The Virtual Poetorium
June 30, 2020
RON: (honking he magical horn) HONK HONK HONK ! Okay everyone find a seat.
Hey hello everybody! It’s that time again for the Poetorium show. This is the fourth of the pandemic series, all of which will be going into the anthology we will be producing after the real shows start back up again. We had originally wanted to get rolling on the anthology before the pandemic hit. Much like everything else about the pandemic it also is on hold. But Fred my partner in crime or whatever his name is and I decided it would be good to generate the shows in the anthology for history’s sakes. Some hundred years from now someone will run across the anthology in an old dust book store hidden away on a shelf and go oh wow. I heard about these shows but never knew there was any record of them that actually survived. So, just a heads up folks your poetry you submit to the show will become a part of a history book of sorts. So you can always say my name has gone down in the annals of time. And who knows maybe one of us will become a famous Poet someday.
Once again I am going to dispense with the rules of the show. I believe we all know what they are by now. Just a quick update on my health. I’m doing okay, no side effects or anything. In fact, I have some great news I want to share with you. I went in for yet another exploratory bladder cancer operation on June 22nd, and got the results back a few days later. Believe it or not, 100 percent negative, no cancer found. So things are really looking good for me. I want to thank everyone for all your hopes and prayers. I believe that is what really made all the difference. So thank you and God bless you all!
So Anne Marie outdid herself this month with double fudge brownies. If you haven’t tried one, you better get one soon before I eat them all. Once again we thank Demetri Kasperson for giving a playroom for us to be in. Which reminds me don’t forget to tip your Bartenders, they too have had a bitch of a time trying to survive this pandemic. We are all in this together and we need to help each other in this a time of need.
We have been getting a lot of attention from poets from outside the Worcester County area. Thank you ever so much, we sincerely hope that you will come to the live shows once they start up again. And please keep submitting your work we appreciate it.
Tonight we have one of Worcester premiere poets on tap. Curt Curtain has been around for a long time and writes some incredible poetry. And what makes it especially important is Curt is legally blind. If you have not heard him before your going to love it for sure. I’ll let Fred introduce him, but I believe Curt was from the South Boston area and is very Irish.
Fred has discovered a major talent who once lived in Southbridge and he will be reading some of there work in a few minutes. In addition, we have a dead poet reader tonight who I’m afraid I don’t know much about or who he is going to read. Fred will handle that as well. Dah, I’m quite a host huh.
So before I bore everyone to death, I’ll get started by reading the opening poem. A little bit of an intro. I went up to Hampton Beach to visit with my brother in law who lives right on the beach a couple weeks ago in the middle of the pandemic. Ya I know I wasn’t suppose to go, but I did and came back with this in my head. It took a day or two before it came out.
Brother to the Moon
I am a brother to the Moon
a tidal child
the call of the rising surf
And being by the sea
is like an ongoing baptism
where your soul is washed clean
and can roam with the earth’s
We may be limited by
the borders of our skin
but there are no borders
barriers, or limits
put on our minds
And I have seen the sea
in-ways our eyes can not perceive
where words could neither
define nor explain
and even though my heart
my soul will always be
one with the sea
Ron Whittle (Hampton Beach, NH, 2020)
Thank you so much for the applause!
And now I turn this part of the show over to my twin brother Fred.
It’s all yours, Fred…
PAUL: Thanks, Ron, but my name is actually Paul…
But that is not important right now because once again it’s time for the Spotlight on a Southbridge Poet. For our purposes, the definition of 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, who was born in Shrewsbury, (as I am always teasing him) would not. I am happy to announce tonight’s spotlight is Joanna Piucci.
Joanna is a poet currently living in New York City, but was born in Southbridge in the 1950s. Her father and his parents had come to the U.S. from Italy; her mother’s parents were from French Canada. Joanna was just a toddler when she moved to Paxton, 22 miles away, but she continued to spend a lot of time in Southbridge, visiting grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins on both sides of the family. She started writing poetry at 8 years old, when she decided to enter a poetry contest in the Happy Time pages sponsored by the Worcester Sunday Telegram. Her poem won in her age group, and she received a cash prize of $1. Taking this as a sign, Joanna kept on writing. Eventually she left home to attend Sarah Lawrence College, near New York City, and after graduation she worked at a series of publishing jobs before settling into a career as an Information Officer at the United Nations.
Her poems have appeared in a number of literary magazines, among them The Beloit Poetry Journal, The Comstock Review, the Connecticut River Review, The Maguffin, Rattle, Tar River Poetry (upcoming), and in the anthology, Listening with the Ear of the Heart: Writers at St. Peters (eds. D. Margoshes and S. Sopher, 2003, St. Peter’s Press, Saskatchewan).
