If only Len had stopped by on his way from Turkey to pick me up in his private jet, I might have made it out to this reading in Austin a few days ago. Luckily, the poet was recorded sharing his work with a responsive crowd. There are too many great lines and great poems squeezed into fifteen minutes for me to quote, but there is talk of snail sex, love darts, spreadsheets, rain forest bridges, wind, trust, love, and the moon. Thanks to all the folks at Malvern Books who I will never meet for recording the reading and posting it here. Robert’s own website, O at the Edges, is also well worth traveling to. Enjoy!
Just a short note that I’ll be participating in a National Poetry month event again this year, this time at the Massanutten Regional Library, Main branch in Harrisonburg. The reading is at 1pm and will feature four poets, including Angela Carter, Sara Robinson and Rebecca Lilly.
If you happen to be in the Shenandoah Valley in a few weeks, come by! Len, I’ll buy you some coffee (or wine) if you can make it from Turkey. Esther, come on now! The other side of the world is not that far away from Harrisonburg, as the moon flies. C, the weather in Seattle is horrible–you’d come on over to the East coast for day, even to hang out with a Patriots fan, right?
I know there are a bunch of you in my clan much closer. If you’ve got nothing better to do on the first Monday afternoon in April, maybe I will see you there? More info on the Massanutten Regional Library can be found and its other events can be found here.
As with my last reading at Bridgewater College, I will entertain any suggestions for what to read. I will have about ten minutes to read, so will probably read five poems or so. Thoughts?
Well, Day One is in the books and even at half a day it was a whirlwind of readings and meeting lots of fine people dedicated to the craft of writing and the art of poetry. Festival Mastermind Stan Galloway, a professor of English at Bridgewater, has convened an eclectic group of poets here to this cozy college, and a roving gang of 18 student volunteers has helped support the festivities with tech help, directions, pizza and, of course, coffee.
Once the festival really got going, you are faced with two different reading locations, each hosting two poets an hour. I was paired with Jim Gaines, which was a good match as we were both working on translations as well as on our own work. Some other interesting or odd tidbits from Day One:
- The first two poets, Stephen Corey and Pamela Uschuk, both read poems which included peonies in them. Strangely enough, one of the poems I read, directly after their reading, also included peonies. Wha?
- Sirwan Kajjo, a Kurdish poet living in the DC area, read three poems in English and (on request) another in his native tongue (English being his third language!).
- Matthew Hamilton has had so many lives — soldier, peace corps volunteer, benedictine monk, and librarian — that I had the surreal impression I was meeting someone who had just walked out of a Mark Helprin novel, who happens to be a darn good poet as well.
- I missed as many good poets as I got a chance to see, but this is the trade-off of a festival like this. it’s invigorating and exhausting at the same time.
Emily Hancock of St Brigid’s Press, along with several other supporting literary establishments including the Georgia Review, whose editor Stephen Corey can be counted among the poets presenting their work, were present and selling their books. Although I forgot to mention this in my own reading today, three of my works are available at the St Brigid table — the broadside of the prose poem Drop Everything, a handsome broadside with moon-shaped matting of my translation of Li Ho’s Sky Dream, and the omnipresent haiku coaster sets.
I survived my own reading early in the afternoon with the help of a supportive audience. Twenty minutes can seem like an eternity or like the snap of a finger when you’re reading your work. If you’d like the silent virtual tour of what I read, you can follow the links below. On to Day Two!
January 15th-18th I’ll be one of a group of several dozen poets reading at Bridgewater College, just up the road from me in Bridgewater, Virginia, as part of the Bridgewater International Poetry Festival.
The festival pairs poets, who each read for 20 minutes, and then answer questions from the festival attendees for another 20 minutes. The poetry festival is the brainchild of fellow Virginia poet Stan Galloway, a professor of English at the college. My slot comes on the first day of the festival at 1:30 pm. The most up-to-date version of the schedule can be found at the link above.
The writing of poetry is a solitary type of thing, as we all know, and I’m looking forward to meeting with so many poets from different backgrounds and different parts of the world.
My plan is to split my 20 minutes between a selection of poems from the Mei Yao-ch’en sequence and a group of poems from the non-Mei output of the last year or so, all of which is on this blog. So here’s your chance to use your social media savvy to become an “influencer” and let me know if there’s a poem you want me to read on the 15th. I might even record a few as a way of practicing, and try to create some audio files to share. A few poets I know have done something similar, and I have always enjoyed hearing a poem read by its author. So go ahead, be a disruptive influencer of poetry, and let me know what you want to hear.
