March 29, 2015

Women, Myth, & Media I, March 20

With Leah Umansky, Barbara Ungar & Nancy White, at the Saratoga Springs Public Library on a Friday afternoon. Part II was on the following Sunday at the Rensselaerville Library, but I had another reading I wanted to get to then (there will be a Blog about that eventually, too) so I made the drive North with my daughter Madeleine to Saratoga. Barbara has new book out she is promoting, Immortal Medusa (The Word Works, 2015) & Leah’s latest is a Mad Men–inspired chapbook, Don Dreams and I Dream (Kattywompus Press 2014) as well as a full-length collection, Domestic Uncertainties (Blazevox 2013).

Barbara introduced the reading by saying it was a celebration of Women’s History Month (March) & a pre-Poetry Month (April) event. I was pleased, as I guess the rest of the audience was, with the performers alternating poems, rather than each reading straight through, playing off against each other’s themes & images. As Nancy White explained they were reading on the theme of myths, both old ones & the making of new mythologies.

Barbara Ungar read exclusively from Immortal Medusa, with an emphasis on her midrashic poems  referencing stories from the Hebrew Bible, such as “Not Joan” (in the voice of Noah’s wife, who is unnamed in the Bible), “Sarah,” & “Kabbalah Barbie.” A couple of humorous poems, “Athena’s Blow Job” & “On a Student Paper Comparing Emily Dickinson to Lady Gaga,” came out of her experience teaching, others came out of the same waters of her title (it’s Medusa the jellyfish, not the Greek figure), like “Why I’d Rather be a Seahorse,” & the title poem (although another poem, “Call Me Medusa,” is a wink towards the Greek myth).

Nancy White, who is the President & Editor at The Word Works that published Barbara's book, also leaned heavily on versions of Bible stories, such as “Betty Friedan Reads Aloud to Eve who is Sick in Bed,” “Ruth to her Daughters,” a couple of poems on Lilith, & one from the New Testament, “Martha Admits She was Angry.” Her teaching-story poem, “When Susan B. Anthony was President,” actually came from an anecdote from poet Denise Duhamel, an amusing poem about what we can imagine. & speaking of new myths she read one for girls, “Ceremony for Coming of Age.”

Leah Umansky’s poems leaned more towards the “new-myth” end of the program, although she did read a poem referencing the story of Leah (“A True Story”), & another, “Messing with the Ashed,” using the language associated with Ash Wednesday. On the new-myth end she read a poem based on The Game of Thrones, another appropriating phrases from a review of an HBO re-make of the movie “Mildred Pierce,” & one on internet dating. But her main contribution to the new-myths were “The Times” & “Simple Enough for a Woman” from Don Dreams and I Dream.

It was a wonderfully entertaining, literate way to spend an afternoon, with 3 relaxed, intelligent & attractive readers. I was surprised, though, when I talked to both Barbara & Nancy afterwards that with their forays into the midrashic that they hadn’t heard of the poet Enid Dame (1943 - 2003), who wrote many poems imaging Lilith in the modern world (see Lilith & Her Demons, Cross-Cultural Communications, 1989), as well as other poems based on stories in the Hebrew Bible, particularly her book Stone Shekhina (Three Mile Harbor, 2002). There is also a rare chapbook published by the Jewish Women’s Resource Center, The Lilith Question, published for the March, 1991 Lilith Festival. Such stories continue to be a rich source for poetry.

No comments: