The Virtual Poetorium
March 31, 2020
RON: Well good evening everyone, and welcome to the very first Virtual Poetorium! It’s always nice to be among friends. Last month we had something new and different in that my grandson read his poetry to you guys. He still bragging about being a better poet than I am. Hahahha… I couldn’t even get how old he is right. Tonight, we also have something new for you guys. We are virtual, I mean look at me I lost a ton of weight. Thats only virtual. At any rate I’m asking all you guys to put the image of being on the stage side of the Starlite in your hearts and minds. So if you need or want a drink by all means do it now. Don’t forget to tip your barmaid she has to make a living too! I’m going for go the the rules of the show as by now everyone knows what they are. We have a pretty long show tonight so I’m going to jump right into it. I don’t know about you guys but I have been locked down for pretty much a couple of weeks because of all my medical conditions. I have everything the Doctors are saying need to be extra careful. Well anyways I’ve been writing even more than usual if that is possible. By the way Anne Marie has baked her blonde brownies and has them out in the audience somewhere. Thank you Anne Marie, I’m sure they are wonderful. So I’m going to start the show off with the first poem and then I’m going to turn the mic and podium over to Paul…..
As it would happen
Incomplete is my signature
an expectation of the outcome
that plays out in my mind
Just when the weight
of this war is more
than my little universe can bare
you appear to me
and take me home if only for a moment
There is a smirk and hope
that you are secretly still mine
even though that is doubtful
and I hide the tears
that I will always be yours
no matter what the future brings
All these memories and fantasies
play behind my eyelids
as if they were a disjointed movie
on a repeat cycle that plays
over and over day after day
Then there are the I love you’s
that are whispered silently
before every good night
There were no colors as bright
nor feelings as strong
and no hope so dear
than when I was there with you
in my dreams
—Ron Whittle (Vietnam 1969 – 1970, Rewrite 2020)
Well, Paul, the podium is now all yours…
PAUL: Thanks, Ron! As probably most of you know, this is the part of the program where I honor a Southbridge poet by reading one of their poems. What I mean by a Southbridge poet is one who was either born, raised, lived, or died in the town of Southbridge, Massachusetts where we usually hold the Poetorium at Starlite. For example, since I was born and raised there, I would qualify, but Ron, since he was born in Shrewsbury, would not. So far we have done this segment which I call (what else?) “Spotlight on a Southbridge Poet” seven times, and I am now running out of candidates. It is not that there aren’t still a lot of very talented poets from Southbridge I haven’t featured yet, but I am having difficulty accessing their poetry. That being said, I am proud to announce that tonight’s “Spotlight on a Southbridge Poet” is shining on Dwayne Szlosek, who also happens to be my cousin. This might seem like a glaring case of nepotism, especially since I also featured my mother, Pauline Szlosek, last August, but in my defense, it was actually Ron’s suggestion (ask him if you don’t believe me). Dwayne, now currently living nearby in Dudley, was born in Southbridge in 1961, and has been a regular here at the Poetorium since its inception. Although he has only been writing poetry for the past few years, he has graced us with many fine pieces in our open mic and other open readings in the area. When asked how he started writing poetry, I am very proud that he said I was the one that forced…ummm… inspired him to become a poet. I’d like to share one of my personal favorite poems of his:
The Frigid Man
The snow so dense, not one blade
of grass is seen through deep white,
as far as the eye can see.
The freezing wind blows
it’s bitter cold on fragile skin,
nipping and biting
as it gives me great pain.
Oh, what discomfort distributes
though out my being.
How can I stop this “wickedness”
that goes against me
and penetrates with such agony?
All I want to do is to sit down
and fall asleep.
Let the earth reclaim my body,
for I know it will be over.
There will be no turning back
once the deed is done.
My body and spirit will be free
from my frigid pain and agony…
—Dwayne Szlosek (© 11/07/2018)
Normally I read just one poem as part of “Spotlight on a Southbridge Poet”, but since we are honoring my dear cousin Dwayne tonight, I’d like to share another poem with you, one which he is not the author, but the subject. The poem, which I myself wrote for Dwayne, is a beau présent, a French poetry form interestingly invented by an American writer, Harry Matthews. It is best described as a short poem written as a gift or affectionate tribute to another person using only the letters available in that person’s name. Here it is:
A Beau Présent For Dwayne Szlosek
(My Cousin and Childhood Companion)
On lazy weekends, we’d snooze,
Awake woozy and dazed,
And swallow anise and seaweed soda,
We’d walk dense snowy woodlands,
Sneak down dank dead-end alleyways.