The poem of Joanna’s which I will be sharing with you tonight, “Their mother’s snapshot” (originally published in The Maguffin), is a Southbridge poem based on a photo taken by her grandmother at her house on Elm Street, circa 1930:
Their mother’s snapshot
Posed in parched grass
before a whitewashed porch,
two boys smile for the camera.
The elder, his arm in a practiced drape,
Gently grips his brother’s crippled arm.
I wouldn’t recognize my father –
just a kid in knickers, baggy shirt
and high-tops, but this protective stance
is one I’ve seen. My uncle, all in white,
is frail but comical, one shoulder
hunched up into his brother’s armpit.
In the foreground,
the photographer has transfixed
her own shadow. Swooping across her boys,
her shape shields the young one’s hand,
limp at his hip. Trick of light and lens,
her elbows fan, transmogrify, lift up as wings.
—Joanna Piucci (originally published in The Maguffin)
PAUL: As Ron mentioned earlier this evening, we are so pleased to have the one and only Curt Curtin as our featured poet at the Virtual Poetorium tonight, Before we call him up to the virtual stage to be interviewed, I’d like to tell you a little more about Curt:
Curt Curtin is a lifelong poet with three self-produced chapbooks and many individual poems appearing in journals and other publications. In 2005 he was the recipient of the Jacob Knight Award For Poetry and 2010, received the Frank O’Hara Poetry Prize. He won second place in the 209 annual contest of the Connecticut Poetry Society, and two other poems were selected for publication in the Irish anthology Writing Home: The New ‘Irish’ Poets (Dedalus Press 2019) Curt has been a featured reader at numerous poetry venues in Massachusetts and New Hampshire and twice in Ireland. For Art’s Sake (Kelsay Books 2019) is his first full-length collection of poetry.
Originally from Boston, Curt has lived in Western Massachusetts for many years, including a year living alone in the Berkshire woods. He taught literature and creative writing for 20 years at Westfield State University and currently dwells in Worcester, Massachusetts with his wife Dee O’Connor.
Please welcome to our virtual stage, Curt Curtin!
RON: Well, Curt, please have a seat. it’s great that you made it out here tonight. So we have a bunch of questions we want to ask you that may or may not be about your poetry. What we are trying to do is to let the audience get to know you personally before you start reading your material. Traditionally Fred let’s me go first, I think he likes it when I make an ass of myself before he asks any questions.
Well, here we go:
So you are originally from South Boston? I know the question that everyone here wants to ask is: “Did you know anyone famous from there like Billy Bulger perhaps?”
CURT: Yes, I once went to the home of James Michael Curley, the infamous mayor of Boston who won his re-election from jail. James Michael had signed a copy of his biography, The Purple Shamrock as a gift for my mother.
RON: How much of Irish tradition did your family bring from Ireland to South Boston and how much has that influenced your writing?
CURT: I heard a lot at the Irish County Clubs in Boston—music, rhythm, dance, and stories. I could go on and on about this. My next collection, due out at the end of the year, is called Kerry Dancers. It focuses on my family background and experiences growing up in South Boston.
RON: Saint Patrick’s Day is one of my personal favorite holidays, not for the drinking but for the Corned Beef and family gathering. As you were growing up, did your family celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day with a family gathering?
CURT: Yes, we all went to my Aunt Nora’s house which was right on the parade route. I wrote about that in “St. Patrick’s Day, Boston 1945” which tells about the time that my father walked out from the crowd to shake the hand of the infamous and well-loved Mayor James Michael Curley.
RON: Growing up, I had a friend that came from a very very Irish family, 12 brothers and 2 sisters. If you got in a fight with one of them you had to fight them all. They were congenial though, you only had to fight one at a time until someone licked you. To this day I still think the girls were better fighters and the toughest to beat. If you beat any of them, the others would get all over the one you beat. No matter what happened you would never win, but you would wind up with some of the closest friends ever. And glory be, to anyone who would want to hurt you. I still see some of them from time to time. When their Mum died we drank till we all passed out, she was a wonderful woman I will never forget her. I brought up my own family to be just like them. Anyway, my question for you is did you yourself come from a large family?I
CURT: Just a moderate-sized Irish family of 5 boys and 2 girls.
RON: Other than Fred here, who is your favorite poet?
CURT: I have a lot of favorite poets—Yeats, Elliot, Milton for starters. Among contemporaries, Susan Roney-O’Brien is a personal favorite.
RON: Okay, Fred, do you have any questions to ask Curt?
PAUL: Thanks, Ron, I do, but my name isn’t Fred… Curt, could you please share with us some of your memories of your father, Timothy, who we understand was a member of the Boston Police Department during the infamous 1919 Boston Police Strike?
