The madness has taken us. Here in Philadelphia we do not take poetry lightly. Just like everything else, we are intense, extreme over it, ready to fight for it, even if it drops a pass in the endzone, or misses a crucial three-pointer, and it doesn’t, poetry never does. This March, we have taken it to the next level. Just when you thought that there weren’t enough poetry events within the span of one week, Philadelphia defies all previous expectations and gives you more than you could possibly attend (unless you were more than one person and/or hadn’t already agreed to attend a bachelorette party the day of many said events.)
I had the pleasure of going to not one but two poetry readings this past weekend, and I plan on attending another tomorrow and more to come after that. Things are happening, and I’d like to tell you about them here.
RECENT PAST MADNESS
Friday, March 14th :: Snockey’s Oyster & Crab House :: Frank O’Hara’s Last Lover
Jen Coleman, Kevin Varrone, & Lillian Dunn
I’ve never been to the reading series that goes on at Snockey’s before, though the host, Jason Mitchell, and I attended the same elementary school. He is taller than he was in elementary school, and his hair is longer. The series takes place in the back room, The Rose Room, which is behind a set of sliding doors, and it is proper when attending this reading series to come early to eat something delicious before the reading begins.
The room is small, but the bodies packed all in once the reading was about to start. Lillian Dunn, the co-founder of Apiary, though a human and poet in her own right outside and along with that, read first. I know Lillian from the work she does with Apiary, promoting the journal and promoting our city’s literature and people using it. She’s one of those happily insanely busy people who know how to make things happen. I always suspected she was also a poet, or maybe I knew she was. She read a number of poems, one memorable one that was published in Bedfellows, and a series of others about South Philadelphia. It felt like home.
Kevin Varrone read next from his current project, a series called The Collected Letters. On the backs of many of the pages, he had stenciled and filled in with strips from the Philly Inquirer a figure of a letter, the letter that the poem he was reading was about. It was insanely effective. I could see exactly what he meant about each letter in the poem from the stencil, and I kept thinking that maybe imagining in my mind these letters and their shapes would not have been the same. It was like a visual art and poetry collaboration happening from one person right in front of me and it was spectacular.
Jen Coleman, who came to us from Portland, read last, and she is the kind of reader who speaks quickly but you don’t miss a thing somehow. Her words seem to trip over each other in a loving way, spiraling into a pile of something larger and a sea almost of crazy cris-crossing ideas that all come together a few times and then apart and then back together and then you are like oh or even whoa. She talked about ocean creatures a lot and politics in the same breath and we laughed and maybe people whistled or stamped their foot or should have.
Wine and beer were provided during a short break between readers and then afterwards as everyone talked and laughed and complimented the readers and discussed upcoming events and ideas and used words to talk about words. It was a good night. I will go back to this reading series. You should come next time, too.
Sunday, March 16th :: Brickbat Books :: The Moonbucket Reading Tour
Wendy Xu, Luke Bloomfield, Pattie McCarthy, & Brian Foley
I touched a book by Anne Carson, Nox, while standing around chatting with poets and people who like poetry before this reading on Sunday began. Travis McDonald of Fact-Simile got the reading started, and the two women who had just stopped in the bookstore because it was a bookstore finished their laughing-ish conversation with Patrick, the owner of Brickbat, and left. Travis paused and Patrick said, quietly but so everyone could hear, that was just Anne Carson.
And thus, the Moonbucket Reading Tour’s Philadelphia leg began. The crowd was intimite and the city was on its best behavior, quiet like the calm before the storm (that came later, and was also quiet). Wendy Xu read first, from a thin sheaf of papers and then from her poetry collection, You Are Not Dead. Her work captures fear and joy, simultaneously. You feel like you are at a party, things are being celebrated, but there’s something haunting the party. Then you realize, maybe, that you are the party’s ghost, but you’re at least still happy to be there. That is how Wendy Xu’s poetry makes you feel, made me feel, during the pre-snowstorm in the quiet, listening bookstore.
I was especially glad to meet Wendy because her collaborative work with Nick Sturm is featured in Gigantic Sequins 3.2. She is taller than I imagined she would be. I have never met her before today, though I had seen her from afar in the past. I have met Luke Bloomfield before, but I had never heard him read. He read from a chapbook and then from his poetry collection, Russian Novels. A poem in his chapbook that he read that was very memorable was a poem about Everything Bagels really being everything. I was glad to hear him read. His poetry tries to trick you by seeming straight-forward, but then it really isn’t and has a deeper meaning that you stumble upon just by listening to him read it to you. It probably does the same thing on the page.
There was a very serious five-minute break that very seriously only lasted five minutes and then Pattie McCarthy (whom I met for the first time on Friday at the oyster bar reading) read to us about the not-so-brief history of autism. She read one long poem, and it was informative and it was well written, and I want to read it again, which, luckily, I can—if/when I buy the book she has coming out from horseless press Nulls.
Brian Foley has a very serious reading voice. Unlike Pattie, he read a lot of short poems, some from his new Fact-Simile chapbook of sorts TOTEM, which debuted at this very reading. It is made partly from recycled jeans and meant to be worn by the reader. It comes with a leather strap and everything to tuck into your belt. He also read from his new poetry collection The Constitution. He looks you in the eye when he reads and you are almost afraid of what sort of face you are making, but glad that you got to hear such a good poem and get looked in the eye at the same time.
I want to buy so many books. I want to buy all the books I heard people read from this weekend. If we had the sort of money that allowed us to pay our mortgage and bills and allowed for me to buy all the books I wanted, I would have bought them all. I hope you buy them all.
Thursday, March 20th :: Tattooed Moms :: Tirefire Reading Series
Zach Savich, Frank Sherklock, Lee Klein, Blythe Davenport, D. Foy, Kimberly Ann Southwick
I am reading this Thursday (tomorrow!) at the Tirefire Reading Series. We are celebrating Zach Savich’s book, and I’m happy because Zach is a nice guy, who was at the Brickbat reading and talked with me about life and teaching and graduate school programs. We will also be celebrating Lee Klein’s book of rejections, new out from Barrelhouse, Thanks and Sorry and Good Luck. Frank Sherlock, recently crowned Philly’s new Poet Laureate will also be reading. Epic. My chapbook from dancing girl press, every song by Patsy Cline, now exists in the world, so we will be celebrating that. We can also celebrate my 30th birthday, which is on March 26th of this year and six days after this reading. There is so much to celebrate. I hope if you are in the Philly area you come out and celebrate with us.
Saturday, April 12th :: ALL OVER PHILLY :: Philly Poetry Day
We all well know that The Madness lasts on into April, and we don’t change the name of it then, we just raise the stakes. April 12th is officially Philly Poetry Day. We will be shouting poems from every corner of the earth-that-is-called-Philadelphia that day. Host a reading, join a reading, attend a reading! Do something and make that something poetry.