We’d saddle a seesaw, lasso a donkey,
Slay a dozen deadly snakes and eels.
We doodled and drew yellow yaks,
Woolly weasels, and walleyed koalas.
We yelled, yodeled and kazooed as
Annoyed newlywed ladies looked on.
Nowadays, we allow no nonsense,
No looneyness. We analyze essays
and lessons, know only a swollen
sense of loss, a deadness,
needless sadness and woe.
O Dwayne, we need a new deal –
Say we skedaddle, sail away
on a slow wooden yawl on
an endless odyssey and seek
new lands and zany old ways?
Yes? Okay? Okey dokey! Yay!
We’ll do so on Wednesday!
Ron and I are very pleased to have Jonathan Andersen as our featured poet at tonight’s Virtual Poetorium. As you might know, Jonathan was originally scheduled to be our feature for the actual Poetorium at Starlite in Southbridge before the ongoing public health crisis began, and has been rescheduled for October 27th when we hope things will be relatively back to normal. Meanwhile he has graciously agreed to be our very first virtual feature. Before we call him up to the virtual stage to be interviewed, I’d like to tell you a little bit about him:
Jonathan Andersen is the author of Augur (Red Dragonfly Press, 2018), which was the recipient of the 2017 David Martinson-Meadowhawk Poetry Prize and a finalist for the 2019 Connecticut Book Award in Poetry. Other books include The Burden Note, (Meridian Prize, 2014), an English/Serbo-Croatian chapbook, and Stomp and Sing (Curbstone Press/Northwestern University Press, 2005). He is the editor of the anthology Seeds of Fire: Contemporary Poetry from the Other U.S.A. (Smokestack Books, 2008).
He has been a featured reader throughout the eastern United States, the United Kingdom, and Serbia, including at the Ledbury Poetry Festival, the 49th International Festival of Literature in Belgrade, and the 42nd Smederevo Poetry Autumn. His poems have appeared in print and online publications, including Blue Collar Review, The Café Review, Chiron Review, Connecticut Review, Counterpunch, Exposition Review, Freshwater, HeART, Here, North American Review, The Progressive, Rattle, The Worcester Review, and others.
For 12 years he was a high school English and special education teacher, and since 2008 has been a professor of English at Quinebaug Valley Community College in Danielson and Willimantic, Connecticut. He and his wife, fellow writer and educator Denise Abercrombie, live in Storrs, Connecticut with their two sons.
Please welcome to our virtual stage, Jonathan Andersen!
RON: Thank you once again, Jonathan, for agreeing to do this! My first question is what or who got you involved in poetry?
JONATHAN: Before poetry, or necessarily bound up in poetry, is a love of language and its possibilities, so I’d have to say my parents were the people first responsible for my involvement in poetry, even if a little indirectly, because they read to me and my twin brother every night, or almost every night, when we were very young. I can remember, vividly, lying in my bed, listening to the summer night sounds from the open bedroom window, thinking about Stuart Little out there in the dark somewhere, searching, motivated by love. I always tell my students at the college, with all the urgency I can muster, to read to their children.
Public education also got me into poetry. In sixth grade, Mr. Novinski did a poetry unit which culminated in every kid in the class publishing her or his own collection of poems. And when I was an undergraduate at the University of Connecticut, I was fortunate enough to meet a few professors — especially James Scully and Joan Joffe Hall — who saw something in my writing to encourage. Even more importantly they kept sending me to the library stacks to read. They introduced me to poets such as Jim Daniels, a Detroit poet who was writing powerfully spare poems that had forklifts and time clocks and economic struggle. That poetry could so fully admit my reality was absolutely a revelation.
RON: Who is your favorite poet and why?
JONATHAN: I can never really answer this question because there are so many. Here’s a sampling:
William Blake is a major influence, for his energy, and profoundly human vision (even in his supernatural excesses).
Langston Hughes should be important to everybody for his combination of tenderness and fearlessness, qualities which are gathered together in “A Dream Deferred,” but run throughout his work.
