Phillip Levine

Sunday Four Poetry, November 25

Back again to this most pleasant of reading series, a wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon. There were about 20 folks in the Old Songs Community Center for the open mic & today’s featured poet, Phillip Levine.

First up to the open mic was a peace vigil companion from Grannies for Peace, Dorothy Richards, who read a series of haiku in the Japanese style; a first-timer we were glad to welcome. Joe Krausman began with a diversion on translating, then into a poem that uses Thanksgiving travel in a grim/humorous way, then the equally quirky “Tsunami.” Dennis Sullivan, our host for the open mic, began with a poem he wrote for “E.A.”, filled with images from the Catholic version of Xtianity, including the remarkable line, “… prepare to take one in the groin for Jesus” (!), followed by a poem on forgiveness, written during storm Sandy, “I Chose Liberty.” Obeeduid began with a long introduction, about Xtian monks in ancient Ireland creating illuminated manuscripts, to the poem “My Great Hunger,” invoking the idea of the Gaelic language (or “Irish” as it is also called) being fashioned from the leftovers of the other languages of the Tower of Babel (explains a lot about why Irish is so unpronounceable).

A word-sculpture by Alan Casline

Alan Casline referred back to Native images & stories in his poem about 2 springs that spoke as books, & read a new poem, “Before the Predicted Storm,” backwards as suggested by a poet friend (it worked!). Tom Corrado presented a word-play dialogue, with his characteristic puns, “The Nuanced Perceptions Survivor in Nine and a Half Acts.” Edie Abrams explained that she has written 2 poems in response to poems by Dennis Sullivan, that her poem to the one he just read she will read in December, then read her response to his frequent use of “hoi polloi” by declaring us/we not philosopher kings.

Arlen Westbrook was back again, this time with an anti-war poem from written during the 1960s, “All Fall Down.” I followed with a recent poem that considers my less-than-compassionate reaction to others, “Shredded Pants,” then my response to the prompt to write a scary poem, “This is Not Trick or Treat.” Mimi Moriarty read her recent poem “Learning Vietnamese,” a tender picture of music & sharing among women who share much without the common language to explain it all, a marvelous piece. Howard Kogan read what he called “2 vaguely theological poems,” the first from a workshop with Bernadette Mayer, a poem from the point of view of a firefly, then a stunning poem about looking for god, “Blue Heron.”

Rick Harrienger was also back (as “Sir Charles” so as not to be confused with “charlie”) with poems in ballad rhymes, “The Warrior’s Song” (from his experiences in Viet Nam) & a holiday theme poem, “Reflections in a Fire,” or, as he proclaimed, “so what if I make it rhyme.” Philomena Moriarty read a duo of disaster poems, “Corpses” (for the victims of Hurricane Katrina) & “Fukashima 50.”  Ann Lapinski rounded out the open mic with the more gentle “The Magnolia.”

Phillip Levine is one of those activist poets who not only writes poems but makes things happen in the poetry community, running a weekly series for a long time at the Colonie Cafe in Woodstock, the ongoing monthly Woodstock Poetry Society reading series, another monthly series in Kingston & serving as the poetry editor of the regional magazine, Chronogram. He read from a wide-spectrum of his poems, including 2 influenced by the work of James Joyce, “Soon” (inspired by Ulysses) & “Hooked” (in the style of Finnegan’s Wake), also “Small Things” from a recent profile in Ulster magazine. Sometimes his intros became long diversions that filled up his time & got in the way of the poems, but he managed to squeeze in a series of pieces on writing, “The Clown at the Chalkboard,” “Poet on Point” & the related “A Riderless Horse.” His poem “Colors” was for a woman who at the time was threatening suicide. He ended with his familiar card-trick/aphoristic poems, short pieces written on playing cards, shuffled & chosen at random.

This series continues on the 4th Sunday of each month at 3PM at the Old Songs Community Center up in Voorhessville, NY, a modest donation — & a trip after up the road to Smith’s Tavern for pizza or sandwiches & beer, or whatever. How else do you want to spend your Sunday afternoon?