CURT: My father loved being a police officer but agreed with his fellow officers that the poor wages and awful working conditions needed to be challenged. Tim Curtin became the secretary of the Boston Social Club, the precursor to the Boston Police Union. His records have been donated to the archives of the Boston Police Union.
PAUL: For readers unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe what you write?
CURT: My work covers a broad range of themes: science, nature, art, war, family, home. In my first full-length collection, For Art’s Sake, though each poem was written in its own time, the organization and flow of the book is an intentional effort to integrate them into a single composition that is a tribute to the creative arts. The poems weave among the arts in small groups of two, four or more, each small group responding to paintings, sculpture, music, dance, theater or poetry. My next collection, Kerry Dancers, will focus on my Irish roots and family background.
PAUl: Can you give us an example of how you begin a poem?
CURT: As a teenager growing up in Boston, I had the unique privilege of being able to attend the Museum of Fine Arts and the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum for free, and I went there often, taking notes and making sketches of works that moved me. At the Gardner Museum, I was awestruck by Rembrandt’s painting, “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee.” When it was stolen along with a dozen other paintings in 1990, I felt a personal loss and was moved to write “Abduction at the Gardner.”
PAUL: How important do you feel revision is in writing poetry, and how do you know when a poem is finished?
CURT: Revision is the primary process. Occasionally a line strikes like a bolt of lightning that you rush to capture, but everything around that is a process of revision. Finished is a relative term; most of my poems are not finished until they’ve gone through a series of rewrites. Even the placement of a comma—or lack thereof—can influence meaning, rhythm, mood.
PAUL: Do you have any advice for beginning poets?
CURT: Write. Have respect for the subject, for the particulars of the people or things addressed in a poem—this is essential. Study what matters in each poem so that you can find depth in the subject. Read other poets, history, and other good literature. That background will give you a platform from which you can draw themes and metaphors. Finally, pay close attention to sound and sense, not by using rigid meters and end rhymes but by appropriate use of alliteration, internal rhymes, and other tools. Then write, revise, and write again.
PAUL: Are there any groups, clubs, or organizations that you would recommend to other writers that have helped you in your career?
CURT: The Worcester County Poetry Association has been a great resource and source of support. Also, the rich variety of poetry venues in the Worcester area provide support to many poets and other writers. The former Southbridge venue, Poet’s Parlor, was an early site that welcomed me to the area, and it’s nice to come full-circle by linking back through Starlite. The Worcester poetry community is very collaborative, offering encouragement to writers at all levels.
PAUL: Well, I guess that concludes the interview portion of our program. Curt, thank you so much for such an engaging and thought -provoking interview! Now, folks, please sit back and enjoy as Curt Curtin presents selected poems from his first full-length collection, For Art’s Sake, as well as his upcoming book Kerry Dancers:
The Studio (for Marjory Lehan)
In galleries her art in graceful space
relates authentic strangeness, ways
of making reason smile faced by mystery.
Nibbling crackers and brie the people say,
Where does she get ideas like that?
Above exhausted back street shops,
generous windows face a cold north light.
Harmony swirls and stomps around the room
drawing chaos into the game like god’s own choice:
not something out of nothing, only the raw things,
artless, ready to be shaped.
Slowly turn within collage of broken shapes,
statuette half awake, paints and paste, electric drill,
broad table filled with inked or molded things,
quick drawing of unfinished man, scraps
of anonymity in boxes underneath; artifacts
just suggesting plausibility.
She’s in a lonely place, hovering just above ground,
trying to reach down where artifact and insight
meet, then reach the street below.
—Curt Curtin (from For Art’s Sake)
No, No Breath At All*
A face of deep grief tilts
to the darkened sky,
neck stretched taut
to where no life,
no relief in sight
inside lidded eyes.
Faint light sighs along
brow’s round sides
stretch to meet
a tight crease,
a tense center.
A slightly open mouth,
unbreathing, would speak.
No, no breath at all
to release what is seen inside.
World, woman, each
turning out of reach.
—Curt Curtin (from For Art’s Sake)
*After a 19th century bronze head of a woman by Auguste Rodin, titled La Douleur (aka Head of Sorrow or Grief); Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
Abduction at the Gardner
I miss the Fishermen most, the ghost of peace
beneath the heave of boat and wave on the wild
Sea of Galilee. It got to my teenage blood years ago,
how they hung on the lines in the grip of fear
where sails whipped in wild air, how each detail
rang so true to a boy who loved the sea.