I always come back to the Polish poet Tadeus Różewicz’s book The Survivor and Other Poems for its spare, defiant humanity.
I am an enormous admirer of June Jordan. Her work had such wide emotional range and she kept putting poetry into community, into life, seamlessly blending her art with her teaching.
I admire poets who are ambitious. I don’t mean ambitious in a careerist or entrepreneurial sense; I mean that they are always trying to get at something deeper, bigger, more true, in terms of craft and content. You can’t always swing for the fences, but I gravitate to those poets who try to take on in some way the big questions about what it means to be human, and try to develop or expand the ways poems can be up to the task.
RON: Does your poetry hold any secrets that you would care to share with us?
JONATHAN: I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you. Kidding, obviously. I think actually that some of the secrets I haven’t found out yet, and some of the secrets won’t be mine, but will belong to the reader or listener. I don’t mean to mystify — I don’t admire mystification — it’s just that there’s more to find out, and often there’s more to what we’re writing than we realize at the time. We find out what that is if we’re lucky.
RON: If you had to describe your writing in one word, what would that word be?
JONATHAN: “Sublime.” No — kidding again. “Genuine” is my real answer.
RON: So, Paul, do you have any questions you’d like to ask Jonathan?
PAUL: Thanks, Ron! Yes, I do! Jonathan, do you have a writing routine, and if so, can you describe it to us?
JONATHAN: I try to catch time when I can. I’d like to say I have a more disciplined routine, but I don’t.
There’s still hope, though — I’m only fifty. I want to be better at following the advice I and all writing teachers give to our students: regardless of your exact writing strategy, your first process should always be to just let go of the inner censors, the ghostly voices of past English teachers or critics or whatever and just write.
Two other aspects of my process that are really essential for me: I meet with a writers’ group. I am fortunate to have been able to be in long-running groups with writers I admire and trust.
Finally, my wife is a poet and writer, and we read each other’s work, we admire each other’s work, and we critique each other’s work. Even more importantly, we navigate this life together, and the writing comes out of life.
PAUL: There are so many things I’d like to ask you, but to keep this interview relatively short, I just have one more question. What advice would you have for someone who is just starting to write poetry?
JONATHAN: Be curious. Read widely. Be open to critique. I also like the advice at the end of Gary Snyder’s poem “For the Children”: Stay together. / Learn the flowers. / Go light.
RON: Well, I guess that concludes the interview portion of our program. Jonathan, thank you so much for such thoughtful and should I say “sublime” answers. Now, Folks, please enjoy the poetry of Jonathan Andersen:
You must have a hope
that will let you stomp and sing
at any cold dawn.
You must not wait
to love the student who loves you
and would like to kill you.
You must read the story again
and again to the child
who receives you with a bovine stare.
You must get up
every day to punch in
not dreaming on transcendence,
not desiring new heroes or gods,
not looking the other way,
but looking for the other way
and ready to talk to everyone on the line.
You must not wait
for official approval
nor general consensus
to rage. You must
come again to kneel
in shiny, rock-strewn soil
not to pray, but to plant.
Yes, even now
as ice caps melt and black top
goes soft in the sun
you must prepare for the harvest.
— Jonathan Andersen (from Stomp and Sing)
Two mornings after declaring, glass
of wine raised in firelight, that I would not write
any more poems about my father,
I slide open the barn door, squat down
to replace the three-decade worn tines
of the Troy-Bilt M8, the 8 for eight
horsepower, he bought with I still don’t know
what money. I tilt the tiller forward.
It looks bowed in prayer. Each tine, hardened
steel, hooked right or left like the business
end of a scythe, comes off with the loosening
of two bolts, falls and clatters, ringing
briefly on the ground. I think I’ll remember but
quickly lose the tricky offset pattern—sixteen
blades in four opposing gangs of four, pointing
toward and away from each other by turns:
by the time I have them all replaced, locknuts
cranked down hard, anticipating
years, the stall is filled with sun, and the new
tines gleam. I groan to stand, and exclaim
unthinkingly, crymunintlees, startling myself
with a word my father used to say, its exact
meaning I never thought to ask
—Jonathan Andersen (from Augur)
but the buzz of the lights
in the park, the gallop across
blacktop, the oof and the huh
in attacking the rim
Or the no-
sound of the backspinning
ball tracing the high arc
into which you launched it
from twenty-five feet out, over
a body lunging:
the scrape and the ring of the chains
—Jonathan Andersen (from Augur)
At the Edge of the Meadow
I duck under the great low-sweeping
hemlock boughs, enter night
hiding at noon where a bloom of white
resolves into you: the skull of a white-
tail buck. I pick you up: a little shocked
at the parts we share: eye sockets, nasal
cavity, incisors. You bear the skeleton
of a veiny leaf: a coat
of arms tattooed on top of your head.
