October 8, 2015

100 Thousand Poets for Change, September 27

100 Thousand Poets for Change is an international event that was started in 2011 by Michael Rothenberg & Terri Carrion consisting of individual events, each planned locally, poetry & music promoting peace & sustainability. In the past few years an event has been planned by the staff & faculty of SUNY Adirondack (formally known as Adirondack Community College) in Queensbury, NY. This year they actually planned 3 events: a student poetry reading on September 24, a Faculty and Area Poets Reading and Book-Signing & a reading by Joy Harjo, both on Sunday, September 27. I was pleased to be invited to read, & to be listed on the flyer along with Paul Pines, Barbara Ungar, Carol Graser & Elaine Handley.

Faculty & Area Poets

The first part of the Sunday program was held in the Visual Arts Gallery in Dearlove Hall. There were 14 on the program & 1 last-minute addition, each of us limited to a (theoretical & sometimes actual) 5 minutes. Some of these performers are familiar names to those who attend poetry events in the region extending up into the North Country, some were familiar to those at SUNY Adirondack.

Marty Wasserman
It was a variety of work, starting off with Neal Herr with his guitar & humorous songs, one on “Climate Change” the other on suicide, then on to the personal, introspective poems of Nate (the last-minute add on). Some poets read from the work of others, such as Marty Wasserman with poems by Jewish immigrant poets & Miguel de Unamuno, & Lucyna Prostko who included a poem by a Polish poet as well as reading a couple of her own fine poems.

Kathie McCoy
Others read from recent books, such as Stu Bartow from his new book Einstein’s Demon, Barbara Ungar from Immortal Medusa, & Paul Pines from Charlotte Song & from Message from the Memoirist. Nancy White’s poems were from a project where she interviewed area farmers, young & old. Peter Fernbach read poems about students & teaching. Derek Java’s poems were based on an exchange of letters with a friend this Summer. I read an Oklahoma poem to acknowledge the presence of Joy Harjo & then a peace poem. Elaine Handley had a poem about war, another as a prayer.  The organizer of the event Kathie McCoy also had a poem about war but as one of series of palindromes.

Lee Gooden
The 2 highlights for me in a constellation of other stellar poems were Lee Gooden’s powerful political poem “Prefaces” written for the occasion & based on quotes from Hannah Arendt, & Carol Graser, the last reader, who ended the reading with the tender & cosmic “I Give You Birth…”

I also would be remiss to not mention Courtney Reid who handled the logistics, which anyone who knows about group poetry readings is like herding cats. Also, the students in the culinary school for the exquisite cookies (& who perhaps had something to do with the variety of small sandwiches & other refreshments available between the 2 halves of the afternoon).

Joy Harjo

Most poets familiar with late 20th/early 21st Century poetry in America will recognize the name of Joy Harjo. She is a member of the Mvskoke Nation, born in Tulsa, Oklahoma & was recently named the winner of the Academy of American Poets Wallace Stevens Award. She read today in Scoville Auditorium from her new book Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings (W.W. Norton & Co., 2015). But first she played a native flute (she is also a saxophonist performing with her band the Arrow Dynamics) to honor the “keepers of the land” then, like a blessing, her poem “For Calling the Spirit Back from Wandering the Earth in Its Human Feet.” In the book, between each poem there is a short prose poem, sometimes only a sentence, sometimes a sentence or 2 which sometimes serves as a gloss, sometimes just adding to the mix. Some of the poems she did from memory, holding the book as a talisman. In between she talked of her upbringing, of finding herself as a poet, of the Indian schools (see “Indian School Night Song Blues”), & of early Indian poets such as Alexander Posey (another Harjo). Among the poems, she read about the trickster, “Rabbit Is Up to Tricks,” “Once the World Was Perfect,” & “In Mystic” (Connecticut). The title poem, “Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings,” plays on instructions in a conflict resolution manual, taking it off into a another plane about the oppression & exploitation of native people in confrontation with the white world. She ended with a moving performance, singing her poem “Equinox,” a song for letting go.

Following her reading she gave generous space to questions & answers from the audience which led her back & around to discussions of poetry & native culture. Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings is just out & so only available in a hardbound edition, but I wanted these poems now, & the cover art is worth it — & Joy Harjo signed it.

As I remarked during my time slot, we poets are used to asking for change, passing the hat at every open mic.

For a full set of photos from this afternoon of poetry check out my flickr site here.

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