On the Reading at the Common Street Gallery
Because of the all-day ice storm, neither my poet friend Lisa nor I had school Friday. However, that did not stop the Common Street Gallery in Waterville from having their “Uncommon Words” poetry reading, featuring Rachel Contreni Flynn, Patrick Donnelly, and the wonderful and brilliant Dawn Potter. Which meant that I had to gird my loins, as it were, and brave the elements to get to Waterville and Lisa and the reading. I only saw one accident on the way–on Rt 139 in Unity Plantation: several cars off the road, no one hurt–but I did spend the last 10 miles or so behind a Jeep going 10 miles an hour. Small price to pay, of course, for the adventure, and for the wonderful words in a small but attractive space with a great window overlooking a side street bounded by ice-glassed trees.
I didn’t know the work of the first two poets. Rachel Contreni Flynn is the author of three books: Tongue (Red Hen Press, 2010), Haywire (Bright Hills Press, 2008) and Ice, Mouth, Song (Tupelo Press, 2003). She read from each of the three, and followed with newer work from her years as an attorney. Especially moving were the poems she read about “the girl” who finds herself abandoned in different ways by both her
parents. Patrick Donnelly, who is the new director of the Frost Place Advanced Seminar, followed. His readings included both his own work and that of several Japanese poets in translation, and was wry and witty–the pieces he chose played off each other over the twin distances of time and culture. He is the author of The Charge (Ausable Press, 2003, since 2009 a part of Copper Canyon Press), and the forthcoming Nocturnes of the Brothel of Ruin (Four Way Books, 2012).
Dawn Potter came on last, and sadly read the least of all three poets. She gave us a totally apropos rendition of “Valentine’s Day,” a poem in which the plow guy shows up smoking a joint; her plow guy, she told us, had not shown up by the time she left Harmony–and I could sympathize, for mine had not appeared either, so I had had to start the evening by gunning out of my driveway over the ridge of icy snow the state plow had left at the end. She read, too, from Tracing Paradise: Two Years in Harmony with John Milton (University of Massachusetts Press, 2009) about the difficulties of chores such as tending a wood fire. Her third selection was a heartbreaking piece about a family ravaged by domestic violence; many of us in the audience knew of that particular
situation, as its horrifying resolution–the father taking the lives of his estranged wife and two children before killing himself–had been all over the news last spring and summer. (How courageous of her to read it, and with a composure I could not help but be in awe of; I know how close she was to this family, and how deeply she was affected by their deaths.) She finished with the bittersweet crowd-pleaser “First Game,” which always makes me want to cry with its celebration of gritty parental–and communal–love for a team of basketball players who, however bad, are ours.
The trek was well worth it; I’ve been introduced to new voices, and I got to listen, once again, to a poet I so greatly admire. I couldn’t help, ironically, to be terribly envious as I listened to Dawn read from Tracing Paradise–the beauty and fluidity and absolute intelligence of her language is something I’d give my eyeteeth for. I’m so glad I gunned it out of my driveway and skirted all those cars off the road to get to Uncommon Words; and I almost didn’t mind the horrible drive back home, either.
(Lisa, of course, lives in Waterville–so getting home wasn’t so exciting for her.)
When I drove north from Waterville on I-95 (I thought that might be easier than going back on 139) in sleet that, once I passed the Pittsfield exit, mutated into heavy sticky unplowedsnow, I was forcibly reminded of another time when I went to a reading in horrible weather. Several years ago, the late Jack Wiler read at the Harlow Gallery in
Hallowell in a blizzard. The storm was so bad that the hosts of the reading, Ted and Ruth Bookey, didn’t even show up. The audience consisted of me, David Moreau, and Baron Wormser. Afterward, we retired to Baron’s, where Jack was staying, for a nightcap, and he kept insisting that David and I should stay–but somewhat idiotically, we both opted to take ourselves home. That might have been the worst drive I’ve ever done: it took years to complete, and took years off my life. Even now, whenever I see David at readings, he refers to it as the night we almost spent together. But he’s a poet. He has a weird sense of humor.