rock performance. The title of “Song for My Father” was taken from the famous Horace Silver tune & it spiraled out from the image of his step-father in 1972, to all fathers, & back again to him as an old man, bringing tears & rapt silence to the audience. He ended in Slam style with another performance from memory of “Tiny Griefs,” stepping away from the microphone into the audience, the tender story of another poem recited by a young girl in a school in West Virginia.
I was glad to see Sean again, & hear his work, & to become acquainted with January’s fine work as well. This was certainly one of the best readings so far in this marvelous, ongoing series at the College of St. Rose in Albany — & they’re Free!