Attendees to the festival can buy one-day or full festival passes. So, fellow WP writers, if you happen to be driving down Route 81 sometime in the middle of January, feel free to swing on by and say hello. Leonard, I know you can make it for this, right–isn’t there a Greyhound from Turkey to Bridgewater? Dana? Robert? Esther? Come on, now. Being on the other side of the world is no excuse! O C, I do not consider attendance optional. This is one of the issues with WordPress–being merely a digital poem’s throw from a bunch of writers doesn’t mean they can meet you for coffee. What about you, Ann? Anthony? Ron? Gunmetal Geisha, you on my side of the continent this month? Ah, well.
Besides my regular reading gig at the local writers’ open reading here in Staunton on the second Wednesday of every month, I also have a reading scheduled for National Poetry Month in April–I think that’s at the Massanutten Library, in the heart of the Blue Ridge mountains, and will have more information on that soon as well.
In other news: Over the next few weeks I’ll begin to design and format the collection of Mei Yao-ch’en poems, as well as a collection of other poems written in the past year, tentatively entitled The Drift. I may post new poems in this time, and may post some work from my previous books, which have not been posted on this site yet. I hope everyone’s new year is off to a good start!
Thank you, Li Ho: [Reading 3/8/2014 at Allen Chapel AME Church in Staunton VA as part of “Rhythmic Time Between the Lines”]
Today I spent a few hours just a few blocks from my house, in a part of the world that was almost entirely foreign to me, and by bringing in a piece of work that was equally foreign I believe I helped contribute to something meaningful. Or maybe I should say that I believe that Chinese poet Li Ho (b.790) contributed–but I brought that guy with me, after all…
I was invited to participate as a member of the local writers group in a fundraiser to celebrate 21 years of the Allen Chapel AME Choir. Also there to read or perform in this small brick church said to be the oldest church established by people of color west of the Blue Ridge mountains were a handful of other poets, dancers, singers, students, and even a talented mime.
After a couple of dancers and a few poets whose work seemed pretty in tune with the occasion and the religious nature of the setting, I introduced the congregation to my old friend Li Ho. I talked about Chinese poets of the 8th and 9th centuries and how many of the things they wrote about–mountains, snow, sky–were important elements of our lives in this town. I then read the prose poem “On Translating Poetry from the Chinese” and after that read my recent translations of poems by Li Ho and Li Po.
I can tell you that in a AME church setting, people behave like they are in church. That means if they hear something they like, you know it before you’re done reading that line.
“Mm-hm,” someone says quietly. “Uh yeah!” says another voice, a little louder.
I wasn’t reading poems about God, I wasn’t giving an uproarious rendition of a Nikki Giovanni poem, I was not preaching to the choir (no pun intended)—I was bringing to this room some words and ideas that were utterly foreign to those in attendance. And they immediately got it. And I believe the reason they got it was because they were open to it and they were actively listening. That’s what they came there to do every weekend, and that’s what they were doing now–listening and responding, line by line, it seemed, to the words of a man born in 790 CE, and another born in 701 CE. For the poet born in 1965, the enthusiastic applause for each of the three poems I read was not just polite–it was part of the celebration. It was a celebration of being there, and being alive, and listening.
Later, in his closing remarks, the church’s pastor Rev. Dr. Edward Scott was speaking quietly and personally about a recent tragedy that rocked this church community, that being the death of his daughter just a few weeks ago. He was talking about suffering, the intense suffering of the dying, the grieving of the survivors, and how upon his return from Raleigh he did not at first wish to return to church, or see or talk to anyone; but how he put on his tie and shirt and shiny shoes and came to church today to listen. “And today,” he suddenly boomed in a style which I am sure was quite familiar to his congregation, “I heard tell of a TOAD on the MOON!”
He intuitively had grasped that ancient symbol, that distant watcher, as a way to connect us in that meeting hall to a Malaysia Airlines plane crash that had just happened that day–how beneath that moon was more suffering that must be met, more survivors in far-away places that must come home to grieve and be supported by their communities. He instinctively grasped the moon as elemental to identifying with missing and missed loved ones, just as Li Po and Li Ho did in their time. He found his own grief instructive, channeling it through twelve lines of verse written twelve hundred years ago and everything else he’d seen and heard that hour, into a vision of a shared world.
Suddenly I didn’t feel like my contribution to this celebration was quite so foreign, after all. And for that I can thank two Chinese poets I have never met, and one newly-met pastor of an America I’m still discovering.