Friday, March 23, 2012

The Romance of Being a Muse

There are few pleasures that satisfy me on the level that having poetry read to me does.

That it was a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet doing the reading made it all the better.

Add in his deeply resonant and cadenced voice and I was practically ready to swoon.

VCU was hosting poet Yusef Komunyakaa tonight so I called up a fellow poetry lover to take it in with me.

Arriving at the Singleton Center to be greeted by the same smiling face that had greeted me at the Listening Room two nights ago was an unexpected treat.

Inside we found a mostly full auditorium and scored good seats among the crowd of poetry lovers and students.

VCU's head librarian noted that honors students would need to sign a sheet to get extra credit for attending while the rest of us got it automatically.

Because when it comes right down to it, life is all about the extra credit.

And then Yusef Komunyakaa took the stage.

Explaining that poetry for him was about confrontation and celebration, he began reading at a measured pace that commanded the room.

"I am a riddle to be unraveled," he read from "When Eyes Are on Me," echoing a sentiment I've often had.

In "How Is It?" he wrote "My muse is holding me prisoner," acknowledging that "I think she knows with her kisses in my mouth, I could walk on water."

That strikes me as very confident muse.

After years of dealing with his Vietnam war experience in his work, he said that in 2002 he'd promised himself that he wouldn't write about it anymore.

He then proceeded to write "Grenade" about the fourteen young black soldiers who threw themselves on grenades during combat.

"Your body doesn't belong to your mind and soul."

The mental imagery that it conjured up was heart-wrenching.

One poem he recited without reading to a responsive audience reaction, including nodding and clapping, almost testifying.

More than a few people were taking pictures, which seemed a tad distracting given the emotional weight of the man's words.

He closed with "My Father's Love Letters," a poem about the letters he wrote out for his father to his absent and abused mother, before taking questions from the audience.

Walking out afterwards took a minute of adjustment back to the real world after being lost in Komunyakaa's words and voice so completely.

But we made the transition and deposited ourselves at Mint, the only restaurant I know of with four toilet paper holders in each bathroom stall.

There's a certain kind of brilliance in that, I think.

The place was packed, very loud and as lively as could be. We lucked into a couple vacating their barstools and sat down quickly before someone else did.

With Tiamo Pinot Grigio in hand, we raised our glasses to poetry and started ordering food.

I fell hard for the complementary flavors of the pulled pork barbecue, pickled slaw and johnny cake taco, a steal at three bucks.

The crispy cider-braised pork belly was decent, but the collard greens were notable for their exquisite
flavoring in the greens, so good that a friend who doesn't usually like their bitterness said she loves this version.

They were perfectly seasoned I'd agree.

Bacon-wrapped dates took a step out of the ordinary with chipotle butter adding some heat.

The couple next to us, who had never heard of bacon-wrapped dates (!) before, became overwhelmed with the sweet richness of the dates, leaving the last one stripped of its bacon and headed to the trashcan.

At least they didn't waste the bacon.

A grilled baby romaine salad had Creole Cesar dressing and sharp white cheddar, but it was the grilling that distinguished it.

My fellow poetry lover and I were both eager to try the beignet of the day (she was even hoping for a cup of chickory coffee, but alas), even after our server referred to them as "doughnut holes."

Gosh, I don't know why they don't call them that at Cafe du Monde.

Today's flavor was banana, not a favorite flavor for either of us.

Yesterday's flavor had been blueberry (which we'd have loved) and white chocolate preceded that, but we decided to give banana beignets a shot.

The three hot doughnut holes came with macerated strawberries and fresh blueberries and had a distinctly un-banana like flavor, which suited us just fine.

Meanwhile, I said hello to several people I knew: the friend with the tights fetish, the former neighbor who teased me about not going out enough and the new mom showing off baby pictures.

It was only once a guy came up and sat next to me that I decided I wanted to go. He asked me my name, put his hand on my hip and reeked of alcohol.

Looking him in the eye, I removed his hand from my hip and moved away

Undaunted, he proceeded to do the same to my friend.

Walking out together, she and I agreed that there are some places no guy is allowed to touch unless he's your main squeeze.

And your hip is one of them.

Because your body doesn't belong to anyone you don't want it to.

Confrontation and celebration, it's not just in poetry, it's life.

It's just more beautiful in poetry.

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