April 16, 2015

Word Thursdays, April 9

The Bright Hill Literary Center in Treadwell, NY is an incandescent spot on the map of New York State run by the equally colorful Bertha Rogers. I was pleased to be asked back yet again to read, with New York City performer & writer Kathleen Cromwell. More so, pleased to get to know Kathleen & her husband the guitarist Spiros Soukis as we traveled from Albany out to Treadwell. Auden famously said that poetry makes nothing happen, but he is dead & wrong — poetry makes friendships happen. Bertha & her husband Ernie have been my friends (through poetry) for many years, & through her & her poetry programs I’ve made friends with so many other poets. So there.

First on the program was the Poetry Out Loud Mohawk Region Competition Runner-up Jane Clayton, a senior at Jefferson Central High School. She gave poised, thoughtful recitations of John Straley’s poem “Every Single Day,” Jamaal May’s poem for Detroit “There Are Birds Here,” & William Shakespeare’s Sonnet #29.

While Jane looked for her own poems to read to us, Bob Cernos read to us some of his work, beginning with an introduction in rhyme, then a tender poem to his wife “Come Grow Old with Me,” a poem on sushi, saki, sex & the Soul “The 4 S’s” & a poem about imagined “Previous Lives.”

Jane returned with a bouquet of her own poems (my problem with the Poetry Out Loud program is I’d rather hear what these high school kids are writing rather than a poem from a pre-selected, proscribed list from a "famous" poet) — “Flight” an poem of looking down & up, “Overpass” a love poem perhaps, “Captured” about a photographer & a bird, & a relationship poem “Plateau.” I hope to one day to have to buy her book of poems.

I didn’t know Kathleen Cromwell until Bertha paired us up to read & was pleased she had the foresight to ask me for a ride from Albany to Treadwell. She said that she had read at Bright Hill in 1993 when the readings were held in Bertha’s house (around the time that 3 Guys from Albany also performed there). She performed with her husband Spiros Soukis on guitar, talking about the Psyche & Eros myth from her book, then into a piece on Aphrodite, telling stories, her attributes. Kathleen’s performance was weave of memoir, poems, songs, including one sung in Greek from the film Boy on a Dolphin.

I was next, had prepared a reading that was a good variety of my poems, beginning with Bob Kaufman’s “Believe, Believe” then my poem/essay by the same name written for last year’s Poetry Unites program, then on to poems from the Scissortail Festival experience, “Oklahoma Sunday” & the recent “Didn’t We Do This in Saratoga?” A couple of political pieces, a couple of poems to promote recent chapbooks, “The Transit of Venus” just because I haven’t read it in a while & I like it, “Birthday Poem 2015” & ending with a poem for the season “What Passover Has Taught Me.” It’s always good to read here.

After our reading Bertha told an interesting anecdote about a phone call she had received from Burton Raffel, who had done a famous translation of Beowulf in the early 1960s. Bertha has done her own translation of Beowulf, a lovely letterpress edition with original artwork by Bertha published in 2000 by Birch Brook Press & she thought that was Raffel was calling about that, but instead he called about the readings, art exhibits & other literary/cultural work she makes happen at the Bright Hill Literary Center. & if you don’t know about it, & the Word Thursdays Reading Series, check it out at her website. In the photos you can see some of the artwork of the Iranian-American artist Roshan Houshmand, “Text & Context,” currently on view at the Center.

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