POeT SHOT # 11 Blog Post by Ray Greenblatt - On Greenblatt

POeT SHOT #11

 

                                         BACK FROM THE DEAD by Ray Greenblatt

Renzie came back from the dead

really back from hell

literally he was dead and

was sent back. I believe him

his honesty is compelling

as well as his honest anger

he has nothing to hide.

He slouches over there

in filthy clothes and flesh

pockets jammed with swatches

of newspaper he picks out

of trash cans and gutters

--dirty is nothing compared to hell—

pretending to read as cover

pace a few steps then back

he tells me he is thrilled

to be here. Bored? Never

of course being really dead

he doesn’t have to sleep

but he pretends to

for the sake of others

especially the cops

who would confine him.

He loves hanging out

in this underground station

where people come and go

all the time—he laughs—

a little like hell.

He begs money to

sometimes buy food to

pretend he must eat

yet he does like some tastes

--not like during life

it was almost compulsion—

he also likes some odors

garbage at its rottenest

doesn’t offend him.

I could go on, as he does

but I have to continue

my real life as he his death.

I see Renzie standing there

in his great bulk

--in hell you don’t wither—

eyes shifting in their sockets

empty gums contorted

cursing the invisible

waving a dirty piece of paper

like a fatal summons

people swirling all around

used to his odorous presence

his eccentric reality.

 

We have seen many ghosts wandering through the year of poems above. Ghosts of the past, ghosts of our hopes, ghosts of our hurts. Renzie claims he has returned from the dead. We see men and women who seem to be caught between life and a living death. How did they deserve such a fate?

POeT SHOTS # 10 BLOG POST BY RAY GREENBLATT

                            TOAST ON A SUMMER AFTERNOON

- Eileen M. D’Angelo

I ordered a Guinness and thought of you,

on the deck of The Inn at Jim Thorpe. It is August,

and the wind sighs a hint of fall. The scent of sage

drifts down the mountains, over stone mansions,

to the Switch Back Railroad on the hill.

 

Here in Mahoning Valley at the bottom of a bowl of trees,

Sunday falls gently on my shoulders like late summer light,

here where the Mauch Chunk Creek secretly runs

below the streets, rushing all the way to the Lehigh River.

 

Somewhere in the woods I know the first curled leaf

is beginning to change. It has taken every ray of white sun it can,

and will take no more:  it has held on for this very afternoon.

When autumn’s first chill steals down the valley, it will let go.

 

The afternoon light shifts on the wooden floor of the pub,

where men walked a hundred years ago, me with dark hair

and light eyes like yours, hearts burning hope

in a new land, hands full of black diamonds, lungs full of coal dust.

 

Maybe your ancestors and mine, these mining Molly Maguires,

their very lives owned by the Philadelphia & Reading Coal

& Iron Company. Innocents hanged for crimes invented by rich men,

lies spun to hold Irish mineworkers, to chain them to the land.

 

Their spirits haunt the old stone jail: Walk now, where their bodies

once swung before a crowd. Strange: the sound of bagpipes on the air.

Whispering voices rise from the dark earth, cry out from dungeon cells,

from collapsed tunnels far below. Their scattered bones

ache between coal veinsand underground streams.

 

Today, I raise my glass to all of them.  To you.

The Guinness is dark and strong.  The froth soft upon my lips.

Sunlight warms my pale cheek, as the old clock tower,

in the center of town, tolls the hour.

(Previously published in Philadelphia Stories)

                                                                *                     *                    *

We each have a history. History is where we live. Sometimes we must move to a new setting for complex reasons. Often unjust, often haunted, always mixed with emotions. Our memories, our memories of those we know and love flow like rivers, like the seasons.

                                                -Ray Greenblatt

A Friend in the Theater & on the Court - Blog Post by David Kozinski

A Friend in the Theater & on the Court

by David P. Kozinski

Native Philadelphian Michael Toner, wrote an elegant, personal eulogy in memory of Brian Friel, in response to the death last year of the great Irish playwright – and, as I learned, short-story writer. Michael’s article was published in the November 2015 issue of The Irish Edition. Titled “The Magician of Ballybeg: Brian Friel (1929 – 2015),” the article relates biographical information about Friel and his work, and observes his place in the history of literature. It also offers insight about how the writer affected Michael’s life and work; as an actor, playwright, director and dialect coach.

My wife, Patti Allis Mengers, also an actor, director and writer, knew Michael from their participation in the Philadelphia theater scene before I met him. She introduced us to one another in the mid-1990s. Almost immediately he and I found that we had much in common; literature, ideas, a love of poetry and language, and, most importantly, the need for a tennis partner.

For the next five years or so we played singles on public courts in Northeast Philadelphia, at Roosevelt Park in South Philly – contending with the traffic noise from I-95, just above us – and even in Maine a couple of times when Patti and I visited Michael at his summertime digs in Belfast. Because of the aforementioned highway noise, we developed hand signals to keep score and to indicate whether a shot was in or out.

I do not recall either of us ever offering the middle finger as commentary on the other’s “out” call, even though our matches were quite competitive. The mood always remained friendly. In 2001 we began playing doubles with two pretty good athletes,  which was both a bit easier on the legs and lungs, and also raised our games, somewhat. We did not become good tennis players, but we’ve had a great deal of fun and decent exercise in our mediocrity.

In his tribute to Friel, Michael notes,  “Memories flood me of working Brian’s plays…the great ensemble of Volunteers under Deen Kogan at Society Hill Playhouse…the east coast premiere of Translations at Villanova, directed by the Abbey Theatre’s Paul Moore…acting and directing Dancing At Lughnasa in Portland and Belfast, Maine…performing my one-man show of Friel monologues, The Humors of Ballybeg, at Rowan University…doing Molly Sweeney, directed by Mimi Kenney Smith for Amaryllis Theatre…assisting the late Frank Olley in directing Aristocrats at Saint Joseph’s University…each play had its own unique magic, and you knew that with Brian Friel’s words on the page, you were in the presence of a master…” Through his friend, the late Professor Lester Connor, Michael met Friel and his wife Anne in the summer of 1980, visiting for tea at their home in Muff, County Donegal. This was shortly after Translations had been premiered by Friel’s Field Day Theater in Derry city and was touring to sellout crowds in Ireland. 

I was able to attend several of the Friel plays in which Michael participated, including Translations, Aristocrats, and The Humors of Ballybeg which deepened our friendship and widened my rather narrow theater education. I’ve been in the audience when he’s acted in Eugene O’Neill’s Moon for the Misbegotten, in Rock Doves by Marie Jones and in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Michael is a voracious reader and Vietnam vet whose own plays address a variety of themes. I’ve enjoyed his one-man show, Ever Yours, Scott Fitzgerald, its title taken from the closing the novelist used in his letters, and Michael’s large-cast Vietnam veterans’ reunion play, Another Dead Soldier.

Over the years, we’ve occasionally exchanged our own works-in-progress, as well as books by great writers; most of them of or about poetry. Gifts from Michael of collections I’ve savored by Seamus Heaney, Paul Muldoon and Richard Howard come quickly to mind. We participated in an evening of scenes from Shakespeare that Patti organized, upstairs at Philadelphia’s Plays & Players on Delancey Street in the mid-1990s. Highlights of the evening were Patti’s late mother, Eileen Kovatch Mengers, cast as one of the weird sisters in a script-in-hand scene from MacBeth and wearing two pairs of glasses in order to read her part, and Michael’s performance. I don’t recall which scene he acted from memory – it may have been from Hamlet – but I do remember that his entrance was arresting and his delivery natural, convincing.  

