Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Photographs That Haven't Happened

Let me tell you two things that'll get people out on a Tuesday evening: poetry and piano.

I know this because when I got to the Library of Virginia for tonight's installment of Poetic Principles, the room was buzzing with people there for the reading and it's not even poetry month.

Interestingly enough, one of the three readers, Paula Champa, was a fiction writer who shared two sections of her new novel, "The Afterlife of Emerson Tang," the story of four strangers trying to reunite a car's body and engine.

She was humorous, noting that generally writers are not advised to kill off main characters but doing it anyway.

"Our stories collided so forcefully they could not be separated," she read referring to the narrator and Emerson and using the kind of language that had many of the writers in the room nodding in approval of her phrasing.

Emilia Phillips read next and immediately apologized for reading off her laptop, explaining that she had a lot of new work but is in the process of moving back to Richmond, so the easiest way to access the work was digitally.

I have to admit, it doesn't have the same charm as reading from a dog-eared copy of a book or rifling through sheaves of paper, but the important thing was that we got to hear new stuff from her upcoming book, "Ground Speed," comprised, she said of essays and poems or some hybrid of both.

Promising that we might recognize some Richmond landmarks in the numbered essay,"No Man's Land," it was only moments before the intersection of North Lombardy and Brook Road was mentioned.

That's a particularly recognizable landmark for me because it's the Budget Inn there that is the turnaround point for one of my regular walks, although she referenced "bodies wheeled out of the Budget Inn" and I can't say I've ever seen that.

"A quarter plinks into the jukebox of my heart." she read in one especially well-turned phrase.

She told of being a child of four and a Baptist minister asking if she were to die today, would she go to heaven or hell. "My Mom doesn't let me go places like that by myself," she read.

Favorite line: "We're always leaving language, our most transient dwelling."

I've heard Emilia read before and I'll undoubtedly hear her again because of her pithy observations about the world and her place in it.

Our final reader was Joshua Poteat and right off the bat, he admitted he was not good at preparing, so he liked to bring a lot of poetry and a stopwatch and "hope I stop at the right moment."

But you can't sop till you start and he began with "Nostalgia of the Finite," a poem he'd written in graduate school back in the dark ages of the '90s. Wasn't that right after Guttenberg invented the printing press?

He read from an eBay copy of one of his books which he'd bought used from the Daniel Boone Library and entreated us not to support the Daniel Boone Library.

Admitting that he'd intended to read some happy poems until he realized he really didn't have any, instead he read "Death of the Death of Youth," with the beautiful line, "The noise of time is not sad."

For a long time, he said he'd avoided telling the truth in his poetry but now that it felt to him that his neighborhood of Church Hill was losing its authentic feeling - "Instead of hearing gunshots, you see chicken wings from the Roosevelt," he lamented- he was more inclined to be brutally honest.

That had led to "Department of Aerial Photography," also known as "Death Map," an interactive project that showed a map of the area where he grew up and when you clicked on a location, his words came up.

"Every photograph is a disaster that's already happened," he read. So true.

"Letter to Gabriel Written in the Margins of Murder Ballads" was a very long piece that paid tribute to Gabriel Prosser, the woman in his neighborhood who lived in her Oldsmobile on Leigh Street and Woo Woo, the neighborhood prostitute, in a a winding, storytelling manner.

Best line: "When the highways came, the houses didn't know enough to be afraid."

His stopwatch must have told him it was the right moment because all at once, he announced, "That's all!" and the reading ended. How beautifully poetic is that?

Next up was the sundown concert series so I made my way to a favorite pocket park for music in the grass. The series began last year and I'd enjoyed many summer evenings listening to music while the sun set.

See, that's key. The shows always begin 15 minutes before sundown, meaning a different start time every week and way different in May than September.

With a few scattered raindrops falling, I arrived to find the poet lounging with some friends, so after giving her a proper hard time for not attending the reading I'd just come from, we moved over to the enclosed grassy park.

I found a bench with a good vantage point and she joined some friends on a blanket. That was the preferred mode of concert watching tonight - stretched out on colorful blankets around the park- and I saw lots of familiar faces playing park blanket bingo with pizza, wine and other delectables.

At the front of the park sat the unlikeliest of sights, an upright piano under a tree. Before long, I noticed organizer Patrick lighting a candle to put on top of the piano.

Now the mood was set.

Chrijs Dowjhan, tonight's pianist, is a multi-talented man. He's a baker and cook, a teacher and hiker, fluent in Italian and seasoned with summers working at Italian vineyards. Plus he's an all around nice guy.

"I'm not really prepared tonight. I love Patrick," he said of the man who'd asked him to play. "Patrick is reliably unreliable, so when he asked me to play, I said sure, when you get a piano in the park, I'll play. I never really thought he would."

Then Chrijs sat down under the tree, in front of the piano, to play original music and adaptations he'd been working on the past few years.

I'd seen Chrijs play at the Listening Room last March and that had been my first clue what he could do with the ivories.

As he began playing, a gentle breeze picked up and before long, the enormous wind chimes hanging nearby began adding their distinct sound to Chrijs' dynamic one.

As he played, the crowd sat rapt and newcomers continued to arrive and find a place just outside the grassy area or among the other yard sitters. No one was talking, just listening.

"I'm not that prolific," he said after huge applause. "So I only have a few more songs. This next song I love to close my eyes and go some place else."

If the composer can, why not the audience, so I closed my eyes and allowed his playing to take me to another place.

When the audience began clapping enthusiastically, a neighborhood dog joined in, barking along with the applause.

The last piece of the night came with a story about how it came to be. Chrijs was in Italy, waiting for the farmer to come back and killing time with a Russian also staying there.

The Russian began writing poetry, Chrijs the music and while copious amounts of estate wine were consumed every night, they brought forth an exquisite composition we got to hear under a darkening sky tonight.

Interestingly enough, he stopped at one point, unsure of the music, before restarting. "What's up with you guys? You're making me nervous," he said, uncharacteristically flustered.

He had to be over-thinking it. So he let his mind go and his fingers took over the thinking and the piece was finished to hollers and a long round of applause.

He took a bow and Patrick sent us on our way with a mission.

"This isn't about me, it's about you guys, it's about all of us! Tell your friends about this series," Patrick called out. "Be ambassadors for what we're doing here. It's every Tuesday night until it's too cold to be out here anymore."

There's so much summer ahead of us. It's enough to make you want to just close your eyes and listen to the poetry and the music until it's the right moment to stop.

No over-thinking allowed in the meantime.

No comments:

Post a Comment