Perhaps if they stole just one I could believe,
romantically, that someone loved it so
he made a crypt, climate controlled and lit
much better than Gardner’s wall; and there
he sits alone “since none puts by/ The curtain I
have drawn for you, but I,”* his selfish
satisfaction thus a little redeemed.
But they stole more: Rembrandt and Vermeer,
and other precious work, thugs who cut them from
their frames. They only saw expensive rags
a buyer might reclaim for something under market.
Ignorance of awe wed to sordid souls.
I saw blank frames and will not look again.
El Jaleo still delights, della Robbia too, hidden in
the murky hall, Raphael and all the grilled and
dark beamed sights, the chill of wonder in
sweet passage all around the atrium.
Some day before my sight is claimed by the
thief time sends at last, I hope to stand by Galilee,
rescued and returned. In that tumultuous frame
I will again see peace beneath the heaped waves.
—Curt Curtin (from For Art’s Sake)
*from ”My Last Duchess,” Robert Browning
Once, when I was a boy of seven or eight
my Da taught the closing of doors.
We stood by the kitchen door, he leaning low
and near, his face become the room itself.
He said, You turn the knob like this.
The rough map of his hand covered everything:
the knob, the vast kitchen where our lesson met,
perhaps the universe where moments went
to be turned and turned until they could be seen
from anywhere. You don’t need to slam.
—Curt Curtin (from Kerry Dancers)
The County Kerry Mens and Womens Benevolent Association
Boston’s old Hibernian Hall was a many-chambered
Irish hive, and the buzz inside the meeting rooms
was lively talk of politics and memories and love of
people one could trust. The door was shut,
the gavel rapped, and matters grave as a familys name,
or light as whos to make the raisin cake and tea,
were handled in a parliamentary vein.
You had to be a member or a guest to get inside,
for these were folk who knew of British and betrayal,
so the double doors with slotted eye and passwords
to deny the prying Yankee, I suppose, who never
seemed to try. The Sergeant-at-Arms was posted
by the door, prepared to repel a Boston bluenose,
one might suppose, come to interrupt the dancing
banned in a land that claimed the name of freedom.
When the business and argument was done and the
women went in back to heat the tea, someone would ask
sister Donovan to sing. Then in kindness and the loyalty
they also asked a song of sister Flynn. A patched and
ragged squeezebox was brought out, and oh the dancing
that began would shake the hall as heavy men and women
took to reeling round the floor.
They did The Rakes of Mallow, Phil the Fluters Ball:
“With a toot of the flute and a twiddle of the fiddle
hopping in the middle like a herring on the griddle,
up down dance around, all around the hall,
and hadnt we the gaiety at Phil the Fluters Ball.” *
and even the Sergeant-at-Arms joined in. Indeed,
when all the halls were at the dancing time, the music
had to ring to Beacon Hill to make the sober Yankees sing.
—Curt Curtin (from Kerry Dancers)
This last poem comes from a vivid memory. Nora McGonigle was my aunt, whose home in South Boston was our traditional St. Ps day gathering place. The Purple Shamrock was the title of a book about James Michael Curley, then Mayor of Boston, by Joseph Dineen, a reporter for The Boston Globe:
St. Patricks Day Parade, South Boston, 1946
Around the corner from Nora McGonigles flat
where the British once fired on the Heights
girls pranced in front of high school bands, and
the flags of red-white-blue and green-white-gold
were a sight to excite a boy and his Da. Ah, but
to Da who stood in the cold March air when the
Purple Shamrock striding by all smiling came,
the moment Da had come for, Da began to shift
his ample weight; then, just as the Mayor arrived
Da boldly strode into the street, his rough hand
held out far to meet the king of the Boston Irish.
Curley smiled, as at a friend and grandly shook
the hand of the man who shook the hand; oh then,
when my father turned it was a man transformed,
taller, all the tension gone, and everybody knew
that he was grand and held electric in his hands.
—Curt Curtin (from Kerry Dancers)
RON: Bravo! Bravo! That was just incredible, Curt! Folks, let’s show our appreciation for such an amazing feature by putting our hands together, and give a rousing round of applause for Curt Curtin!
So now, Fred, I have two questions for you: who is our featured dead poet, and who will be giving tonight’s tribute to them?
PAUL: Well, Ron, my name is Paul, and I will answer your two questions in reverse order. Although we had some volunteers as well as wonderful suggestions for our dead poet tribute tonight, in the interest of saving the time that it would have taken to coordinate it with another person, I decided to choose and present the dead poet tribute myself. The poet I chose is one my favorites of the early 20th century, Marianne Moore.