And I see now that you are not just one
whole, but stitched together with fine,
intricate lines: like cave drawings,
once meaningful. I want to ask you
how you lived, how you persisted as far
as you could. Here. I want to tell you
there are whole days I can barely
stand up, never mind run or turn
to leap, and I would gladly trade
my skull, this hard case of clustered
storms, for your sleek contour, your
fiercely driven nights, your one broken
antler with which I would thrash and knock
through the seasons that remain
—Jonathan Andersen (from Augur*)
*Originally published in North American Review, Vol. 303 No. 2, Spring 2018 as a finalist for the 2018 James Hearst Poetry Award
Walking with you this morning
means I have persisted into a forty-eighth year.
Muscles and slowly tearing ligaments strap bone. Pain
buried deep as a stone in my core lifts
away: now we are two furnaces melting the ice in the ruts before
us on the old turnpike, gathering momentum up the hill, we will not speak
of credit cards, rotten sills or surgeries, we will not even stop
to inspect spider webs—at first we think a trick of winter
light, but, no, really there—spun like galaxies!—icy and hanging
from a roadside cairn. With our steps we turn the very planet beneath
us, lay down a beat on gravel, stone, pavement, and follow it up to where
we meet the wind, where I have to trust my own taut cord running straight to
the center of the Earth, the center of the Earth itself anchored with gravity’s cable
stretching through gamma rays, through solar flares to the explosions at the core
of the Sun.
I steal a glance: yes
you’re still here, wearing your sturdy boots, reaching
for my hand
—Jonathan Andersen (from Augur)
PAUL: Wow! What wonderful work! I especially like Crymunintlees, which I believe was one of the first poems I ever heard Jonathan read, and instantly made me a big fan. Let’s give a big (virtual) hand for Jonathan Andersen!
RON: Paul, do we have a dead poet tribute tonight?
PAUL: Yes, we do, Ron. Originally it was going to be Stanley Kunitz read by Tianna Mercier before the Poetorium was forced to go virtual, but I think it is best to keep Stanley and Tianna on reserve for a future date when things get back to normal. Unfortunately I neglected to ask for any suggestions, so I decided I’d choose the dead poet for tonight on my own.
RON: And who did you end up choosing?
PAUL: One of my favorite poets of the early 20th century – e.e. cummings.
RON: A good choice. Any reasons you picked these particular poems to present tonight?
PAUL: Actually one reason was because since these poems will appear in print, I thought it would be best to avoid any possible legal problems with copyright and select from only his earlier poems that are in the public domain. Another reason is that in many ways they are atypical of his work. Cummings is well known as a writer of love poems, but these definitely aren’t love poems. All published in 1923, the first two are still among his most famous, and the third may be lesser known, but it is definitely in my top 3 favorite cumming poems because of it’s somewhat warped sense of humor combined with pathos. But enough of my blabbering, here are the poems:
Buffalo Bill ’s
chansons innocentes: 1
spring when the world is mud-
luscious the little
whistles far and wee
and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it’s
when the world is puddle-wonderful
old balloonman whistles
far and wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing
from hop-scotch and jump-rope and
nobody loses all the time
nobody loses all the time
i had an uncle named
Sol who was a born failure and
nearly everybody said he should have gone
into vaudeville perhaps because my Uncle Sol could
sing McCann He Was A Diver on Xmas Eve like Hell Itself which
may or may not account for the fact that my Uncle
Sol indulged in that possibly most inexcusable
of all to use a highfalootin phrase
luxuries that is or to
wit farming and be
my Uncle Sol’s farm
failed because the chickens
ate the vegetables so
my Uncle Sol had a
chicken farm till the
skunks ate the chickens when
my Uncle Sol
had a skunk farm but
the skunks caught cold and
died and so
my Uncle Sol imitated the
skunks in a subtle manner
or by drowning himself in the watertank
but somebody who’d given my Uncle Sol a Victor
Victrola and records while he lived presented to
him upon the auspicious occasion of his decease a
scruptious not to mention splendiferous funeral with
tall boys in black gloves and flowers and everything and
i remember we all cried like the Missouri
when my Uncle Sol’s coffin lurched because
somebody pressed a button
(and down went
and started a worm farm)
And now please pardon me as I once again break Poetorium tradition, and close this dead poet tribute to e. e. cummings, not with another poem by him, but by presenting one that I wrote about him which was first published in the 2001 Spring/Summer issue of the Sahara Poetry Journal:
why I like reading e. e. cummings
i like my mind when it’s with his mind,
stumbling, sprinting, gliding across a page,
leap-frogging over careening commas,
side-swiiping semi-colons; slamming
into unexpected periods. i like zag-zigging
thru an obstacle (of) course of typography
of cntrtng e x p a n d I n g new-ly cooly minted
words scattered splattered here there everywhere –
comprehension slowly sure-ly shifting
from singular difficulty to double “e”s.
