I spent nearly the entire weekend at the Decatur Book Festival, beginning on Saturday with a brief walk around, and then I attended a unique panel discussion at the venue, "Several Dancers' Core". It was entitled:
"Break In Case Of Emergency: This Book Could Save Your Life".
The collection of writers featured were: Laurel Snyder, Marc Fitten, Michael Malone, Robert Olen Butler, Hollis Gillespie.
As I took a seat, a young lady near me remarked she was there to see Mr. Butler, adding "My high-school teacher got us the book, 'Intercourse'; I'm in college now. I wanted to see him, in-person. "(R.O.B. published that in 2008)
I admit that Marc Fitten and Robert Olen Butler were the main draws for me, though I was impressed with the wit and clever conversation exhibited by all.
Marc Fitten spoke of fusing a storyline from a favorite tv-series("Little House on the Prairie"(!))with Huck Finn in his first-ever writing assignment for English class.... And how that created in him, the desire to be a writer.
Mr. Butler spoke of his first favorite author, Ernest Hemingway, punctuating the air like a bullet when he spoke of imagery in Mr. Hemingway's arsenal of stories. He emphasized many books we loved as teenagers may not hold up upon re-reading them today, but that Hemingway's "A Moveable Feast", does. And Robert Olen Butler reads "A Moveable Feast", every single year, again and again.
Mr. Butler went on to describe the "future of the book", and he held up his i-phone, noting that it IS the way books will be read, as unhappy as he is about it. Knowing the thing everyone who loves to read would miss in e-books and the like, he also made sure that we understood he, Mr. Butler, has "...the best-smelling books available."
"I like to bury my whole face in a book, like a woman's (I held my breath at this point, uncertain exactly what he was about to say)perfume."
That elicited a chuckle, and a sigh.
As we left the crowded, extremely hot room(There were simply too many people for the small space. Which delighted me--this many folks lined-up to listen to great authors-- even as I melted in the 100+ temperature. One lady fainted in the front row(I heard she recovered, and is now well). Not sure if she swooned from listening to the authors assembled, or simply succumbed to the heat....
Sunday, I arrived at the "Local Poets' Stage" at Java Monkey Cafe' in the mid-afternoon, just in time to hear Karen Head read(I missed a tiny bit of her stellar performance, as I was desperate for change for a large bill, in order to facilitate purchasing her books, before she escaped into the rest of the Book Fest.)
So, my book-purchases so far:
*Two copies(one for a gift for a fellow poet-friend; she was delighted to receive it!) of Robin Kemp's "This Pagan Heaven"(I already read it once-- on Monday night-- and it is spectacularly good!!I'll be reviewing within the next two weeks, in this blog)
*A copy of "My Paris Year" and "Sassing" both from Karen Head.
*Two copies(one for a gift for my Mom) of Ginger Murchison's "Out Here".
In terms of poets performing on Sunday, I was so moved by Ginger's quiet eloquence. I had not heard this much material from her before, and her time onstage did not feel long enough. I want more Ginger!
Jill Jennings had work I'd not heard before, and I was surprised by her range.
Kodac Harrison amused us all with "Amsterdam", always a crowd favorite...
Amy Pence always delights. Even when invoking loss, she manages to uplift, not crush us.
Dustin Brookshire's poetry spoke in a voice more raw than I'd given him credit for. His "Faggot", and a series of poems on rape, are devastating. He quickly shifted modes, however, and was able to leave us feeling good.
I read just after Dustin Brookshire, and the "I Rock Catholic Girls" t-shirt he was wearing was like a cosmic segway into a poem I would read later in my set, entitled "Lost Time". It begins with an epigrah, "Catholic girls start much too late..." from Billy Joel's "Only The Good Die Young".I will not publish this poem here, but if you want a copy, e-mail me, and I'll send it to you(Not suitable for anyone under 16).
I began, however, with a few older pieces. "For Aunt Carolyn",from the chapbook, "Phoenix Feathers"; "Iraqi Haiku" from the chapbook "Outside The Green Zone".
I also read "Incision","And still he tries..", and "For Amanda W."
I was nervous about reading from a play I'm writing called "The Taste of Shapes". The lead character, Claire, has a unique gift, and I read the opening monologue where she tries to describe what she has, as "a fusing of the senses"(In scientific terms, she has synethesia), and she prepares the audience for her "lecture" for them.
I did receive really encouraging feedback, so maybe I'll be more confident about all this..... :)
The group of us were treated to a couple of favorite Collin Kelley poems(he's always our favorite--Collin IS the support in the local poetry scene!)in a few "spare" moments.
