May 24, 2011

Poet-Soldiers Reading, May 21

This reading was held at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Kingston, a monthly open mic, with a featured reader, hosted by Micky Shorr. This month, in conjunction with the upcoming Memorial Day, the feature poets were veterans, all members of Veterans For Peace. I am always honored & humbled to be reading with these warrior-peacemaker-poets.

But first a couple open mic poets. Annie LaBarge read 3 memoir poems about her father & her mother, including "Mouse House" about her mother doing her hair. Leslie Gerber read a cluster of political poems; among others, "Meeting the President" is a fantasy of metaphorically assaulting President Bush, & the march of the dead in "It's Called Memorial Day."

Thomas Brinson was the first of the veterans to read. He began with "Eyes," written in a bar in Viet Nam in 1967, then a poem from 1968 after he was discharged from the Army in which he declares war irrelevant, then a poem from last year, "In Memoriam for Countless Civilian Casualties."

Jim Murphy read poems about "The Wall" (the memorial in Washington D.C.), the first poem by fellow veteran Gerald McCarthy about the dedication of The Wall, then 2 poems of his own: "Black Granite Panel" on what The Wall doesn't tell us (a touching memorial to a high school friend who was killed in Viet Nam), & his own poem on the dedication ceremony, "November 13, 1982."

Walt Nygard is not only a veteran but the parent of a son serving in Afghanistan, & read from his chapbook The Summer Joe Joined the Army & Other Poems (Post Traumatic Press, 2010). He read a section from the title poem, then "Echo 2/4" contrasting Humvees here with the war in Iraq, "Stupid Head," "Photo of a Night Firing: Bravo 4/25" (in Afghanistan), & ended with a recent poem about peace vigils in Nyack, NY, "Honk for Totalitarnism."

Jay Wenk is an US Army veteran of World War II & author of the memoir Study War No More: A Jewish Kid from Brooklyn Fights the Nazis.  He began with "Twinkling in an Eye," a poem about Spring from a series about the seasons, then the political piece, "We Need To Talk," & a memoir of a World War I vet in Brooklyn in 1933, "Frenchy."

Each vet reader introduced the next, sometimes in humor, but always with respect, so I had the distinct honor of being introduced by Jay. As I have been doing the last few open mics, I read from my new chapbook Poeming the Prompt, beginning tonight with "Top-Tips for Anxiety-Free Writing from Prompts," then the peace poems "What Really Happened" & "Fast & Slow," & ended with "The Lesson."

So then I had the pleasure to introduce Larry Winters, the author of The Making & Un-Making of a Marine (Millrock Writers Collective, 2007). His poems were serious, political, beginning with the grim "Who's Accountable for the Enemy's Dead?" then "Fire When You See the Market Drop" (with it's chilling refrain "if you can't understand it, just pull the trigger"), then a poem just written, & untitled, in the rough, tough-guy voice, covering his fears.

The final vet reader was Dayl Wise, publisher of Post Traumatic Press. He began with a poem from World War I by Siegfried Sassoon, "Does it Matter?" His own poems reflected on his service in Viet Nam, from "First Cut" (that emblematic first Army haircut), to the recently written "Thanksgiving '69" (explaining to his family that the overseas cap is called a "cunt cap"), to seeing the dead of Viet Nam while out with friends at home in "Road Kill."

The evening ended with a few more open mic poets, including Alison Koffler, who instead of reading one of her own fine poems, read from a poem by a high school student, Brian Pascal, the tough & tender political rant "This Is For."  Our host Micky Shorr read 2 poems of family conflict & stress, "No Exit" & "The Absolute Rule." Bobbie Katz had to borrow Jay Wenk's reading glasses to read 2 persona poems on distant wars, one in the voice of Penelope in 325 B.C. "Returning Home" & the other based on her own memories of being on the home front during World War II.

This is a regular series at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 320 Sawkill Road, Kingston, starting at 7PM, on the 3rd Saturday. Information at 845-331-2884.

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