As opposed to many other poets writing in the same time period, I think that the poetry of Marianne Moore, although some people feel can be quite difficult, still feels fresh with an almost timeless quality and could have been penned yesterday. As an example, I will start off with one of her earliest published pieces “Ennui” , a brief pithy poem which was first published in 1908 when Moore was just 21 years old and an undergraduate at Bryn Mawr:
He often expressed
A curious wish,
To be interchangeably
Man and fish;
To nibble the bait
Off the hook,
And then slip away
Like a ghost
In the sea.
Moore was well known for writing about animals in her poetry in a very detailed and almost scientific way. Probably the most famous of these poems would be The Fish, first published in 1917 and the subject of an entire episode of the television show Poetry in America which recently aired on PBS:
through black jade.
Of the crow-blue mussel-shells, one keeps
adjusting the ash-heaps;
opening and shutting itself like
The barnacles which encrust the side
of the wave, cannot hide
there for the submerged shafts of the
split like spun
glass, move themselves with spotlight swiftness
into the crevices—
in and out, illuminating
of bodies. The water drives a wedge
of iron through the iron edge
of the cliff; whereupon the stars,
bespattered jelly fish, crabs like green
lilies, and submarine
toadstools, slide each on the other.
marks of abuse are present on this
all the physical features of
of cornice, dynamite grooves, burns, and
hatchet strokes, these things stand
out on it; the chasm-side is
evidence has proved that it can live
on what can not revive
its youth. The sea grows old in it.
I am going to conclude tonight’s tribute with a poem that along with The Fish and Marriage (unfortunately much too long to include here) is probably her most famous and certainly the most anthologized. Marianne Moore first published her poem Poetry in 1919 and continued to revise and republish it though out her life, but yet I believe the originsl version is most likely still the best:Okay
I too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond
all this fiddle.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one
discovers that there is in
it after all, a place for the genuine.
Hands that can grasp, eyes
that can dilate, hair that can rise
if it must, these things are important not because a
high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because
useful; when they become so derivative as to become
same thing may be said for all of us—that we
do not admire what
we cannot understand. The bat,
holding on upside down or in quest of something to
eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless
a tree, the immovable critic twinkling his skin like a horse
that feels a flea, the base-
ball fan, the statistician—case after case
could be cited did
one wish it; nor is it valid
to discriminate against “business documents and
school-books”; all these phenomena are important. One must
make a distinction
however: when dragged into prominence by half poets,
the result is not poetry,
nor till the autocrats among us can be
insolence and triviality and can present
for inspection, imaginary gardens with real toads in them,
shall we have
it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand, in
defiance of their opinion—
the raw material of poetry in
all its rawness, and
that which is on the other hand,
genuine, then you are interested in poetry.
We’ll be taking a short intermission in a few minutes before we come back with our virtual open mic, but now its time to present one of my favorite segments of the evening’s program – the reading of the monthly group poem. Consulting with previous contributors, we decided to try something different and much more ambitious this month, utiilizing a variation of the TAPESTRY POETRY collaborative technique developed by Avril Meallem, a poet living in Israel and Shernaz Wadia, a poet living in India. Participants sent us a six line poem inspired by the following title: “Eggshells & Icicles”. The lines of all the poems received were then taken and rewoven into what was supposed to be one long seamless, flowing poem that hopefully could stand on its own by myself acting as the editor (it will be up to you to decide how successful I was).
Here is a further explanation of the rules (which you will see I ended up not following very closely):
1. Each contributor’s poem was to be six lines (in the original version of Tapestry Poetry, the poems were of nine lines, but there were also only two participants).
2. To avoid repetition, only the editor (in this particular Tapestry: myself) were to have the option of actually using the title in the poem ( this rule was apparently not very clear, and most of the contributors did end using either or both “eggshells ” and “icicles” in their poems).
3. The majority of words of the original poems were to be kept but grammatical changes could be made by the editor, e.g. singular to plural, verb tenses, etc. (I tried my best, but I am afraid I wasn’t very successful following this rule).
4. Adjectives and adverbs could be replaced with others more befitting the Tapestry but retaining the original flavour ( once again, I did not strictly adhere to this rule either).
5. All 6 lines (or at at least a portion of them) from each poem were used in the Tapestry. The length of the resulting poem depended on the number of participants, so in this case we had 7 contributors, so our Tapestry ended up with 42 lines.
6. The amount of stanzas and lines per stanza in the finished Tapestry could be variable, and depended solely on the decision of the editor.
7. Our usual policy on anonymity for the Poetorium group poem was optional this month. All poets could receive credit for their contributions and they also had the option of having their individual poems published along with the Tapestry poem if they wish.
