July 3, 2014

Reading by Leslie Neustadt, June 25

This was a reading at the Schenectady Jewish Community Center for the launch of Leslie Neustadt's book Bearing Fruit (Spirit Wind Books). Leslie’s connections in the community span far & wide so it was standing-room-only. Ironically, she had laryngitis, but it did not impair her reading & if she hadn’t said anything I wouldn’t have noticed, but it gave her an opportunity to pay tribute to the “collective voice” of her community. She went on to acknowledge her sister Laurie Ellen Neustadt whose death showed her how to transform her life with meaning, to do it as as “a sort of unmasking.”

The interesting thing about her work (& her reading tonight) was that as someone who has endured serious health problems, chronic illnesses & the sequelea of incest, her poems are not depressing but face each issue as a challenge, even as a celebration of what it means to be a living person. Most of what she read was from Bearing Fruit, but she included other poems such as “Baptism” to her 2 Catholic grandsons & the tribute “Dinner at Cafe Gratitude with Diane DiPrima & Audre Lourde.” The poems ranged from her background & family history (“Mishmash,” “To Go to Transylvania”), to the unnerving “Teshuvah” (on child abuse), to a poem about being a lawyer, “May It Please the Court,” on to others about miscarriages & births (“Segalit,” “First-Born,” “First To Go,” “Turning Point”). She included a tender poem to her husband “After My Husband Has Seen 25 Patients” & a poem about another of her passions, doing collage, “Awash With Images.” Leslie’s poem “Water Is My Temple” reminded me of Enid Dame’s writing about the Shechinah, the feminine presence of God in Jewish lore.

Making the “collective voice” real, Leslie included 3 other poets who had been in workshops with her, with poet/workshop leader Susan Comninos serving as host. First was Esther Willison with a series of mostly short poems, including “Praise” in the style of Gerard Manley Hopkins, & the funny “Tongue Depressors.” Jackie Craven’s poems included a wonderful proposal “We Need a Thousand Words for Kiss.” This was Patrice’s first reading (a “virgin” we say at open mics) & her sole piece was a funny rhymed narrative about a squirrel in her house.

Bearing Fruit, subtitled “A Poetic Journey,” is attractively produced by Judith Prest’s Spirit Wind Books of Duanesburg, NY & the cover art is by Leslie Neustadt. The entire purchase price of each book goes to nonprofit organizations supporting cancer research, patient health, the prevention of child abuse, and expressive arts.

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