In June, Michael was halfway through the four scheduled performances of the late poet and playwright David Simpson’s autobiographical play, Crossing the Threshold into the House of Bach, a production of the Amaryllis Theater Company. In the play, a blind organist, practicing J.S. Bach’s last chorale prelude late at night, strikes up a conversation with a youth minister that reveals experiences from Simpson’s own life, while exploring profound themes. Michael had completed two performances of the challenging play at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Elkins Park (PA). He was preparing for the second pair of shows at St. Mary’s Church at the University of Pennsylvania, rehearsing at the Amaryllis, located on Sansom Street, when calamity struck.

Walking to catch the train home to Northeast Philadelphia, sometime around 11:00 P.M. and in a heavy downpour, Michael was hit by a driver who fled the scene. The proximity to Jefferson Hospital may have saved his life, but the doctors could not save Michael’s left leg, which was amputated. (Don’t believe the postings on the web that cite his having lost his right leg.) This was Tuesday, June 9th, just days before the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference started, always a busy weekend for me. As soon as she heard the news, Patti visited Michael in the hospital and reported that he was awake and communicating, which was very encouraging. Meanwhile, the Philly theater community reacted with alarm and concern, spreading the news widely and quickly.

Gentle and intellectually inclined, my friend is nevertheless feisty; tough-minded and determined. Anyone who carves out a place for himself in the theater must be. These qualities have no doubt contributed to his recovery, as did keeping himself in shape through running, tennis and exercising at a gym for years.

In a phone conversation last summer Michael told me he had counted 15 visits to Jefferson’s O.R. during which he was under anaesthesia; four times for operations and the rest for other procedures. After being released from the hospital, he received a prosthetic leg and rapidly learned to walk with it. Michael credits the hospital’s staff and that of Moss Rehabilitation with excellent care. He also told me about meeting the daughterof the late Penn professor and U.S. Poet Laureate,  Daniel Hoffman, at Jefferson. She was helping Michael plan his post-hospital care. They not only discussed aftercare, they talked literature, which was, no doubt, excellent therapy.

Before the injury, Michael was cast in a production of Eugene O’Neill’s Moon for the Misbegotten, reprising his portrayal of Phil Hogan. On January 20th, Patti and I attended a performance upstairs at the Walnut Street Theater along with a large, enthusiastic audience.  “Phil” is an old farmer and Michael’s hindered gait seemed like a natural part of his character. While we were having dinner at a nearby pub after the performance, a couple approached our table. The woman told Michael that she hadn’t realized before the performance that he had a prosthetic leg. She thought his limp was part of the role!

When the play’s run in Philadelphia ended, the cast took it on the road for a month, visiting universities and arts centers in ten states. They performed the play and conducted master classes in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and New England and headed south to Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and then west to Indiana and Michigan. Michael told me the tour was both exhilarating and exhausting, as one might expect, and quite fulfilling.

With luck, Michael will be fitted with a new, computerized prosthesis in the near future that would allow for much greater mobility. I look forward to seeing my friend on the boards for years to come, and someday joining my brother-in-racquets out on the tennis court; volleying at the net, exchanging friendly japes, and laughing.

POeT SHOTS # 9 Blog Post by Ray Greenblatt

POeT SHOTS #9                                                       Blog Post by Ray Greenblatt

STARTING OVER by Lou McKee

After the divorce it took awhile
in a small cheap apartment,
but finally I got another house,
this one bigger, emptier.
I moved in with nothing
of my own to fill the rooms,
but still threw out the two chairs
and table the previous owners left.
I kept the doll I found
in the yard, a Barbie with matted
blonde hair and not a stitch
of clothing. A new wife,
I thought, and I proposed to her
right there in the middle
of my cutting the grass, lifting
my beer in a toast to love
and long years together, and though
I doubt she really wanted it,
I did pour some on her hard pretty body,
and used my fingers to rub away
the mud that was caked all over her.
Later I actually bathed her
in lemon-scented Joy, along with
the dish and glass I'd used for breakfast,
lunch and dinner.
                                I didn't feel weird
about any of this yet, this was still weeks
before I was in K-Mart and bought
the outfit, jeans and a plaid flannel shirt,
Cowgirl Barbie, but for comfort, really,
something to wear around the house.
It would have been wrong if I'd gotten
the tight black sequined dress I saw,
or the hot baby blue mini with the silver
belt and matching fuck-me pumps.
It would have been wrong if I had
kept her naked, sitting on the bookcase
bare-assed for all the wold to see.
But is this so wrong?
                                    She listens to me
sometimes; sometimes I can tell
she is not paying attention at all,
but that's okay; sometimes I'm not much
for talking myself. She is always there
when I need her, though. Is that so wrong?
And I'm always there for her.
                                                  The yard
is her nightmare, but she knows I won't let
that happen to her again. I'm not so sure
about the life she's had, the station to which
she's been accustomed, but it is good here,
in this big empty house. She's treated well,
and her wardrobe, now, is next to none.



Dolls can comfort children. A poet--tongue in cheek--asks if a doll can do the same for a grown up? To start over, we must pare down to basics. We must put the past behind us--no matter how much acting out it takes. It is our own personal psychotherapy.


 

THE PHILADELPHIA POETRY FESTIVAL!

SPECIAL INVITATION TO THE PHILADELPHIA POETRY FESTIVAL

The Philadelphia Poetry Festival is coming! 

SUNDAY, APRIL 24, 2016 from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.

 Do you run a poetry organization, magazine or poetry series in the Philadelphia area?   If so, please register NOW for the Philadelphia Poetry Festival 2016 by sending your request via email to philapoetryfest@comcast.net.  Include your name, the organization you represent and a brief summary of what your org does and where and when you do it.  Please use the word “REGISTRATION” in the subject line of your email.  REGISTRATION DEADLINE IS FRIDAY, APRIL 15TH

OUR FORMAT HAS CHANGED:

Each organization will present one poet to represent them, who will read for five minutes.  In the spirit of the event, we ask that organization leaders or editors NOT read, but choose a poet to spotlight. 

AND … WE’RE IN A NEW LOCATION !

This year’s festival will be held at a wonderful event space:  THE ROTUNDA, 4014 Walnut Street in West Philadelphia.

OTHER IMPORTANT DETAILS:

BOOK FAIR.  The Philadelphia Poetry Festival will include a Poetry Book Fair.  This is for individual poets signing and selling their books of poems.  All proceeds will go to and be handled by the authors.  The space is very limited – You must sign up in advance.  Please contact Leonard with interest:  gontarek9@earthlink.net

PROGRAM FLYERS/MATERIALS.   There will be an area for circulation of program brochures, flyers and information about dozens of Philadelphia poetry and writing outlets.  Bring your favorite series information to share!

PARKING.  Lots of street parking in the area, metered and non-metered.  Fresh Grocer Parking Garage across Walnut Street.

GREAT PLACES FOR FOOD & SPIRITS & BUSINESSES WITHIN A BLOCK: Smokey Joe’s, Mizu Sushi Bar, The Greek Lady, West Philly City Tap House, Bobby’s Burger Palace, Copabanana, Hummus & The Last Word Book Shop!

PAST PARTICIPANTSAmerican Poetry Review, Farley’s First Thursday Series, Apiary, The Collective Mic, Moveable Beats, Philly Youth Poetry Movement, The Green Line Reading and Interview Series, The Fuze: Philadelphia Slam Team, Philadelphia Stories, Philadelphia Poets, Rutgers-Camden’s “Louder Than a Bomb” Teen Poetry Slam, Mad Poets, Musehouse, Moonstone, Philadelphia Writers Conference, and MORE! 

Join us on April 24th to Experience a Unique Sampling of the Greatest Poetry on Earth and the Greatest Poetry Community Under the Sun!

This is the area’s most comprehensive poetry event solely dedicated to celebrating Greater Philadelphia Poetry in all of its manifestations.  Be there or be square!