I have to confess I had a very difficult time weaving this Tapestry poem together into one cohesive and coherent poem. My eventual solution was to break up many of the lines of the original poems into separate segments and then merge these together, forming brand new lines with brand new imagery that may be almost unrecognizable from the originals. I know this may be cheating but hope you will be surprised and satisfied with the results. I want to sincerely thank the other 6 contributors (besides myself): Robert Eugene Perry, Jonathan Blake, Howard Kogan, Gail Schuyler, Ron Whittle, and Dwayne Szlosek.
First, to demonstrate how different and diverse the original poems were, here are four from the poets who consented to have their poems posted:
so many things cannot be mended
careless words cut to the quick
leaving a wound like an ice pick
hard to see, yet running deep
coloring our wake and sleep
leaving so many lives upended.
—Robert Eugene Perry
Eggshells & Icicles
The eggshells were ground and mixed into
the oatmeal mash as a winter treat for the hens
the icicles watched from the window as
the boy struggled with his galoshes knowing
he would break the largest off and be King Arthur
carrying the mash to the hens, bringing their eggs back
Eggshells and Icicles
Fragile and Icy
Dripping and cracked
Ivory and luminescent
What’s in common?
Hard to say
Eggshells & Icicles
Lies and hand grenades
are all befitting today’s lifestyles
of stepping on eggshells
under melting icicles
while lying about sitting on
a hand grenade waiting for it to hatch
And now is here is the resulting Poetorium group poem for this month:
Eggshells and Icicles (a Tapestry Poem)
Eggshells and icicles,
Lies and hand grenades,
Blossoms and blooms,
A downy feather, a cold shoulder
One does not feel good about,
careless words hard to say
cutting to the quick.
The boy struggling with his galoshes
Knowing he would break his bicycle
Carrying oatmeal mash
Ground and mixed into
Mother nature’s sweet nectar
As a winter treat for the hens
While they were lying about, sitting on
A hand grenade, waiting for it to hatch,
Tires spinning O so slowly
Like a carny barker’s clicking wheel,
A dark silhouette
Against the pale shell
Of the laughing moon
(Ivory and luminescent)
Watching from the window.
What’s in common?
These are all delicate, brittle things
That cannot be mended,
Fragile and icy,
Dripping and cracked.
Opposites attract, their beauty
And appeal lies within their frailty,
their fleeting, disposable nature
befitting today’s lifestyles.
Who among us has the strength to resist
The temptation to pulverize, to destroy
Just because we can so easily,
Leaving so many lives upended
Leaving a wound like an ice pick,
Hard to see, yet running deep,
Coloring our wake and sleep?
Be King Arthur
And get the freaking hint –
No person should ever step on,
Walk on eggshells…
Well, I hope you enjoyed our very first (and most likely last) Poetorium Tapestry poem. I can tell you, for me it was a lot of fun, but an almost overwhelming challenge to put together. I pledge next month we will be trying something a lot simpler for our group poem.
Okay, folks, I guess that concludes the first part of the Virtual Poetorium. We are going to have a brief intermission so you can get take a moment to reflect on all the amazing poems you have heard so far and perhaps even purchase a copy of Curt Curtin’s terrific first full-length collection of poetry, For Art’s Sake at our virtual vendor’s table (you’ll be happy that you did). When we come back, Ron will be starting our virtual open mic.
RON: Okay, everyone, let’s find a seat and get this open mic going!
First up on the open mic is going to be me. I will read a brief poem that I wrote about being homesick as I remember it:
It’s a funny thing about
where you call home
no matter how brief it is
or the conditions
You’re always afraid
you’ll miss the place
I cried when they took
my pistol away from me
when I left Vietnam
I felt completely naked
in a world that was
before I got on
the plane for home
—Ron Whittle (2020)
Next up on the open mic is both a familiar face and a popular favorite at The Poetorium, Dwayne Szlosek:
THE BLUE AND THE GREY AMERICAs
The trees weep after a soft rain.
The sun dims as it sets, and grows ever so dark.
The creatures sing to welcome the night.
I am at the mercy of the fire light.
The campfire light has a ten foot radius.
The darkness surrounds my camp like a prison wall.
I will not be able to leave this god-forsaken place
Until daylight falls.
The predators are no longer my captives.
The birds will sing for my freedom,
To allow me to move about wherever I want to go.
And where I want to go is to go home.
For i am a soldier of Blue.
I am captured by the Gray of the south.
Therefore I am a prisoner of war.
I am one who dreams about being free,
To see America to become a great nation of freedom.
—Dwayne Szlosek (© 05 \07\ 2019)
Thank you! You have all been a great audience. Good night, everyone…
RON: Our next poet is also frequent visitor to the Poetorium stage. Please welcome Barbara Roberts!
