July 12, 2016

Poets in the Park, July 9

The first of the 2016 Poets in the Park was, alas, not in the Park, but in the Social Justice Center due to rain & predictions of thunderstorms. But even without the statue of Robert Burns looming behind us, it was a most poetic event.

Catherine Arra is author of 2 chapbooks of poetry, Slamming & Splitting (Red Ochre Press, 2014) and Loving from the Backbone (Flutter Press, 2015), & she read from both, as well as more recently written poems.

She started with a selection from Slamming & Splitting, the poem “She Says” where the conflict starts, then a clever bit of metaphor, “Traffic,” about exiting a tight parking space & a marriage, then the title poem mixing science with poetry, & “Married but Separated Prayer” on the death of her mother, her mother’s ashes & trees. As a transition she read an amusing poem from her first year of teaching 7th grade “Transparent Pants” about responding to a student's boner & learning how to teach.

 Then on to some love poems from Loving from the Backbones. “Sustenance” was filled with images from the stuff of daily living, while “When He Comes” was a wonderfully explicit erotic poem, as was the title poem in a more subtle, reptilian way. Her newer poems included observations about Florida such as the poem in character “God’s Waiting Room” & the descriptive “Water Aerobics.” She ended with her most recent poem “From the Bowl Like Mercy Itself” a meditation on the small & large disasters of life.  Catherine's poems are sexy, filled with images from the life we know &, did I say sexy?

Jan Barry began by talking about some of his ongoing projects working with veterans, such as Warrior Writers, & Combat Papers, describing the work of Eli Wright making art with barbed wire & with masks. Back in 1972 he co-edited with W.D. Ehrhart Winning Hearts & Minds: War Poems by Vietnam Veterans, the title ironic because that was the U.S. government’s term for the campaign in Vietnam.  It was the earliest collection of such writing by veterans of that war.

He began his reading with a song lyric/poem by Darden Smith from a song-writing workshop that Jay said had inspired him to think about a new book of poems. His own poems began with a series on holidays, “Memorial Day” thinking of parades & gardening, “Memorial holidays,”&  “Commemorating Peace” on Armistice Day & Arbor Day. “Saving Art” was set at a “monsoon” at the Clearwater Festival, & “Early Warning” was about another storm, this an October snow storm. He often travels across country & read a series of short descriptive pieces poems from that: “California Traffic,” “Wild Life Signs” (set in Arizona), “Route 50 Across Nevada”, “Home on the Range” (about his Aunt in West Texas now in a nursing home), “Grand Lands” pondering landscapes of America ruined by industry, & the last poem in the planned book “Utah” about it’s beauty. A book I already want to buy before it is even done.

It is Summer in the great Northeast so we are never certain what the weather will be. Poets in the Park has 2 more events, July 16 with Mary Crane & Victorio Reyes, & July 30 with Sarah Browning & Bunkong Tuon. The readings are planned to be at the Robert Burns statue in Albany’s Washington Park at 7:00PM on each of those dates, & you will need to bring a chair or blanket to sit on. But if it is raining we will be at the Social Justice Center at 33 Central Ave. instead. It’s free, brought to you by the Poetry Motel Foundation & the Hudson Valley Writers Guild.

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