On the Reading at the Harlow Gallery
Today, the Kennebec Valley Arts Association poetry reading series at the Harlow Gallery in Hallowell is my favorite reading venue. Mostly because it’s my most recent venue.
The series takes place one Friday a month from the fall through to June. For several years now I’ve been meeting my friends Greg Bussiere and Anne Marie Sears for Chinese restaurant buffet at the Lucky Garden*, then going to listen to poets at the Harlow. We’ve heard some great writers there: Baron Wormser (the former poet laureate of the State of Maine, and my graduate critical thesis advisor), Ted Deppe (coincidentally, my creative thesis advisor), and the late great Jack Wiler, author of Fun Being Me.
This past Friday night, June 18th, I read with Peter Manuel, a wild and crazy hypercaffeinated performance poet whom I first met in graduate school. Jim Todd, a poet from UMA’s senior college, opened the evening. Because I read before Peter, I decided to end my half of the evening with a piece I wrote several years ago, riffing on him: “The Break-up.” It’s the longest poem I’ve ever written, but it’s the one that reads the fastest, primarily because to do it justice, I have to fling out the words at about nine hundred miles per hour, incorporating lots of pointing and throwing about of hands, and preferably not coming up for air from beginning to end: that’s how Peter would do it. I’d never taken that one for a walk, though, with Peter himself in the audience; the first time, however, “The Break-up” had a public airing, years ago at Gulf of Maine Books, Peter himself covered it–Peter pretending to be me pretending to be him. I must say that, Friday night when I read it, he laughed in all the right places. So did everyone else (which, to tell the truth, is always kind of a relief).
The rest of my program was made up of pieces either for or about other people I love: since Peter got his, I threw things out for all sorts of other folks, both present and absent. Some of the poems are in The Church of St. Materiana (Moon Pie Press, 2007), some from The Beauty of It (forthcoming from Sheltering Pines Press), and some as yet to appear anywhere. I actually read “Dover Road” for Rebecca Bearden Welsh, one of my partners in crime in Simply Not Done, the women’s reading, writing and teaching cooperative we founded (with Jan Grieco, Kasey M. Grieco and Brenda Sparks Prescott) after grad school. Becky wasn’t able to attend, but the piece had added meaning Friday night, because Meredith and Les Fossel, who are more than familiar with the physical setting of the poem, were in the audience; Les had actually led the restoration of the old farm which is the controlling image. (After I was done, he had some salient comments about the poem, the house, and the terrain–thanks, Les!) I also read “Vegetable Goddess,” a poem which features my ex-pat British friend Jenny Doughty climbing into her raised bed garden and metamorphosing into plant life. A new piece, “What We’ve Lost,” was about my eldest daughter, my sister and niece, and the Easter bunny we all saw directing airplane traffic on the ground at Logan International Jetport, in April of 2001; suffice it to say, that’s something we’ll never see again.
All in all, I think my end of the evening was well received, but I do have to say that I’m glad I went before Peter. He’s an act that is impossible to follow. Though he did not read “Ode to Joy,” my all-time favorite of his (and one I frequently use in my writing class at school), he did perform both new pieces, and some from !!exclamations!! , to which he gave entirely new twists. These included background music for some, a near-complete Barry White impression (love the bass/baritone), and accompaniment by a belly dancer (Sybil Wilen). I saw some jaws drop. I saw some people, familiar with Peter and his performances, laughing. I saw some singing along. I think, next time, Peter really ought to invite the audience to dance. He’ll get some takers. I’ll be one of them.
*Greg calls this place the “Lucky Kitty.” Why? “Because you’re not eating it.” Don’t ask.
**http://www.harlowgallery.org/wordpress1/?p=2070 They called me “inimitable”!