BEST REGARDS:      LEONARD GONTAREK & EILEEN D’ANGELO

POeT SHOT # 8 - Greenblatt on a Poem by Gloria Parker

POeT SHOT #8                                             Blog Post by Ray Greenblatt


THE BANK SIGN FLASHES 10 DEGREES     - by Gloria Parker

Then 8:40--then 9 degrees. Not that I need to be told--

I'm wearing the lone glove I found in my pocket, sitting
on the other hand to keep it warm-

I'm late for work, the radio's news is demoralizing as ever,
tiny ice pellets pepper my windshield and same light turns

red three times. I add these to my monologue, then make
a dangerous u-turn from the bumper-to-bumper mess

onto a side road which turns out to be just as bad--thick
with drivers who must have had the same idea.

A red fox steps out of the brush and trots along the swale
beside the cars with what looks like a kaiser roll in his mouth

and I picture him stepping out of a Saturday morning cartoon,
not a miserable Monday

where a kaiser roll is never a kaiser roll, but a sandwich-size
creature, locked in fox's jaws.

The school bus I'm stuck behind with its host of red lights stops
at every driveway. Bundled-up kids waddle from their houses.

It's kindergarten I'm late for--where for six hours in an overheated
room there'll be no time to build a case against the cold and brutal.

I'll take out and put back paints, toys, books--wipe noses and tears,
open lids from tight thermos bottles, sing songs to temper the din.

After rest time, they'll watch me make blue squares on a giant sheet
of white paper. I'll tell them a palatable version of the story.

Each child will have a square. One of them will draw Mrs. Fox
in a pink flowered apron, making her husband's favorite lunch--

peanut butter and jelly on a kaiser roll. She'll look all over--under
the table, in the stove and refrigerator, on top of the cupboards

but won't find his lunch box. He'll put on his periwinkle vest,
his hunter green hat with the speckled feather in the band

and in the last frame, Mr. Fox, in his red and orange coupe will
go off to work with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in his teeth.
 

The ironic title of the poem seems to have little to do with the main theme. A working person--a teacher-- goes through the daily trials of life, even confronting the "savagery" of nature, i.e. a fox with its prey (in modern times the Kaiser tried to gobble up countries). Kindergarten is a "safe" place for innocent children. The humor grows as the fox, and life, is made acceptable by giving him a kaiser roll, jaunty clothes and car, and placing him in a cartoon.

POeT SHOT # 7 - Greenblatt's Thoughts on a Poem by Philip Dacey

POeT SHOT #7                                                                                             Blog Post by Ray Greenblatt

THE SENTENCE      by Philip Dacey

It could have been a desert,
as beautiful and dry
as grammar, the sun burning
with the logic of parts of speech.
I crawled happily there, the sand of syntax

cradling my knees, rocks,
those punctuation marks, slowing me
into attentiveness. Some words tufted
like cactus, with little flowers
of sound topping them.

I lay in their shadow, cooled,
every subordinate clause
a ravine to skid down into,
dunes rising and falling
rhythmically, phrase after phrase,

an eros of contours. And when the sun
was setting on what had been written
and the shadows of letters lengthened,
verbs chased each other, desert animals,
the only motion to be seen.

Then darkness, a great, overarching full stop,
left me alone and forlorn,
waiting for the sun to rise
on the presumption
of the next sentence's opening gesture.


How can the sun be a part of speech or sand syntax? How can a ravine be a subordinate clause or dunes be phrases? Only through the poet's imagination and the written magic of poetry.
 

POeT SHOT # 6 - Blog Post by Ray Greenblatt

POeT SHOTS #6                                                                            Blog Post by Ray Greenblatt

                                                      
MUSICAL RAPTURE       by Lisa Lutwyche

I am a child in bed, unable to sleep.

My mother's piano rings through the house,
lovely and tortured, both things at once.
Passages played over and over until they obey.
And when the music does the will of her strong,
able fingers, it makes me cry.
The hair raises on my skinny arms.

My ugly cheeks rain with tears.

Musical rapture wraps me, wide-awake,
all colors and rocking waves of feeling.
I don't know what to do. I'll break the spell
if I go to my mother, who plays downstairs, alone.
But I want to tell her I'm listening.
Someone is listening to her wasted music.

Even now it comes to me. Chopin. Bartok.

My sister's breathing, my mother's hands,
bringing to my heart something like pain.
Dangerous, evocative, music reaches too deeply,
too far into a past I've never understood.
A secret, in the night, no one else to hear the piano.
She only played when my father wasn't there.

Except when they played together,
cello, piano, my held breath.


The strong rhythm carries us through the poem. There's a mystery here; only hints in the ending. When music is "beautiful," we wonder at disjointed wording: "tortured-obey-will-strong-cry-skinny-ugly-tears-alone-wasted-pain-dangerous-secret." An entire world hides in and behind the music.
 

February's "Rhyme, Rhythm & Reason" at the Regency Reading- Post by David P. Kozinski

Mad Poets Blog post March 2016

Last Sunday’s performances at the Regency Café in Lansdowne, PA were pure pleasure. Featured were musicians Michael Asbury and Joseph Nocella, and poets Lili Bita and Robert Zaller, who are married to each other. The program was titled “A Love-in Event”, which was all the more appropriate as it took place on February 28th, two weeks after St. Valentine’s Day. Veteran Mad Poet and host of the monthly reading series known as “Rhyme, Rhythm & Reason”, Camelia Nocella, handed out Mardi Gras style love beads to attendees and presided over the festivities, which included an open mic reading. 

Anyone who is even slightly interested in poetry and lives in the greater Philadelphia area has most likely read Zaller and Bita’s work, or better still, heard them read their poetry in one of the countless venues they have graced over the years. They’ve published multiple books – including Zaller’s translations of Bita‘s work from the original Greek – and had work appear in too many journals to list here. Both are long-term Mad Poets and members of the Overbrook Poets group. Writing about them in this blog is a bit like preaching to the choir, but seriously, if you haven’t heard them read, keep your eyes open and look for announcements of upcoming local poetry events. On Sunday, both poets delivered new material that dealt with matters political, with love and sex, and with events both Olympic and ordinary in scale, constructed on a foundation of history and philosophy. As always, they read with conviction and a flare for the dramatic.

A very pleasant surprise was the pairing of tenor Michael Asbury and keyboardist Joseph Nocella. They offered two sets of standards, sandwiched around the poets’ readings, from the Great American Songbook, including Rodgers and Hart’s “My Funny Valentine” and an original composition of Nocella’s. Asbury’s voice was bell-clear, with refreshingly exacting intonation, and he delivered the songs with originality and self-assurance. Despite his youth (he appears to be in his twenties) I would have guessed he has worked with a number of fine voice coaches, but he told me most of his training has been from singing in church and close listening to recordings. Nocella, who is married to the series’ host and organizer, possesses the true accompanist’s gift for allowing the soloist to excel. In part, this requires knowing when to push, when to back off, and how to frame a performance. His own composition (sorry I missed the title) featured surprising twists of harmony and a sophistication that reflects his familiarity with and understanding of Broadway, jazz and beyond.

Upcoming in this series at the Regency are poet Anna Evans and musician Kathy McMearty on Sunday, March 20th. All the offerings of “Rhyme, Rhythm & Reason” start at 2:00 P.M. The café, which offers a delicious and inexpensive menu and free parking (!) across the street, is located at 29 N. Lansdowne Ave., Lansdowne, PA 19050. Call 484-461-9002 or see http://regencycafe.com for more information. 

POeT SHOTS # 5 - Greenblatt on a Poem of Paul Martin.

POeT SHOT #5                                


YOUNG LOVERS IN THE PARK   by Paul Martin

This raw second day of spring,
they sit on the damp patchy green,
oblivious of everyone and everything
that moves around them.