Cleo Creech's musings were underscored by the fact that he's reaching age 50 soon, and that birthday falls on the same day--25 years ago--when he received a diagnosis that he's outsmarted to this day.
Teacher/faculty-member at Georgia Tech, Katie Chaple arrived her breath-y and blond self, and jarred us with imagery of peeled-off faces(a brother's medical-school cadaver named "Baby")and glinty belt buckles(another poem, and one which I referenced in my own "Found Poem", during my set onstage).
Sharan Strange rounded out the performances. She was exciting to watch, as well as exciting to hear!
I did not take notes, so I hope I haven't neglected anyone I was fortunate enough to listen to...
Collin Kelley, Cleo Creech and my pal Dan M., and I planned to go to The Brickery Pub, but I was late catching up with them, as I stopped to chat(of course!) with several folks, among them, Estelle Ford-Williamson, and Robin Kemp.
So the final tally was 6, not 4...and so, we lost a possible table at that restaurant, so we were off to find another spot.
"Parker's on Ponce" was great. Quiet, elegant, with great food and quick service. The talk was covivial, and though we did not solve the world's problems, I think Cuban-American relations could be greatly improved if our government could just listen to Cleo and Robin!(Cleo spent lots of time in Cuba, with his Cuban ex-partner; Robin wishes to visit Cuba with her life-partner, also Cuban)
After a robust dinner(the food AND the conversation!)at Parker's on Ponce(fyi, it's a great steakhouse(though I had veggies and a bit of calamari), we returned for Java Monkey Cafe's usual Sunday night of poetry.
Kodac Harrison, visibly rested since the early afternoon,leapt onto the stage, hawking the upcoming "Slams" at Java Monkey. The team from Atlanta has made the National Semi-Finals, every year, the past four years.
The first half of the evening gave us a few poets who could sing, one who couldn't, and a couple of energetic, in-the-moment performances, one most notably by Julie Bloemeke, a poet I'm only now becoming familiar with.
At Java Monkey on Sunday nights, each poet is given time for one poem, and then around 8:45 P.M., there's a brief break, and then the FEATURE appears.
And FEATURE she did.
Patricia Smith began with a bit of background, telling us that ever since she worked with school-children in(rough-neighborhood)Miami area, years ago, she swore she'd always read this particular poem--and mention this one little girl, who'd lost her mother, and wanted to know "if poetry could help her [bring back] her mother." This touching tribute would "book-end" Patricia Smith's presentation in a remarkable, nothing-less-than-spiritual way.
I cannot even begin to communicate how incredibly gifted Patricia Smith is.
I can tell you how when she spoke of Hurricane Katrina, and gave voice to those she called "...The 34 Victims in the nursing-home, who were left to die", that I could feel my throat catch as she reached victim #19, because that is when she said nothing, and she let us hear her(that victim's) silence.
Or when she reached victim #23, and we heard "Our Father, who art in Heaven..."
or victim #25 when she continued "...Hallowed be thy name; hallowed be our names.."
She spoke of other things that are unspeakable--a young girl gang-raped and her eyes sprayed with insecticide, her mouth held open, her throat sprayed with it, such that she could not see or speak. This girl was known as "Girl X". We weren't just shocked by the brutality, or the inhumanity of the crime, though, because Patricia Smith gave us tiny details--the navy blue Keds she decided this "Girl X" wore, the jump-rope she must've played--and these details made her real, and made "Girl X" whole for us, again.
Aristotle in his "Poetics" discussed how the most specific detail is the only way to Universality.
In the moments of "navy Keds", and "swinging braids laced with ribbons", and "you can keep my eyes", we are transported--that is the journey art is able to take us on, the specific to the universal, the microcosm-to-the-macrocosm...
And just-as-suddenly, the rain in New Orleans is the rain that can drown all of us. The rape of one little girl is the rape of all little girls. The rage and hurt is all of ours.
Patricia Smith (and her poetry) does not merely show us images, or excite us with her bold delivery(though she does all of this), she asks us to ACT.
Her poems engage your psyche. If you are fortunate enough to get to see her perform, you will leave asking "How can I make a difference? How can I be better?"
It feels unnecessary to mention this, but Patricia Smith received a full standing- ovation.
If I'd had roses, I would've thrown them for her!
Alas, she had no books for purchase, with her. I did get her autograph in my own copy of "Java Monkey Speaks Anthology, Volume II"(Her "The Way Pilots Walk" won a Pushcart!)
I'm in that same volume; my "Sea Life" is in there.
I did not stay for the last portion of Java Monkey Speaks.There would be several people reading, and if I had chosen to sign up, I could've read one more poem.
But I just wanted to close my eyes, and try to remember as many of Patricia Smith's words, as possible.