On the off chance you don't keep up with such things, April is National Anxiety Month, National Humor Month And National Welding Month. And if you weld together anxiety and humor, what do you get but National Poetry Month?
Fittingly, 1708 Gallery hosted a poetry reading tonight featuring three Richmond poets. The art-filled gallery was an ideal place for a reading and the exhibit, "Home is Where the Art Is: 1708 Gallery's 20th Annual Art Auction Benefit" displayed a fascinating exhibit of close to 50 artists. I may have come for poetry, but I made sure I saw the entire exhibit before actually sitting down.
The poetry began with Joshua Poteat who appropriately set the tone by saying to the audience, "Nice day to be inside, huh? Thank you for being nerds." That's a greeting that speaks to someone like me. He showed his own nerdiness when just after finishing a poem, he pointed to his book and said, "There's a missing period there that I've never noticed before," and tossed the book aside in mock-disgust (or perhaps true disgust). The imagery in his poems was beautiful; I particularly liked "Illustrating the Theory of Twilight."
Tarfia Faizullah's poetry had a distinctly outsider's viewpoint, both as a woman and as one with roots in India. She began by telling us that due to limited time, she had begun writing sonnets because, "...fourteen lines, how long could it take?" Writing her "Poetry Recitation at St. Catherine's School for Girls" caused Anglican flashbacks for her since she'd gone to a girls' school in Texas. It also caused high school remorse because, "I want a do-over. I could do it so much better now." Couldn't we all?
Daniel Coudriet teaches at UR and admitted right up front that tonight's reading was the first he'd ever attempted without contacts or glasses. After a bit of trombone playing, he found a comfortable distance from which to read by saying, "I see something that looks like the English language." He introduced "Lyric" by saying, "Just imagine it's snowing," which was no easy feat given today's weather. He warned us before reading "The Rodents" that "This is weird stuff and they get weirder." For him, the high point came when he was able to read the phrase "disembodied beard" something he never expected to say, much less write.
Since it was a walking night, I ambled down to Bistro 27 afterwards for dinner and conversation. Chef Carlos was sitting at the bar since it wasn't busy yet, so he patted the stool next to him and I took it. We had loads to catch up on since the last time I'd been in I'd had a friend with me and we hadn't been able to really talk. He had a lot to share about the hoopla at First Fridays, soliciting other restaurant owners' opinions on hot topics and the differences in red and white wine for him. He insisted I drink his wine of choice for the evening, the Tenuta San Pietro Gavi di Gavi and it was the ideal sip for a spring evening.
"Are you going to eat?" he asked me after a while, jumping up as he asked. As opposed to...what, I asked. Yes, of course I was there to eat and he told me to sit tight and he'd make me a favorite Brazilian dish, one his momma used to make for him and that he now recreates because he loves it so much. He warned me of its African influences (because of Brazil's enormous African slave population) which only made it sound more appealing.
The next thing I know he was placing a plate of Bobo de Camarae in front of me. It appeared to be shrimp and all he'd tell me is that the sauce had coconut milk, yucca and palm oil. What I register is that it's incredibly fragrant and enticing. He says that it's usually served over rice, but instead he wants me to use bread for sopping up the sauce. It does have a distinctly African flavor to it and my only regret is coming to the end of something so unique and delicious Still, I'm incredibly grateful for such a gift; I only wish it were on the menu.
Next up was the highly-recommended asparagus bisque with crab meat and fried proscuitto. Nothing could have topped the Bobo, but this soup was excellent. It had a depth of flavor that could have stood on its own without the crab and pig, but they were such lovely additions in their own right. Let's find more reasons to fry proscuitto, shall we?
There were three other regulars at the bar tonight and one was the high society type, so he regaled me with stories of foxhunts and charity balls until I was bored (and perhaps a but tired of his drunken repetition). Luckily, it was easy enough to move myself and my glass of Villa Mt. Eden Cabernet Sauvignon to a nearby table to allow for catch-up chats with certain staff members who wanted a private audience; they're a varied cast of characters with whom I have ongoing discussions on completely different subjects.
Once the bar cleared, I returned to finish out the evening talking to Carlos about being Catholic, customers who arrive tanked and changes in restaurant service. He's got a new manager whom I know well from other restaurants and he added his witty two cents to the discussion.
When it was finally time to go, neither approved of me walking home alone so offers were made. I chose the manager's proposal to be walked home (he'd biked) over being chef-driven because my intention all along had been to make it a neighborhood night and walk.
Besides, the only way to end a night that involves poetry reading and the gift of bobo de camarae is with a leisurely walk through Jackson Ward. If you haven't tried it, I highly recommend it.