August 2, 2020

Poets in the Park 2020, July 25

For over 30 years we have celebrated Poets in the Park on Saturdays in July. The series was started by Tom Nattell, & I have been hosting it since 2005. This year I waited as long as I could before scheduling a reading, paying attention to New York State’s rules & guidelines for gatherings under the cloud of COVID-19. Finally it was announce that outdoor arts events could be scheduled for gatherings of 50 or less, & I breathed a sigh of relief — this is a poetry event so we have never had 50 people here. I decided that even if we couldn’t have a full schedule we could have at least one reading.

I had heard Austin Houston read at open mics, particularly at Poets Speak Loud, & felt he needed a venue to stretch out in & read more than 1 or 2 poems. He started his reading with what he called "an introductory poem," a philosophical statement of resistance, a theme & mode that ran through the work he read this evening, on what he described as “the COVID journey.” The poems included “Corona Madness” & “Pandemic” about hoarding & people exposing themselves to the virus, with a plea to be patient, then on to a couple of pointed, political screeds, “Corporate Greed,” & a piece about Trump’s playing “pretend” & his power addiction. “Drive-by” was a sad, descriptive poem about the recent flurry of shootings in the city of Albany. Back to the COVID theme, he pleaded with us “Don’t Be a Karen,” then ended on a quiet note with “Meanwhile” about the mundane details of daily life “while chaos reigns.” Hopefully we can get can back to open mics in the not-too-distant future & hear more of Austin’s work there.

Sarah Giragosian
has also read at area open mics, & at poetry festivals, as well as being featured at a number of venues, including the Third Thursday Poetry Night at the Social Justice Center. I knew that her new book The Death Spiral was forth-coming from Black Lawrence Press so I scheduled her to help promote it, &, fortuitously, she had received copies just this week. Most of her reading was from the book, beginning with the first poem in it, “Family History” a graphic tale of her great-grandmother’s surviving the Armenian Genocide, then on to an eco-poem “Mammoth Resurrected” questioning the cloning of extinct species. Referencing Austin’s work, she said that she too had written "Trump revenge poems" & read “Boldface, Pants on Fire” & a related fantasy, “The Second Moon Colony Will Not Fail." The poem “The Fourth Anniversary” was about celebrating with her wife, but haunted by a bad dream. The title poem of the book “Death Spiral,” Sarah explained, was about & described a dangerous courting ritual of the American Bald Eagle & was a metaphor for the politics of our time. She concluded with a poem from her first book, Queer Fish (Dream Horse Press, 2017) that she called “a queer bestiary” (an affirmation of homosexuality in all animal species), a tale of the long-eared hedgehog “The Queer Creatures that Rise at Dusk.” If you don’t have either of Sarah’s books, why not?

Perhaps next year we can return to a full schedule of Poets in the Park events, with the grace of face masks, social distancing, & perhaps a dose of vaccine.

May the Muse be with you.

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