He teases her, hiding
something behind his back.
In mock anger, she twists
her face into something so fierce
it causes them both to laugh.

Then she floats her kerchief
like a green flame
in the breeze above his head,
but he yanks it down
and binds her leg to his
with a knot at the ankle.

One arm around the other's waist,
the other boosting them from the ground,
they awkwardly rise
to try this new thing they've become.
Trying to run, they fall,
fall and again fall,
each time pulling the other up
til they work out this strange, stiff-legged
rocking rhythm
and heads tilted back, laughing at the sky,
they hobble into the distance
faster than you might expect
as though they could manage
a lifetime like that.
 

*  *  *
What a unique and powerful way to look at a marriage! "Binds her leg to his/with a knot at the ankle," "One arm around the other's waist,/the other boosting them from the ground," "To try this new thing they've become," "Fall and again fall/each time pulling the other up," "Laughing at the sky/they hobble into the distance," "As though they could manage/a lifetime like that."

POeT SHOTS # 4 - Greenblatt on a Poem of Therese Halscheid.

POeT SHOTS #4

"AFTER ALASKA" by Therese Halscheid

She lives in me now, in the north of my chest, where it is all dark, all winter--
to my ears will come her voice, then to my eyes, this white woman,
then pathways to the tribe she roamed with, to places inside me
where they are hunting and she is gathering and there, a certain arrow,
and there, a stab of certain pain

then to moments other than these, to nights when my heart is a drum
for her dancing and her movements tell stories, and I feel in her feet
all that was told to me, all that was shared.

When I breathe and the wind blows in a mighty power, my mouth forms
 a small opening and she scales the dark throat to leap where
my lip catches the light, that she might sit
and be warmed for a while--

I felt her once, during an inner storm, as a certain chill ran through,
after my muscles tightened into big cold mountains
that she was arranging my ribs, arching them same as the shelters
she spoke of, in the icy north of Alaska, where they shape
whalebone over driftwood and pack it with sod.

There is a veined landscape she traverses in the spring
where my blood runs as thawed rivers

and she waits on the sands of myself for the return of the whale,
propped against a white embankment of bones, knees drawn to her chest
as in the way of the Eskimo, at times looking up, reading
the starry pores, the sky of my cloudless skin.
 


Has the white woman absorbed the Eskimo? Or has the Eskimo taken the white woman into her? There is a mysterious mutuality: "north of my chest," "to my ears will come her voice," " my heart is a drum, " "I feel in her feet all that was told,'" "she scales the dark throat," "she was arranging my ribs," "my blood runs as thawed rivers," "the sands of myself," "reading the starry pores," "the sky of my cloudless skin."

– Ray Greenblatt


POeT SHOTS # 3 - Greenblatt reviews Bill Van Buskirk.

POeT SHOT #3 –                                                                  Blog Post by Ray Greenblatt

SHOPPING FOR JEWELS ON SOUTH STREET by Bill Van Buskirk

For one of the last times
The sun beat down with all its might,
Drying streets gave up
The vapory, sweet ghosts
Of last night's rain;
And anything, anything
At all that could, gave back that light--
Windshields, trolley tracks, and
Lucky pennies waiting on the sidewalk.
So, in the middle of her final sickness--
A reprieve. A sun miraculous, tropical and lush
Shone for them in the middle of November, and
They went shopping on South Street.

The cancer left her gawky and gaunt,
Like a girl of thirteen years who grew too fast.
With restess eyes she searched through
Grimy windows for a reflection, for an angle
Where still she might be shown to some advantage.
Jewels were what she wanted, though;
Only they would do--Chiseled, lovely things
That would reflect the light of the next century,
That would endure to greet a thousand future suns.

Almost out of time now, she hurried along
As best she could. Limping, her body losing
Energy in the waning afternoon, she dragged him
From place to place; but he didn't get it.
Those old irritations, Saturday afternoons
Of waiting in the mail, settled over him.

And then she stopped. She vacillated
In the doorway of a tiny shop that sold
Only earrings. He could hardly bear it.
He could hardly bear this urgency for trinkets,
This urgency that drained her, that
Consumed even this shell of who she was.
But he gritted his teeth and fought for patience,
He remembered to breathe and stayed right with her.
He teetered with her in and out; it was a kind of dance
They did on the threshold of that shop.
He searched for her there, in the wreckage
Of who she was; and what he found
Was a startling kind of question rising up.

Feverish it hung there
Suspended in the brimming eyes.
And when at last he found her,
It burst inside him like a bomb.

"So is this it then?
Is this too much to spend upon a decaying shell?
Am I too far gone to decorate? Even for these?
Am I forgotten like a month-old-Christmas-tree
Waiting around to be burnt?"

So there it was, all of it,
The dying child's question
Hanging wordless in the air.
Terrifying, rounded and perfect in its way,
Turning in a chilly breeze, glittering
From one angle, then another,
Like a hundred earrings blinking in the sun.

This is a haunting poem. It is immediately seeded in the first paragraph with telltale words: "last-ghost-anything-final-reprieve-miraculous." The husband is worn out with supporting his wife. She is worn out from her illness but wants something significant before life ends. The power builds throughout the poem and is overwhelming by the close.  No matter what it takes, we must love each other right up until the end. 

- Ray Greenblatt

 

POeT SHOTS # 2 - Ray Greenblatt talks about a Lisa Baron Poem.

INSIDE THE MOUTH OF THE SUNDARBANS TIGER
                                                                                                                                         by Lisa Baron

I do not remember the one
sharp pain, being carried
by the neck to the dark forest,
or the bites into the soft
of my stomach. I first remember
the calls of the others
inside the Royal Bengal
asking me to join them
on their walk through
the halls and libraries
of the great beast's
limbs, or along its spine,
and sometimes to the round
of its tail. I was told I, too,
would become a great
storyteller. That soon
an insatiable hunger to tell
would come to me.
That the dead only know
when the living need
to hear from us--
that I would learn to ignore
their pleas and prayers
when needed.

And as the light fell this evening,
the great hunger came. And so
we have gathered around
the great drum of the tiger's heart
and are slapping bass tones
into the coils of its ears.
He ignored us at first,
but we were insistent.
We entered the soulful water with him

and now wait, half-submerged
behind the leafy cover of a bush,
can see behind the golden mirrors
of the beast's eyes the men
pulling their boat to shore
to gather honey among the mangroves.
I do not remember leaping
on the back of the man
as he moved toward the trees.
I only remember
whispering in his ear,
trying to calm him, telling him
his grandfather was waiting

with the rest of us
in the great belly,
that he was anxious
to tell him a story, that one day
he, too, would crave
to tell someone something.

       This is a fine poem. It has all the ingredients: a strong opening; rhythmic meter; a non-pausing narrative; selective but vivid imagery ("golden mirrors of the beast's eyes"); double entendres (the hunger to eat and to tell); insertion of modern elements ("slapping bass tones"); etc.   

        However, what makes it especially fine is the unique approach and theme: inside the tiger "live" other people who walk the halls and libraries of his limbs, spine, tail.  Telling stories is what motivates humans; and the dead know the needs of the living.

                                    - Ray Greenblatt

Keeping Busy on the Poetry Circuit ... with Dave Worrell

My recent reading includes books of poetry published by each of the wonderful Simpson brothers: "School for the Blind" by Dan and "The Way Love Comes to Me" by Dave. In July, I had the pleasure of hearing Dan Simpson and his partner Ona Gritz read from their work in Atlantic City. Earlier in the month, in Sea Isle City, I heard the acclaimed Italian-American poet Maria Mazziotti Gillan, founder and director of the Patterson Poetry Center at Passaic County College. I also had the pleasure in late July of sharing the podium at the Manayunk-Roxborough Arts Center with fellow poets Amy Laub and Jim Mancinelli. And in early August, I hosted a Poetry Marathon at PII Gallery in Old City where 17 poets read 47 poems over the course of the evening; the event was part of PII's First Friday gallery opening reception.