no one, not even an optician from lilliput
clutching his tiny eye chart, has such small “i”s.
We are going to take a short intermission before we start our virtual open mic, but before we do, I’d like to present this month’s traditional Poetorium group poem. This month’s theme was “what poetry means to us” with people being asked to email us one to six lines starting either with the phrase “Poetry is…” or “Poetry means… “. All contributions (which will remain anonymous) were compiled into the following poem. To tell you the truth, I believe this may be our best one yet, and want to thank everyone that contributed:
What Poetry Means to Us
(March 31, 2020 Virtual Poetorium Group Poem)
Poetry means straight and true
With a twist of smooth,
And to the point.
It takes us to places
We’ve never been before.
Poetry is the sky
Covered in salmon pink
Like the silk of a lady-in-waiting’s dress.
Poetry is paper and pen
And an August dream.
Poetry is a sword
For many silent souls
In a world where introverts
Must carry their shields daily.
Poetry is like reaching out onto a distant port-
The closer you come towards it ,
The sweeter your journey becomes after that.
Poetry is like articulating a dream,
But in an interesting
(Not a boring to listen to) way.
In a poem too, a shoe that can talk
On a red table while Prince
Does the dishes makes sense.
Poetry means giving in to the words
Inside your head, then giving them all away.
Poetry means the soul
Still dances at dusk
Beneath an indigo sky.
Poetry is the ability to speak
The truth in cypher, to prance naked
Behind a wall of words
And not get arrested
Or most likely even noticed.
Poetry is an outcry to complex, voiceless thoughts.
Meaningful poetry composed with raw expression
Leaves dog-eared pages on bookshelves,
Being sent into the universe to heal wounds
And shed warm light into cold darkness.
Poetry is a peephole into our true hearts,
A rosetta stone to a secret language,
A lost saga in our forgotten history,
Our own private Book of Revelations.
Poetry is about letting go
Of all the things you think you know
Embracing that which feels unreal
Inviting the invisible
Learning what it truly means to feel.
Poetry is but a verbal version of a two-way mirror.
On the poets’ side, what they are trying to say
Is transparent, the meaning clear as plate glass.
Yet to an average reader or listener, its surface
Often remains opaque, never glimpsing beyond
The reflection of who they are or what they already know.
Poetry means leaving lasting footprints
On our (now) untouched welcome mats.
Someday we will stand together again
And I will hear you tell me
What poetry means to you.
Well, that concludes the first part of the Virtual Poetorium. We are going to take a short break so you can get a drink, use the facilities, or buy one of Jonathan Andersen’s fantastic books of poetry at our virtual vendor’s table (you’ll be glad that you did). When we come back, Ron will be starting our virtual open mic.
