On Reading at Mayo Street Arts
It’s a church.
At least it used to be.
I hadn’t been to Mayo Street Arts, off the Franklin Arterial in Portland, ever. Not even when the building was dedicated to St. Ansgar, the apostle of the north, and home to a parish of Danish Lutherans.
Until the other night, of course, when Lori Desrosiers, the editor and publisher of Naugatuck River Review, rented the joint out for a reading by NRR poets…and I, having appeared in the inaugural issue, got to take part. Nowadays, Mayo Street Arts features musical performances, exhibitions, and poetry parties such as the one Lori threw. It’s looking good, perched on the edge of the Franklin Street redesign–where once the blight of the old Kennedy Park (“the projects,” as we knew the area when I was growing up) huddled–and in the shadow of Munjoy Hill. Across Franklin Street now is Whole Foods, and a bit further along the way is a Trader Joe’s. It’s quite different here from when I was a kid and would ride my bike into Portland when I was bored.
Naugatuck River Review is a journal of narrative poetry,
published twice yearly. Its guiding light, Lori, has been an online friend since she first accepted my work for NRR’s opening salvo in 2009. We met in person, for the first time, Thursday night: “I feel like I’ve known you forever!” she said. As the evening wore on, we teased out mutual friends and acquaintances–the po-biz is a relatively small world, after all–and recommended people (both the poets and the poetry) to one another.
I knew nearly everyone reading–or at least had read some of the work–and that made things nice. My marvelous friend and former Brit Jenny Doughty led off the evening, and only one piece of hers was unfamiliar to me. The line-up continued with Carol Willette Bachofner, Bruce Pratt (a fellow Stonecoast grad), Tom Moore, Carrie Freedman, Shanna McNair…and then me. As an added bonus, Lori closed off the program by reading some pieces from her upcoming book from Salmon Press, and some pieces including singing.
The readings were varied. Tom Moore read his Pushcart Prize-nominated poem, “Calving in Te Awamutu,” as well as the poem which appeared on The Writers’ Almanac, “The Plymouth on Ice.” Shanna’s main offering was a section of a long poem she’d written in payment for a stay in a friend’s Irish cottage. The poem
Carrie led off with, “The Flying Tomato Brothers,” was one she chose to read at the Maine Writing Project spring conference back in April. Bruce? Ah, Bruce. Along with his poems, he tossed in a story of his days as a folk singer…which I countered later by telling people about having a concert poster featuring Bruce hanging in my computer room for about ten years before I actually met the guy in grad school.
Me? I wanted desperately to read the piece Lori had chosen for that first issue of NRR…but the magazine, like many others I take to school, had gone on walkabout. So–I read some old, some new: once again, Elizabeth Barrett Browning stood me in good stead. Three had birdsong in them, I realized afterwards. A recurring motif! Egad. I hope I’m not becoming predictable.
Before the reading, Lori, Jenny, Carol and I met for dinner at The King of Roll, a Japanese restaurant in Longfellow Square, at
the corner of Congress and State Streets. Talk about a changed neighborhood! When I was a kid, the big draw in Longfellow Square (though not for me) was the State Theater, which at that time was an X-rated movie palace (now it’s primarily a music venue, attracting people like John Hiatt and Lyle Lovett). The restaurant was sunny, the waitress pleasant, the food tasty–and I managed not to flick tempura and salmon all over the place with chopsticks. Good on me!