Three Remarkable Poets .... by David Kozinski

“Three Remarkable Poets” at the Manayunk-Roxborough Art Center

by David P. Kozinski

Earlier this year Peter Krok, who, along with being editor and publisher of the Schuylkill Valley Journal is also the Humanities Director at the Manayunk-Roxborough Art Center (MRAC), asked me if I would host some of the literary events scheduled for this spring at the center. I was pleased to answer in the affirmative and at the prospect of being able to choose poets to invite for featured readings at these events. Then I realized that there were dozens of poets whose work I admired, so the task was a bit more complicated than I’d first imagined.

For an April poetry reading, I began narrowing the field of candidates by making a list of people whom I’d never heard read at the art center. I also remembered how much fun it was having three poets from my home state of Delaware read at MRAC a year or so ago. Lindsey Warren, a young poet from Newark, immediately came to mind. I’d heard Lindsey present her work in open mic readings and as a featured poet in Wilmington.  As it happened, the day after she accepted my invitation to read at MRAC, there was an item in the Wilmington News Journal, announcing that Lindsey had received an Emerging Artist Fellowship for Poetry from the Delaware Division of the Arts. I was off to a good start.

Then I thought, why not make this a reading by three young poets? At this point, lots of poets are young to me, or at least younger than I am, or youngish. I figured the age didn’t matter as much as the attitude. Laura Spagnoli is a marvelously imaginative and risk-taking poet who teaches at Temple University. She’s published a chapbook and her poems and stories have appeared in a number of fine journals, including Painted Bride Quarterly. I have known her for a little more than a year from a poetry critique group we both attend, and find her work challenging, sparkling and at times, very funny. I was delighted when she accepted my invitation.

It’s not necessary to have a balance of gender at poetry readings but it does add to the variety of voices and I was not at a loss for excellent men to consider. A recent graduate of La Salle University, Michael Noel writes poetry that is sophisticated beyond his years. I first encountered it (and its author) at the Mad Poets Critique Circle, which meets monthly at the Community Arts Center in Wallingford, PA. Michael’s work often evinces a dry, wry humor that I thought would both complement and contrast with the work of the two women. When he said he’d be there, our lineup was set. 

The day of the reading, Sunday, April 12th, rolled around and it was also the day of an outdoor food festival in Manayunk. After the long, tenacious winter of 2014-2015, the warm, sunny weather guaranteed a big crowd for the festival, hellacious traffic on the Schuylkill Expressway, and a scarcity of parking near the art center. Nevertheless, the poets and I all arrived ahead of the 3:00 P.M. start time. Attendance was great and the audience enthusiastic, as well they should have been. Quite a few of them were making their first visit to MRAC and, I hope, not their last.

All three poets gave stirring performances. They read distinctly and with justified confidence. I couldn’t help pointing out that all of them were much further along in their development as artists than was I at their ages. Their contrasting voices and styles modulated the afternoon’s tone. The audience appreciated a quality all three share: they are poetic risk-takers who hone and polish their often experimental writing into works of art. The ambience was enriched by the visual art exhibit on the walls of MRAC’s gallery where the reading took place. The exhibit featured the work of Manayunk-Roxborough Artists’ Co-Op members Sean Montgomery and Carlos Nuñez. After a pause for a snack, a libation and a bit of conversation, there was a brief, fun open mic reading in which we heard the familiar voice of art center member Fereshteh Sholevar and work presented by Merilyn Jackson and Carolyn Guss – both new to MRAC.

So often we read our poetry to fellow poets. While that can be a satisfying endeavor, I like it when at least a part of the audience is comprised of non-poets; people who don’t write poetry but are interested in hearing contemporary work; people who might be first time attendees at a poetry reading. That was the case for most of the audience last Sunday. Laura, Michael and Lindsey all enjoyed themselves and you can be sure, you’ll be hearing more from them in the near future. I had a blast!

The next MRAC Humanities event will be a poetry reading titled, “Poetry Triple Play (Mike Cohen, Steve Delia, Missy Grotz) & the Don (Don Riggs)”, on August 16, from 3:00 to 5:00 PM. The art center is located at 419 Green Lane (rear) in the Roxborough neighborhood of Philadelphia. $5 Donation requested. Refreshments will be provided. Open Reading afterwards. Phone: 215-482-3363. Peter Krok, who has coordinated a literary series at MRAC since 1990, will host. 

As one might gather from the bios supplied by the poets (see below), this reading will not be short on humor. These poets evoke smiles and laughter from an audience, but don’t be deceived – serious themes lie just under, or sometimes right on, the surfaces of their words.

Steve Delia has been crumpling balls of paper for 38 years, the ones he keeps he calls poetry. He has read at many places such as libraries, coffee houses, bookstores, art galleries, a cemetery, and even in the street. He has read on WXPN, and most recently won 1st prize at the Philadelphia Writers Conference. His ultimate goal is to sleep with Nicole Kidman.                                                                         

Missy Grotz skated her Cliff Notes route through school until she realized poetry didn’t have to rhyme—thank YOU e. e. cummings!!—and not all poems had happy endings—thank YOU everybody else in the latter half of 20th Century!! She has a poetry book called Cat Chat with a major revision coming up, and a series of children’s books written for her nieces/nephews also with revisions entitled The Aunt Missy Books hopefully to be out one day soon.

Mike Cohen hosts Poetry Aloud and Alive at Philadelphia's Big Blue Marble Book Store. His articles on sculpture appear in the Schuylkill Valley Journal in which he is a contributing editor. His wry writing has appeared in the Mad Poets Review, Apiary Magazine, Fox Chase Review, and other journals.  Mike has performed in cafes, libraries, book stores and venues from Princeton’s Café Improv to Harlem’s Apollo Theater to the Pen and Pencil Club to Fergie's Pub to Laurel Hill Cemetery to the Manayunk Roxborough Art Center which is a heavenly place to go after Laurel Hill Cemetery.  

Don Riggs first performed poetry at the Christmas Eve service of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Silver Spring, Md., in 1961, when he recited The Night Before Christmas by heart.  His own poetic creations were minimal until graduate school, at the University of North Carolina, where he studied Comparative Literature from 1974 to 1982.  Although his focus was the Middle Ages, he learned a great deal about contemporary American poetry, in  workshops that taught him about poetic voice and writing with a sense of place, and then in graduate school at Temple University 1995-97. Since then he has gone off on his own, imitating Robert Lowell's practice of writing a blank sonnet a day, and choosing the bath as the optimal place for that practice.

David P. Kozinski won the Dogfish Head Poetry Prize, which included publication of his chapbook, Loopholes. He has been the featured poet in Schuylkill Valley Journal. Publications include Apiary, Fox Chase Review, glimmertrain.com, Mad Poets Review, Philadelphia Stories, Poetry Repairs, Margie, and The Rathalla Review.  Kozinski was one of ten poets chosen by Robert Bly for a workshop sponsored by American Poetry Review and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize twice. Last November he conducted a four-session poetry workshop for teens at the Montgomery County Youth Center for the arts-promoting, non-profit organization Expressive Path. Kozinski heads the publicity team for the Manayunk-Roxborough Art Center and has been a Mad Poet for nearly twenty years. He lives in Wilmington, DE with his wife, actress and journalist Patti Allis Mengers. 

 

 

What is Poetry? - Ed Krizek

What is Poetry? 

First, let me say that my academic training is not in poetry, or even literature.  When I was in school, I thought science and rigorous analysis offered definitive answers to all of life’s questions.  It was not until I developed some life experience that I realized that life’s mysteries couldn’t be easily quantified and reduced to a set of proven hypotheses supported by appropriate data.  But I submit that perhaps this lack, which I constantly feel as I journey through the poetic world, makes me qualified to address the question, “What is poetry?”