RON: Welcome back, folks! I am pleased to announce, that besides Paul and myself, we have eight people on tonight’s virtual open mic, including two first-timers as well as the return of two special surprise guests. But first I am going to the kick whole thing off with a poem of my own:
In the past
there have been good days
and hard days for me
but even as late as now
My right knee gets a twinge of pain
when it rains
I wrecked it during the war
but my heart was damaged much earlier
Once I was told
by a mystic
We humans are not suppose
to handle the stars
for we have not yet
learned how to cradle the light
And I have come to the reason
she is just not ready
to leave yet
She is still hanging around
in my heart and soul
and I would guess
its the why I can not explain
the depth of stardust at my feet
and the light that surrounds her
in my memory
—Ron Whittle (2020)
First up tonight is Jonathan Blake who joins us here at the Poetorium (virtual or otherwise) for the very first time. As you might know, Jonathan is a professor of English at Worcester State University and the creator and facilitator of the One Poem And… poetry reading that meets at WSU. Welcome to the podium, Jonathan!
Jonathan B: Many thanks to Paul and Ron for their creativity in keeping poesy alive. For all of us in these current times, it seems perhaps it is too easy to forget we all exist in some flawed way with Grace. Each of us must dance in our own sweet way.
For Ellie and Assad
How last night a man’s hips moved slowly
And with a precision animal and learned:
One arm held out, one hand soft
On his stomach, Assad danced
To slow Senegalese drumming as dinner
Bubbled on the stove in his kitchen;
The air infused with saffron and basil,
His laughter bright in the tears growing
In his wife’s eyes – Ellie, who only weeks
Before buried her father, sat Shiva and said
Good-by to her sons when they returned
To their homes, who loves her husband –
The fluid grace of his hips, the warm wind
Of his laughter, the salt of his tears.
Our bodies are born from that salty water,
And the voice of the drum insists on our vigilance,
Insists that we are not diminished but surprised
Again when songbirds return after a long winter,
That we give thanks for the mysterious faces
Of men and women, for the children who look
Long and close into our eyes, sunlight drying
The wet road after a furious rain, a lilac
Breeze stirring the young maples: the drum
And the dance leading us into memory
So we might hear the voices of the dead; the drum
Insisting as well that we feel the music of this life,
That we know the shining that falls
On the slow and fluid grace of the living.
RON: Paul, I think you might want to introduce the next poet yourself…
PAUL: Thank you, Ron. Yes, it would be my pleasure! Please welcome in her first appearance at the Poetorium, poet and the love of my life, Ariel Potter!
In Heaven, I Am a Mother
In Heaven, I am a mother,
wide-hipped wearing an apron.
My kitchen has yellow walls,
my curtains are red roses.
I stand at the stove
cooking all kinds of eggs –
coffee brewing, melon sliced,
orange juice in pitchers,
Here I am the nurturer
of all the people I ever loved,
feeding them, touching their faces,
tenderly handing them a plate…
Our next speaker is a long time regular, Karen Whatshername…just kidding, Karen! Please welcome Karen Warinsky!
KAREN: Having taught Thoreau to high school students for the past 16 years, he was the inspiration for the following poem. I hope it lends some hope in these trying times:
Henry David knew
beauty could be found
through a dirty window in a prison cell.
He lay all that long July night,
the window open
inside the grate of the whitewashed room
and he sensed his place as never before,
heard the voices of his neighbors and the villagers at the inn,
felt the heartbeat of his town,
put his hands on the thick stone walls
and anticipated the morning.
We must tame our pain first
to get back to our core
when life boomerangs us out
to unintended places
and once we do
it is possible
to see beauty through a dirty window
and greet another morning.
—Karen Warinsky (from the Mizmor Anthology December 2019)
RON: Next up is tonight’s Spotlight on Southbridge Poet, Dwayne Szlosek.
Makes Me Think
If you think that you are old, you become old.
If you think that you are young, you will always be and never old…
—Dwayne Szlosek (12/ 29/ 2017)
RON: And now here is a poet who just started coming to the Poetorium in the last few months, and read for us for the very first time in February. Please welcome Christine Burlingame!
A Hundred Butterflies
A hundred butterflies
Within a tiny chest.
Those delicate wings,
Disintegrating into a
In longing despair.
Muffled in secret;
Sent up to
Dust decorates a
Chest cavity from
such erratic flights.
It took a hundred
to make all
It’s a thing of
To watch unfold.
The way the
their fragile wings;
a gorgeous gold.
To view only with eyes
But maimed by hands
used to capture
A hundred butterflies
Fluttering in need,
Only the faster
The less of a chance
they have to be freed.
A hundred butterflies
As wild and alive.