Within the Pocket of the successful Coat
Lies hidden the Gift of Arrogance
Extinguishing the Candle of Compassion
Viciousness and Violence abound.
The Powerful reject Anxiety
and call themselves Victorious.
As children look skyward
Skin taught against their skulls with
Starvation on their eyelids.
Thousands of miles away
The souls of mothers-parted cry for
Sons whithering in migrant cells.
Declivity chokes off wisdom.
Where is the Mother of Justice?
Where is the Father of Compassion?
Where is the Light of Empathy?
Are they hiding In the darkness of our night?
RON: Now please welcome in her first appearance at the Poetorium podium – Mishelle Goodwin…
MY SUMMER GETAWAY
I travel miles to get there.
Upon my arrival I check-in to my room and unpack,
Putting away my belongings I look at a map.
Go shopping and cook something to eat.
Lay on the beach and go for a swim
These two weeks of my vacation have no end.
RON: Now please give a big welcome to the always entertaining Howard J. Kogan who made his first appearance at the Virtual Poetorium last month…
HOWARD: This poem is from my book, A Chill in the Air, published in 2016 by Square Circle Press and available from the publisher or Amazon…
Closing the General Store
The old store had been for sale for years
but at what he thought it was worth
it drew little interest and no takers.
Now at eighty-four he needed whatever he could get
needed to be rid of heating the old building,
the electric bills, taxes and endless repairs.
He needed to be done sitting in the ruins
that for eighty years had been the center of town.
These days if six or seven people came in
to chat or a coffee and newspaper, that was it.
A ghost of a store in a ghost town
with few jobs and no prospects.
So when the low-ball offer came,
a third of what seemed fair, he took it.
It was closing today, his son busy
hauling away what little they had use for.
All he wanted was an old Yankee pennant,
and an autographed photo of Joe DiMaggio.
He sat in one of the old chairs in a circle
of chairs where a dwindling number of friends
sat and talked about the past.
We were there with him, looking at the floor,
awkward men at a wake, full of feeling, but so dammed-up
we couldn’t think of a thing to say.
He sat slowly shaking his head, telling one, then another,
If I was even seventy years old, this wouldn’t be happening.
Heaven knows we understood, for each of us had seen his work,
himself, eroded by the relentless silt of time.
None of us would dare to say it out loud,
but each of us knew, and knew the others knew;
Death, that fearsome figure of our younger years,
was drawing closer now and looking more like a friend.
—Howard J Kogan (from A Chill in the Air)
RON: Now please welcome back in her third appearance at the Poetorium, Meg Smith, a poet, journalist, and dancer from Lowell, Massachusetts…
MEG: Mourning doves bring to mind my late husband. He was a scientist who loved all animals and had a special kinship with birds.
This poem is not intended as sentimental. It draws on loss and memory during this great, uncertain time in which we live.
The Madness of Doves
Whisper from a wire,
at dawn —
a nest fallen, with islands
of green moss —
so much, I exhale.
There was no such time
for hearts, or reason,
or wings to open
in a kind, graying arc.
There was and is only
a storm of feathers,
a spring breeze,
that rushes in,
a storm of leaves,
RON: Our next poet is Amy Nawrocki who teaches English at the University of Bridgeport, and Iives in Hamden, CT…
AMY: This poem appears in my latest collection, Mouthbrooders…
Conversation with a Girl Who Hates Poetry
Someone asks and she answers
with a zipped backpack full of sharp pencils
and train schedules with grids and estimates,
but no long tunnels and no distant whistles.
Because no one taught penmanship
but she wears callouses anyway;
because it’s freezing in here
and no one told her how leopard frogs
hibernate in ice and resurrect
stopped hearts with warm sugar.
Because they lied, the ones who promised
gourmet cafeteria food, polynomials
that factor themselves, butter with no fat
and lollipops that suck away loneliness
like long-tongued hummingbirds
stealing from Coral Bells whose color
gives them away.
Because she thinks
I love you doesn’t count
even if it’s written down.
—Amy Nawrocki (from Mouthbrooders)
RON: The next poet is Gail Schuyler, who made her debut at the Poetorium last month…
GAIL: I created this poem for a Mother’s Day service, after a member gave me 6 or 7 words. I have revised it slightly.
A Mother’s Love
Is endless and forgiving.
It is greater than any love
outside of God’s love.
A Mother is grounded
and helps you stay grounded.
The powerful love
between Mother and Child
is a Love that covers
from birth to death
RON: Our next poet is Bob Perry who returns to the Virtual Poetorium stage after a two month absence…
BOB: This is the opening poem in my new book Surrendering to the Path.
A Seed Which Changes Everything
When I was young
I went on an adventure
in the woods behind my home.