I think most poets and non-poets alike would concede that poetry is not as popular an art form in Western culture as it might be.  Consequently, many people who encounter poetry are not sure what to make of it (Try reading Billy Collins’ poem “Introduction to Poetry” to get a feel for popular opinion.).  To the general public as well as to the poets, I must confess that I sometimes have that problem too.

When I see lines in print that are presented as poetry I wonder sometimes how to view them.  Some poems are straightforward and easily understood.  Poets like Billy Collins, Li-Young Lee, Robert Frost, Adrian C. Louis and others can be read and basically understood upon first reading.  It does help deepen one’s understanding to reread these and other authors, but still a clear understanding can be derived reading their poems just once.

On the other hand, when I read TS Eliot, Wallace Stevens, WS Merwin, Tomas Transtromer or Wislawa Symborska rereading is mandatory for me to gain understanding of the meaning and beauty of the works.  I expect others find this to be the case as well.

Furthermore, I have been mainly citing poets that write in mainly in free verse, excluding Frost who stated, “Writing free verse is like playing tennis without a net.”  The advent of free verse or vers libre in French poetry in the nineteenth century opened the way for poets to explore new ways of presenting their ideas without the constraints of meter and rhyme.  This exploration led to what we have today when many feel that it appears anything goes in poetry.

A reaction to this has been the New Formalist movement championed by former NEA Director, Dana Gioia and others.  This group feels that poetry must have structure in order to be effective and in fact to be poetry at all.  Here, however, I take my cue from something I read in a recent issue of Poets & Writers magazine which asks the question, “Was it really necessary to have an argument within poetry about avant-garde and new formalism?  Isn’t there room enough in poetry for everyone?  It seems to me that for a work of art to be valid it must first connect with its audience in some way.  Four time National Poetry Slam winner Patricia Smith’s poem Undertaker resonates with me as much as Eliot’s Four Quartets.

On occasion I have taught a class at a local senior center on poetry appreciation and writing.  In the first class we do an exercise where we brainstorm answers to the question, “What is poetry?”  Each group comes up with a slightly different definition.  Perhaps the best thing to do is look to Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart when defining pornography: “(It) is a difficult thing to define, but I know it when I see it.”  I think many of us know poetry when we see it.  We just need more of it around!

Ed Krizek was born in New York City and lives in Swarthmore, PA, a suburb of Philadelphia.  He holds a BA and MS from University of Pennsylvania, and an MBA and MPH from Columbia University.  He is a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Delaware County, has published over seventy articles, poems and short stories in various publications, and won prizes in several poetry and short story competitions.  You can see more of his work at www.edkrizekwriting.com and follow his blog www.edkrizek.com.

 

 

 

 

POeT SHOTS #1 - Ray Greenblatt on "Hanging Out with the Judges of the Young Poets Contest"

After the presentation when all the families have gone home, we "older poets" --the judges-- sit around talking. We marvel at an idea or phrase or entire poem that has impressed us. It's like catching sight of a stunning meteor or being at a play-off game to witness a home run with bases loaded. Yes, we care about poetic things like that; and hope our young poets will too as they grow up. Let me offer a few examples.

Notice how fresh and different these poem titles are: PENCIL TIP (Caroline Lenderman, Grade 2), CAKES AND SNAKES (Gabriella Cipriano, Grade 2), SUPERIOR SANDWICH (Hayden Dash, Grade 4), PIANO KEYS (Ciara Trigg, Grade 7) , THE INQUIRING KIWI (Gavin Karutheim, Grade 8).

Some young poets have used highly respected traditional forms: STARS (Nathan Hoist-Rightley, Grade 6) is a Haiku; FLOOR 51 (Amelia Winger, Grade 9) is a Pantoum;  and CLAWS (Ethan Pennington, Grade 5) reads like a Ballad with regular rhyme and stanzas running to 52 lines!

Now let's look at some moments in these notable poems:

Some lines seem to be highlighted with originality--"Regrets set fires in my heart, burning me from within" BEHIND YOU (Theresa Hencinski, Grade 9) and "Royal/Are these pathways/Stained with aching promise" CASTLE CLIFF (Alexis Petzak, Grade 12).

In AN UNREQUITED ORCHESTRA REVERBERATES (Grace Fan, Grade 11) lines incorporate musical language--"She wonders about him/staccatoing across the staff," Trailing up her metronome,/she rips ambiguous notes,/stressing her high-pitched fever," and "Melody crushed by symbols/crashing into mezzo piano."

MODERN DANCE (Lily Pollock, Grade 7) employs a very mature vocabulary about Dance: "An exquisite illustration of energy and passion/from sorrow to bliss to rage,"  "fluid and harmonious," unleash all you have inside," stomps crescendo into power," "ignites bone dry tinder,"  "the grandeur of the human form," "the dance floor/is your easel/and you paint it with your feelings."

Then there are some very direct lines that wring your heart with emotion: "Modest tiny gold crosses/Rattle like tin cans around her neck," "We share half smiles instead of words,/ Lovely in their quietness/At any moment I will storm," "My father wore his family like a winter coat," "My mother wears her grief like jewelry./I wear them both like mirrors." SEVENTEENTH BIRTHDAY (Natalie Fairfield, Grade 12)

Do the following poetic openings make you want to read the entire poem? We judges thought so:

"Your face is a house
Your eyes are the windows
Your nose is the gateway
Ring ring the tip of your nose
Is the door bell"
FACE TO HOUSE (Michel Spigarelli, Grade 3)

"I am happiness who are you?
I light up people's days
But only for a little while.
For, my magic only works
Until my brothers Anger and Sorrow take it away"
HAPPINESS (Alyssa Hayes, Grade 7)

"Zephyrs sweep the sails aloft in frenzy,
As the ocean with an aquamarine gleam leaps to the shoreline"
SAIL WITH THE WIND (Bethany Ho, Grade 8)

"The everlasting tattoos of the sky
Decorate the once dead night"
ETERNAL GLISTENS (Samantha Margolis, Grade 9)

"The substance in my mouth
Used to taste of honey
Sweet words rolled off my tongue
And now stick like glue,
Keeping my thoughts inside"
GROWING UP (Kaitlyn Anderson, Grade 10)

I will conclude with what is always a major challenge for the best poets--how to end a poem! Here are some strong conclusions to these poems:

"School will help
your brain update"
SCHOOL (Jacob An, Grade 2)

"Auroras shine
in the darkest winter,
burning the sky
with their fire."
TUNDRA (Anders Powell, Grade 3)

"My heart  has tricked my eyes
Into seeing even the most misshapen lines
As evidence of a master piece"
YOUR PARENTS MUST HAVE BEEN ARTISTS (Charlotte Fetters, Grade 11)

"Slake your thirst again, darling.
Drain me as you will.
We both know I'll be back soon,
For another languid afternoon
Of flashing lights
And numbing thrill."
YOU (Garrick Schultz, Grade 11)


Ray Greenblatt has been a poet for forty years and an English teacher longer than that. He was an editor of General Eclectic, a board member of the Philadelphia Writers Conference, and is presently on the staff of the Schuylkill Valley Journal. He has won the Full Moon Poetry Contest, the Mad Poets Annual Contest, and twice won the Anthony Byrne Annual Contest for Irish Poetry sponsored by The Irish Edition. His poetry has been translated into Gaelic, Polish, Greek and Japanese.

PHILADELPHIA POETRY by Leonard Gontarek

Sarah Blake, Kanye West And The World

 

Sarah Blake. There is something of a Sarah and Goliath story here in how

she takes on Culture and Kulchur. You know what I mean. Just throw a name

out there on social media - who you think would make a good talk show host.