RON: We now come to Bob Perry, a long time friend of the Poetorium and a past dead poet reader who read T. S. Eliot for us…
BOB: My poem for this month is one of those poems where the correct title made all the difference. The original title was Innermost Self. In editing the new book, I chose a title for a poem I had that was never written. They merged perfectly:
The Crooked Path to the Light
Atman waits in patient slumber
while all around the senses thunder
the world and its ten thousand things
distract us like bright shiny rings
make us blind to that which matters
leave our soul in hopeless tatters
paupers in the truest sense
acting out this vain pretense
like everything is just okay
while deep inside we waste away
perhaps the path to make us whole
lies in a dark night of the soul.
—Robert Eugene Perry
RON: Ladies and gentlemen it give me great pleasure to announce we have tonight two special returning guests that originally came to the Poetorium at Starlite way back in August via the Latvian Embassy – Inga Gaile and Sarma Liepins (Inga all the way from Latvia with Sarma, who was Inga’s host in this country, from Boxford Mass). First up, one of Europe’s and Latvia’s most award winning poets, playwright and author of children’s books – none other than Inga Gaile!
Look, this is fog, sweetheart, real fog,
look, what you have in your hands is a damp, wrinkled map,
look, here’s the turn that would have taken you to the checkpoint,
look, here’s the boy you won’t be able to look in the eye now,
look, here’s autumn, leaves rustling underfoot,
look, here are your friends at the bar who have no idea what to do with the photos you gave them,
showing a man on his knees before a twelve-year-old girl with her pants down.
Look, this is fog, kids, real fog, indeed,
look, here are people who will never be able to look you in the eye,
look, here’s the earth and, see, you can already safely say it.
You stand, you grow, you learn to control your panic attacks,
you become a bridge, a tree, you learn to look people in the eye,
you make friends with people without arms and legs because you think they understand you,
you write this poem, sweetheart, for the thousandth time,
hoping that one day it will vanish.
Look, this is fog, kids, real fog,
streams of snot and sperm, a solstice of tears.
And I emerge quietly by the church in the forest,
eons have passed and I’m still wearing the same sweatpants with the broken elastic.
And people look at me and some say – well, really, couldn’t she write more tactfully, a little more decently, but, if you ask me, I say, fuck it, children don’t need to know that the world is no bed of roses, fuck it, I say, why the fuck do you have to be so tragic, we liked you better before, when you drank a lot, lost and gained weight and fucked anyone who gave you the time of day. So get down here beneath us.
That is some fog, kids, it’s really quite some fog.
And I have nothing else besides this worn out, acerbic, sinewy tongue and the fingers that write these words on the screen as though on a vast lake.
I’m emerging from the forest. And I ask you, kids, you in your family summer houses, living rooms, in the backs of cars, in your conjugal beds, you, children of all sexes in some sauna, drunk and drugged, you, kids who have survived, I tell you it’s scary for sure, but still – please come out, once and for all.
Or wait a little, be gentle with yourselves.
And I will begin to try to breathe quietly here.
—Inga Gaile (translated by Ieva Lešinska)
RON: And now for our final guest of the evening, please welcome to the virtual microphone, Sarma Liepins!
COVID – 19: Tasks of Social Distance
Morning. Noon. Dinner.
Lift the green 8 lb. weight off of the kitchen counter.
Breathe. Build. Muscle.
Arms must appear strong;
that still make sense.
Neatly write down KwHs [Kilowatt hours]
household consumed in electricity in 2019.
Compare the sum to KwHs used in 1987.
Miss grown sons.
Put away some groceries.
In a cupboard.
In a bowl.
Randomly leave others
in the garage.
On the hallway floor.
Wither COVID! Wither
within sight of an unshelved banana,
a solemn red potato,
salty beef stock.
wall and lock
away from a human soul.
Let squirrels, moles and neighbors ponder
the sunny yellow rope,
the worn & wobbly chairs
now a front yard sculpture.
Call it : “CHAIRish” – “Cherish”.
