Saturday, November 22, 2014

Poem of Poems

Opportunities to get my poetry fix have been few and far between lately.

In fact, I'd seen a poet friend at a history lecture a couple of weeks ago and we'd commiserated about the paucity of poetry readings lately. As if the poetry gods were listening, just yesterday I'd spotted one happening tonight at Chop Suey and decided then and there that it would be my evening's plan.

"Diversity in Verse" the event was called and I can only attribute the small crowd to the fact that it was happening prime time on Saturday night. Walking by Secco and Curry Craft, it was clear that most people had dinner, not poetry, plans tonight.

Arriving early enough to do some browsing (I still haven't spent my birthday gift certificate), I couldn't decide on what to buy myself before the reading began. So that pleasure still awaits.

Michael Trocchia, a teacher of philosophy at JMU, began the reading in his soft-spoken voice, with hybrid prose poems from his book "The Fatherlands," each of them driven by images and titled with a number, not a name.

These numbered poems produced evocative phrasing such as "Breathing out a dusty piece of existence" from "15" and "Strengthen his tongue against the poverty of his language" from "27." He saw "19" as having the spirit of Fellini -fanciful and earthy - with lines such as, "He was looking for a companion to help him write the poem of poems" and the thought-provoking "To move her thoughts around her face like he did."

I'm still trying to decide it moving her thoughts around her face is romantic or not. Possibly? As he read, he was accompanied by the creaking of floors overhead as customers browsed the upstairs shelves.

He also read from his upcoming collection "Unfounded' with a poem called "Of Shelter and Form" with the line, "One of us hangs on the last words of another." Who among us hasn't hung on another's words?

Following him was Angela Carter, a confessional poet who had nearly called off the publication of her book "Memory Chose a Woman's Body" several times before it finally came out.

She began with a spoken word piece addressed to the stereotypical person who walks out of her poetry readings because the subject of childhood abuse is too difficult. Her motto: silence is not golden.

"Hotel Song" was about the weekends of her youth that she'd stay with her mother in different motels and hotels, recalling a time when she'd left the pool and a man had offered her $250 to come back to his room. She ran back to her own instead. "When I'm breathing, I am prey."

The sarcastically-intentioned "Thanks for Not Understanding" referred to the mirror reflecting "two eyes prematurely dead." Before reading a new poem, "The Difference Between Waking Up and Living," with the line, "Still touching the world with bare fingertips though twice I've been burned," she looked at the small audience and told us to breathe, that it was okay. "Woman Child" was about being a secret keeper.

She also made a pitch to purchase her book after the reading, saying, "Every time you buy my book, I feel validated."

No doubt about it, some of her poetry made the audience uncomfortable, a powerful reminder of the sisterhood of survival.

Last up was Matthew Hamilton who'd taken a unique career path from Benedictine monk to legislative assistant on Capital Hill to Peace Corps volunteer in Armenia and the Philippines to librarian at Benedictine and poet. Needles to say, his subject matter was pretty specific to his range of experiences.

"The Land of Four Rivers" was about his first day landing in Armenia ("Fields of cognac and gold"). Another was about sharing vodka and barbecue with Russians at an impromptu picnic. About the monastic life, he wrote, "They woke up early with the sound of silent bells."

Silent bells?

From a new collection of poems, he read "Snakes Belong in the Wild" about not wanting to kiss a frog and where that can lead. "Transplant Tourism" was about organ harvesting and set in the Philippines after a plane trip where he "drank gin until I no longer remember the past."

In "Mama's Funeral" he recalled her telling him she'd see him on the other side and going outside to "listen to bees' wings drum against the apple blossoms" to feel close to her. "Kentucky Briar April 1975" centered around him being born during the Vietnam war while some boys were coming home dead. Heavy stuff.

They weren't kidding when the called this evening "diversity in verse." It had to be one of the most disparate group of poets I've ever heard read and as we know, I've been to a slew of readings.

But as Walt Whitman said, "To have great poets, there must be great audiences" and if we weren't great, it's only because we're out of practice with so few readings of late.

Ever the optimist, I will always hope for more. Hope for more chances to hang on the last words of another.


  1. when i was young i had no interest in poetry...i couldn't understand, "what's the fuss"? now older... it's vital, like blood.

    maybe you caught news of M. Nichols passing, [the Graduate] last week? Fridays' Post obit --

    his comment on life so poetic..

    "Life is hopeless -- but it isn't.
    Love is fleeting -- but eternal.
    Our personal lives are everything --
    but we are unimportant."


  2. Yes, I saw that, cw. "Our personal lives are everything" could be an alternate name for my blog.