Or why you dislike a present host, or, really like a present host. Watch what

ensues. Sarah Blake is up for this. You might say she lives for it. It is the stuff

of her poetry. She is bold. She is refreshing. She keeps her perspective.

She sees the value of transcendence. It’s good to have a poet mix it up with

popular culture. We’re shown its actual complexity. We’re persuaded it is

fascinating as culture. And worth our while.

 

A Day at the Mall Reminds Me of America

Recently, my 14 year old sister was approached at the mall to see if she’d be interested in working

at Hollister, or Abercrombie and Fitch, or American Eagle. I can’t remember.

She’s that beautiful. And with the mall’s lights all around her—I can only imagine.

Yet on Facebook, one of her friends calls her a loser. More write, “I hate you.”

I wonder if Kanye knows that these girls are experimenting. As with rum. As with skin, all the ways to touch it.

My day at the mall begins with a Wild Cherry ICEE and an Auntie Anne’s Original Pretzel.

A craving.

I pass women who you can tell are pregnant, and I know we all might be carrying daughters.

The mall is so quiet. The outside of the Hollister looks like a tropical hut, like the teenage girls should be sweating inside.

No one’s holding doors for me yet, but they will as I take the shape of my child.

And if my child has a vicious tongue, it will take shape lapping at my breast.

                                                                   *    *   *

Sarah Blake is fearless. And she possesses grace and elegance. Certainly when it comes to Kanye West. And a kind of folk wisdom – call it common sense. I think her overarching message, the one that preempts all, is compassion, is give Kanye West a chance, don’t write him off. Notorious Kanye West who stormed the awards stage to steal the thunder from Taylor Swift and, half-heartedly, from Beck. Take note of our tender poet here Sarah Blake’s words:

… She could sing a song about it /

that makes a little sense. She could say, Don’t hate him.

 

All material is material for poetry. All things are the stuff of poetry. Sarah Blake

sees this clearly. After all a poet once said, a good poet should be able to write

about any one, Dick Cheney, for example. No matter how blinding the subject,

it is the poet’s job to write with a clarity of vision. And, as I say, grace:

 

God’s Face Over Gold

 

Kanye West has a god’s face over gold.

But his eyes are like man’s. His voice overflows.

So it must be his mouth, his tongue unrolled.

Kanye West has a god’s face over gold.

I think he hears prayers when nights are cold.

He can’t be a man when his heart’s a rose.

Kanye West has a god’s face over gold.

But his eyes are like man’s. His voice overflows.

 

The plagiarism and copyright battles of the twenty-first century are the equivalent

of the obscenity trials of the twentieth, so says Kenneth Goldsmith in response to

Sarah Blake’s work. This is one of the brilliant and provocative statements so far

in this century. Kenneth Goldsmith courted controversy himself with his Michael

Brown autopsy poem. (Perhaps Kenneth Goldsmith and Kanye West are similarly,

if not equally, misunderstood.) This prompted Sarah Blake to clarify her position

on found texts and appropriated materials. The issues aside of sampling versus

stealing someone’s song (as in the recent case of Marvin Gaye’s Got To Give It Up),

Sarah Blake does not have to explain herself. Regarding the controversial figure

she has chosen as her subject, her impulses are well-intentioned, artful, moral and empathetic.

 

Seeing Kanye

 

Along the Juniata, the gray stones,

gray squares in the grass,

keep the hills from the road, keep them

where they are.

 

When we pass the stones,

like the Earth’s stitches,

I know we’re about to see a rock face

following a bend in the road,

where the strata bend like sound waves.

 

It’s clear God is below the Earth, not above –

his head, giant frame for the planet –

and he makes a sound that makes the Earth.

 

But first I thought of Kanye’s head

singing, singing, singing into that rock.

 

Sarah Blake. The name of one of the most revered writers in all of poetry

(Blake, William) and porn star and actress (Blake, Sarah), AKA Little

Troublemaker. Our Sarah Blake is the author of Mr. West, an unauthorized lyric biography of Kanye West, published in 2015. She was awarded a 2013 NEA

fellowship for poetry and is Assistant Editor at Saturnalia Books. She lives

outside of Philadelphia. I like that. The operative word is Philadelphia. Poets

are commonly outsiders. More than an outsider, Sarah Blake follows the beat

of a different drum:

 

God Created Night and It Was Night

Let there be Kanye at the wheel of a black SUV.

Let Kanye fall asleep.

Let the SUV hit another car with another man.

Let that man’s legs break and be broken.

Let Kanye be trapped in the car.

Let there be the men that cut him out.

 

And there was evening and there was morning.

 

Let Kanye’s mother and girlfriend arrive.

Let the women take care of him.

Let Kanye see his face.

Let the doctor reconstruct his face.

Let Kanye have the breath of life.

Let Kanye lie that he had not fallen asleep.

 

And there was evening and there was morning.

 

Let Kanye tell the truth.

Let Kanye’s jaw be wired shut.

Let Kanye write a song.Let Kanye sing it through that wire.

Let the song reach over all the earth.

Let lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon Kanye.

Bring forth Kanye according to his kind.

 

Hybrid

Kanye is Horus, or another Egyptian god.

He is a merman, a centaur, the Minotaur.

And less mythical too – a zorse,

a sand sunflower, a Lonicera fly.

Kanye is half cannon, half ballet.

Half canonical, half prey.

Half my Man of Sorrows.

Half my sun.

Half my idol for son.

Half an idol of diamonds and gold.

Oh god,

Kanye is half what makes my heart.

                                                                *   *   *

We’ve all had a poster on a wall. A movie star, a rock star, an idol. For me,

it was Marcel Duchamp. A harmless enough choice. Though I’m sure, in

some quarter, someone would contest his importance. Marcel Duchamp was

not without controversy, of course. He signed a urinal and had it accepted

as art. Sometimes the real public life of the artist is predominant. I’m thinking

of the archetypal rock-star-throwing-a-television-out-a-hotel-window image.

The scuffles with reality. At times, that’s all we remember. You know what

I’m saying, Pete Doherty? Can you name his band? Well, it was two bands,

good bands, too, that made good music. The behavior is legendary, maybe

more alleged. Then, there is the exceptional. Drink all you want, Russell

Crowe, A Beautiful Mind and The Insider are memorable. They are you.

Isn’t this what Mrs. Blake is saying, have we forgotten Kanye West’s music?

Isn’t that how we should judge artists? Are we looking at him in light of

his masterpieces, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, for instance? They

are fair questions. More than fair. They are human, decent, tender questions.

 

The test of a poet is what else can they do, how do they follow themselves.

For Sarah Blake it is the appearance of a long, a daringly long sequence of

poems. Who would have imagined that next up for her would be the nature

poem, in the manner of Gary Snyder, Carolyn Forche and Maxine Kumin.

The poems of In a Wood, With Clearings, It’s Spring are outdoors poems

and meditations. Here is a selection from sections 20-49. They are breathtaking:

from In a Wood, with Clearings, It’s Spring

20

You know of a good spot to watch the sunset. Once it’s dark, it’s only a 10-minute walk back to the tarp.

So you get yourself there. You can see pretty far to the west. The sun is going to go down over a mountain. Another mountain.

It’s not the same as watching it set over a lake — the reflection rippling up like everything’s laughing — but it should be beautiful.

You can also see you have a good 20 minutes before the sky really starts to do its thing. You decide to carve your initials into a tree.

You’ve been carrying around a spoon you found in the bear bag, and you find a nice flat rock.

First you scoop the bark off in chunks. Then you clear the area completely by scraping the spoon over it, again and again. It’s not a bad sound like some scraping.

Now you put the end of the spoon against the trunk, knock the other end with the rock, and you make a small mark.

You make a lot of small marks. You turn around and the sky is bright pink.

