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,, 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.