—Sarma Muižnieks Liepiņš (March 26/27/28 2020)
RON: And now please welcome back to the podium, my partner in crime – Paul Szlosek…
PAUL: I would like to share with you now a poetry form that I originally created to honor our predecessor “BeSpoken”, a poetry reading that was held on the last Wednesday night of every month at the Starlite Bar & Art Gallery in Southbridge, Massachusetts which the Poetorium replaced last year. The bespokennet is a fourteen line poem in which every other line shares the same end rhyme (thus the rhyme scheme can be expressed as abcbdbebfbgbhb). What makes the form quite unique and rather unusual is that each alternating line (the 2nd, 4th, 6th, 8th, 10th, 12th, & 14th) also starts with either the word or prefix “Be”. Tonight I would like to dedicate this poem to all the poets out there who have made the Poetoriun possible with their love of poetry and generous support (especially you who are reading this at this very moment):
An Invocation (For the Poets at BeSpoken)
We all gather together tonight to hear and
Behold poets, and their clever musings, soulful outbursts.
Some won’t get it, others will get it so bad, they themselves will
Begin to obsess with rhyme, start to think only in verse.
Poetry’s strange, over-praised yet maligned, off-putting but
Bewitching, a weird art form that can either seduce or coerce.
It’s power surges through the room, burrows into your ears.
Before there was the poem, there was the prayer and the curse,
Hexes, incantations, invocations, conjuring spells,
Belief that just speaking words could make things better or worse,
Alter our existence, change the world in a real way. I
Believe that is still true with poets who recite and rehearse
What’s in their hearts for all to hear. It’s time to let your own words
Be spoken, release the magic of your poems into the universe.
RON: I want to thank everyone that participated in our virtual open mic. I am going to close it out with the following poem:
Worcester at Night a Symphony of Light
There is a river of wind
coming and going
that rushes through the
leafless deciduous trees
that sings a lonely tune.
The trees bathed only in the light
from the rising of the full of the moon
and the stars above
gives way to a shadowy world.
Challenged only by the oncoming
car headlights that drive on by
to who knows where.
It’s too cold for the snowbirds and pigeons
to find a voice in an unheard tune,
only the coo’s in finding warmth
in the hollow of a tree.
I stand alone behind a window
on the top floor of one of many
three-deckers that adorn
Worcester’s seven hills,
watching the night time hours
pass me by.
All the while the city lights up
with thousands of twinkling
street lamps, back door porch lights,
and the neon of every description
and type of storefront downtown.
as well as the occasional traffic light
that changes from red to green
on every corner that I can see.
There is a chorus in a symphony of light
in the darkness,
a concert put on by everyone
who lives here or works here or travels
through here on the centralized highway.
And I wonder, how many before me
have seen the beauty in what I have seen.
and how many will see it
after I am gone,
and how many like me
will find the words
to describe what they have seen
in this old town, that I now call home.
Until the next time
Good night everyone
It’s been fun
If you’re not at home
have a safe ride to get there
( I’m Waving )
Goodnight Mrs. Cowart
where ever you are
RON: Well, that concludes our very first Virtual Poetorium. We sincerely hope you enjoyed it. Paul and I came up with the idea of trying to do something to keep the Poetorium a float and thought we would give this a try. Although I did contribute some, Paul was the driving force behind it. I could not have pulled it off, I am not a technogeek. I have trouble just signing on. This show has been brought to you by all the hard work of Paul Szlosek. Paul slaved trying to put all of this together only to loose most of it when his laptop crashed and died. Then he restarted it on a computer orrowed from his sister, but hekept loosing parts of the show, only to have to do it over again. Please if you would send Paul a “Thank You: for his perseverance on this Email. On three, everyone say thank you Paul One Two Three THANK YOU PAUL………. Everyone, put your writing skills to work and prepare for the next virtual show. I love and miss all you guys and can’t wait for the next real show!
PAUL: Thank you so much, Ron, but I think we might be getting ahead of ourselves. Please, everyone, your feedback would be greatly appreciated! Kindly let us know what you think of the Virtual Poetorium, and if you think we should keep doing it. I want to thank every one who made it possible: Jonathan Andersen, who graciously agreed to be our very first Virtual Poetorium feature and be interviewed, everyone who participated in our virtual open mic (Jonathan B, Ariel, Dwayne, Karen, Christine, Bob, Inga and Sarma) the contributors to the group Poetorium poem (you know who you are – such a fantastic job, guys!), Ron, of course, who came with the idea, and especially my sister Mary Rettig, who without the loan of her laptop, you would not be reading this now. Please everyone take care, keep writing, and stay safe and healthy!