You’re glad the sun is going to spend time every day shining on you. This version of you that will outlast your body.

If you knew how to better represent yourself than with two crap carved letters, well Jesus, you would do that.

21

You’ve seen sunsets. This one was like those. Pink, purple, yellow, orange. Then all of a sudden the sky is dark blue. Then all of a sudden there are stars.

You know they’re far. You think of that distance in terms of time. You can’t help yourself.

You know in one way you will live a number of years. In another way you live the distance the Earth traveled during that time. Which is another number of years.

And if you are emitting any light, as you often hope you are (yes, you know you are a fool), then that light travels out another distance, another length of time.

You are living for centuries. You are living forever.

As you turn to leave, you say, Goodnight. You open your mouth. Close your mouth. You’re constantly eating light.

25

When clouds cover the sky then is it only one cloud? Cloudscape. It’s such a dark gray. Like slate and tar. But all it means is that it’s full of water.

Do all clear things turn dark when piled on top of each other? If you covered yourself in enough rain, would you get dark enough to hide in a fire’s smoke?

You just described drowning. All the smoky bodies at the bottoms of the lakes and seas. Don’t you understand light, light eater?

At least the bear won’t roam around today. She’s in a cave with her snout under her paw.

And the bird spirit is thrilled it’s so dark because she can practice her new skill. Soon she’ll be able to make her outline appear and you won’t be able to question if you see her.

You run your left hand down your right arm. The rain sloughs off.

 

Sarah Blake, our 21st Century Wordsworth. That’s something. That’s huge.

 

And, hey, I made it through this piece without Kanye West rushing in and

telling me to write about Beyoncé.

 

Poems copyright © 2015 by Sarah Blake. Reprinted with permission of the author

and Wesleyan University Press.

Leonard Gontarek is the author of five books of poems, including, Déjà Vu Diner and He Looked Beyond My Faults and Saw My Needs. His poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Poet Lore, Verse, Poetry Northwest and The Best American Poetry, among others. He is host of the Green Line Café Reading and Interview Series and conducts poetry workshops throughout the Philadelphia area.

 

 

 

On Elizabeth Bishop

On Elizabeth Bishop.

I attended a wonderful event at the Rosenbach Museum a few weeks ago: Colm Toibin talking about Elizabeth Bishop. What's not to love about them both?!  Toibin's love of Bishop's poetry was endearing. I pictured his talk being very academic, but in many ways it became a “preaching to the choir” kind of presentation. I did learn some new things about Elizabeth, though. While I knew that she idolized Marianne Moore and her poetry, I did not know that Marianne and her mother virtually rewrote poems that Elizabeth sent Marianne for her critique! Moore and her mother apparently thought that Bishop's three lines per stanza format was irregular, so they changed the lineation in a poem that Bishop sent her. Even more significant is Moore's and her mother's disapproval of Bishop's reference to a water closet, which they considered uncouth. Speaking of uncouth, they also thought that “Cocks” was preferable to Bishop's title, “Roosters.” Hmmmm... I was happy to hear that Bishop did not adhere to their suggestions and stopped asking them for critiques.

I also learned that when Bishop was five, her mother was taken away to a mental institute and she was fostered out to grandparents and aunts, then taken away to be raised by an aunt. (Bishop's father died when she was very young). However, unlike her contemporaries, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath, Bishop did not write Confessional Poetry.  She used “enormous withholding,” according to Toibin, “using tones and rhythm to convey great loss.” Bishop preferred what she called “nothing much” kind of openers, starting her poems with “the language of facts.”  According to Toibin Bishop must declare that something is true first, as in “Land lies in water. It is shadowed green.” Toibin added that Bishop “wanted to register experience, using a rhyme system to make sense of the world.” He cited “At the Fishhouses” as being “very precise and exact, stating facts,” but then “incantatory,” as in “cold, dark, deep and absolutely clear.” Toibin claimed that facts and essentials take precedence in the beginning, and both energy and Bishop's speaker are withheld, that Bishop's power comes more from what is not said.

Lastly, I never knew until Toibin's talk that Robert Lowell used Bishop's poem, “The Armadillo” as a template for his poem, “Skunk Hour.” I love both of their poems, but Toibin reminded me of why.

-- KATHY BARHAM

Kathy Barham moved from Somerset, Virginia to South Philadelphia in 1998, after receiving an MFA degree from Warren Wilson Program for Writers.  Retired from teaching English at Conestoga High School, she spends time traveling and writing, inspired by her cats and the woods outside her log cabin apartment in Rose Valley, PA. Kathy has published poems in American Poetry Review, The Drunken Boat, Spillway, Mad Poets Review, Poetry Ink, and other journals. Her chapbook, From the Familiar, was published by The Moonstone Press in March, 2015.


THE 5th ANNUAL

PHILADELPHIA POETRY FESTIVAL

 Sat., April 25, 2015 * 11:00 am to 4:00 pm

    at the Philadelphia Free Library, 1901 Vine Street in Philadelphia, in the Montgomery Auditorium

Philadelphia Poetry Festival - 2015 Schedule

 1ST SET * Hosted by EILEEN M. D’ANGELO

 * Farley’s First Thursday Series - Bernadette McBride

* The Collective Mic at Rose Petals Café & Lounge -Jody “Tru Story” Austin / Tiffani Dean

* Pentimento Magazine - Marie Kane, Poetry Editor,  Lori Brozek, Managing Editor

* Mad Poets Society/ Young Poets Contest /Mad Poets Review - Eileen M. D’Angelo / Bill Van Buskirk

* Tomorrow’s Girls - Pat McLean

 2ND SET * Hosted by KATHY VOLK MILLER

 * National Black Arts Spoken Word Tour - Maurice Henderson

* The Fuze: Philadelphia Poetry Slam - Hannah McDonald

* Philadelphia Stories - Peter Baroth / Stephanie Durann

* Poetry Aloud & Alive at Big Blue Marble - Dave Worrell

* Moonstone Art Center - Larry Robin  

* Philadelphia Writers Conference - David Kozinski 

3RD SET * Hosted by BERNADETTE MCBRIDE

* American Poetry Review - David Bonanno

 * Expressive Path - Pamela Martin / Glenn McLaughlin

* Musehouse: Supporting the Literary Arts -Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno    

* Manayunk Roxborough Art Center /Schuylkill Valley Journal -Peter Krok

* Monday Poets Series - Kay Wisniewski / Lamont Dixon

* The Green Line Reading & Interview Series - Charles Carr / Kasey Jueds)

* Panoramic Poetry at October Gallery - Crucial

 * Featured Guest:  MICHELLE MYERS

4th SET * Hosted by CHARLES CARR

* Rutgers- Camden’s  “Louder Than a Bomb” Teen Poetry Slam - Lamont Dixon

* Overbrook Poets  - Fereshteh Sholevar

* APIARY - Tamara Oakman / Hannah McDonald

* Moveable Beats Reading Series - Jim Mancinelli / Liz Abrams Morley

* Family Style Open Mic Series - Michelle Myers

* Panoramic Poetry at October Gallery - Crucial

    * Featured Guest: CALAMITY ROSE OF THE PHILADELPHIA YOUTH POETRY MOVEMENT

This special afternoon is dedicated to celebrating those diverse, talented voices in all their uniqueness and originality … to applaud those who volunteer to make venues and forums possible … and to unite and showcase the many people who create this rich landscape of poetry in our City of Brotherly Love and abroad.  For info, email  info@madpoetssociety.com

 This event is partially supported by PA Partners in the Arts (PPA), the regional arts funding partnership of the PA Council on the Arts (PCA), a state agency. State government funding comes through an annual appropriation by PA’s General Assembly and The National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.  PPA is administered in this region by the FIVE COUNTY ARTS FUND.