Tenesha Smith

Poets in the Park, July 28

The final reading in the 2012 series was not held in the Park at all but at the Social Justice Center, our rain site. The weather had been so uncertain earlier in the day, & the forecasts reminded me of the newspaper picks for the daily races in Saratoga so I thought it prudent to move the reading indoors. It was a grand gathering just the same, with loyal supporters in the audience, including 1 person who had been at all 4 readings, one of last week’s features, Carolee Sherwood.

Kevin Peterson began his reading, surprisingly, with T.S. Eliot’s long monologue, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” taking up almost a third of his slot. But then on to the reason he was invited to Poets in the Park, to perform the works of Kevin Peterson. HIs poems are discursive, about himself & his relation to the world, “As One of the Beautiful People…” about his hair, & more. “Dueling Pens” begins with a fight with his girlfriend while they were both writing, then on to such themes as a head massage, & sex & creativity. Kevin is one of Albany’s Nitty Gritty Slam Team that is heading to the Slam Nationals. With his coach (Mojavi) & other Slam team members in the audience he got into an argument over which Slam poem to do, ending with “Writing Lyrics,” a humorous portrayal of the reactions of bar patrons to him writing at the bar (reminded me of the old New Yorker cartoon: A guy sitting at the bar says to the guy next to him, “Most people think I drink because I’m a poet. Actually it’s the other way around.”). He ended with another drinking/smoking bar poem, “The Usual Disillusionment,” a long, rambling piece about what to do, where we are going, perhaps his attempt at a Prufrock poem? Anyways, a reading that showed the many & same sides of Kevin Peterson.

Tenesha Smith, a frequent performer with Urban Guerilla Theatre, brought some young Job Core students with her to hear what the grown-ups are doing. She started with some of her very first poems, written when she was 11 or 12, beginning with the defiant “Fear,” then from her teenage years “Negro Spaghetti” a poem about her grandmother’s cooking & hard times. “Dysfunctional” takes on the term often used by politicians & social workers, then on to an untitled poem inspired by Clinton Ave., a vivid description of the urban scene where she lives. The next poem began with “a trail of chains lead to where I stand,” considered that we are all slaves to something, the complexity of the images & our lives. “Spider on the Ceiling” was about domestic violence, but really about being a “solid woman.” She ended with an unfinished piece (“I found a poem…”) that kept waking her up, a wonderful string of images from the news, from ads, from her life & the world around her. It was the kind of inspired reading that reminds me why I do this Poets in the Park thing each year.

Poets in the Park in not a open mic venue, but some young poets had come bearing poems as if it were so I ended up, under some pressure from Mojavi, bringing to the mic, one of Tenesha’s students, Alexis, who did an accomplished Slam performance of a poem about being molested. Perhaps a future Poet in the Park?  One doesn’t know, do one?

Tom Nattell had asked me to continue this event after he passed on & each year I thank the memory of Tom (“star-dust is us”) for the privilege of presenting so many fine poets to the people of Albany. & thanks to the Hudson Valley Writers Guild for their support.