The memory of it is surreal and dreamlike,
the familiar woods transformed
into another realm.
Walking through the forest
along the well-worn path, something
urged me into a grove of sumacs.
I came to a small clearing
full of light.
I have spent years trying to recall exactly what happened,
have dreamed of this place,
and can still see it vividly.
Returning to the area I have found the sumacs, but
not the clearing. Something otherworldly and inexplicable occurred.
I have never been the same.
Some days I wish I could remember the event,
but I have a suspicion that it retains its power
because of the mystery it presents.
Creator sometimes acts like a secret agent,
infiltrating the ordinary to plant a sacred seed
—Robert Eugene Perry (from Surrendering to the Path)
RON: Okay, folks, please welcome our special guest all the way from Nice, California, author of ” Persimmon: Poems and Recipes” and beloved host of the public radio show “Radio Jail”, Eugenie Steinman…
EUGENIE: I hadn’t been back to New York for several years when I found myself on the famous ( if your are from Brooklyn like me) Brighton Beach Express. It was Sunday. I saw the train and the people and heard the sounds for what seemed like the first time.This poem just kind of poured out of me..
The Third World Rides The Subway Every Sunday
The Third World rides The Subway every Sunday
From 150th Street to Coney Isle –
Children, mommies, dads,
Guitars strumming in the Subway cars,
Bathing suits under cut jeans
A black Georgian and a Latin queen
singing Strawberry Fields together.
So carefree so style unconscious
with eyelids painted the color of heather,
The best dressed girls you’ve ever seen
Lightly clothed for summer weather,
Arm in arm the cultures blend.
A Haitian girl and her Puerto Rican friend
plotting how to catch the hottest boys in the end,
The third world rides the Subway every Sunday
From Washington Heights to a sky bright with fire work lights.
Three rings hang from each chick’s ear
Making music when the train changes gear.
Hope all that clanging doesn’t break those bottles of beer.
The third world rides the Subway every Sunday
To Coney Island on the Brighton Beach Express.
Away for the day from the heat and the cops
To a place where the sand and the sea never stops.
The third world rides the subway every Sunday
From Washington Heights to a sky bright with firework lights.
—Eugenie Steinman (from Persimmon: Poems and Recipes*)
*Originally published in the Lake County Record-Bee
RON: Now last but not least on our open mic, here is Ariel Potter who has participated in every Virtual Poetorium so far…
The Day You Died
It wasn’t hard to do
You were just making a sandwich
And the next thing you knew
You were looking at your dead body
You thought, “That body is not me at all.”
We are pure spirit
A vibration, a vapor, a thought.
It doesn’t matter
What you call yourself.
You were definatley there.
You lived a whole life,
Brushed your teeth,
Tapped your toes in boredom.
You sang in the shower,
And that was also you,
In the back of an old Chevrolet at 17.
A few times,
You thought you might check out.
No judgement on those who do
When the suffering is too great to bear.
I’m glad you stuck around though.
You got to swim in a lake at midnight
And see the first Black President.
I like my creations to be as happy as possible,
For as long as possible.
I can’t tell you what comes next,
But it does not require
That you spend decades
Trying to get the receptionist
To like you.
I know it’s not what you predicted,
But here you are,
Back in my arms , again.
RON: Okay, before I close out the show, I’d like to bring up to the podium some random guy I never met before tonight named Fred…
PAUL: Thanks, Ron, I guess… I also want to thank tonight’s feature Curt Curtin, as well as his wife Dee O’ Connor, who have both been wonderful friends to me through out the years, and just recently generously helped me put together my first book of poetry, a still yet unpublished chapbook entitled The Farmer’s Son. So tonight I would like to share with you the title poem (which I’m sure many of you heard before) about my father, Winslow Szlosek, who passed away 26 years ago this month…
The Farmer’s Son
On a certain June evening,
unable to descend
into the shadowy depths of sleep,
I find myself back
in the back of a pickup truck,
seven years old and pining away
for the Saturday morning cartoons
I’ll be missing.
My mom’s at the wheel,
steering the old Ford
down the rock infested path
to the potato field.
My two sisters are already there,
so eager to begin, they are digging
with their bare hands, the soil accumulating
in back quarter moons at the tips of their nails.
And my dad, he’s perched high in the seat of the John Deere
staring straight ahead, as steel fingers
rake the earth behind him.
It’s our job to walk these trenches,
trying to tell the dirt-encrusted spuds from stones,
dropping our bounty in to burlap feed bags
slung over our shoulders.
I do not care to be here,
laboring under the morning sun.
I do not care for potatoes
except for their names:
Kennebec, Catawba, Green Mountain,
names too exotic, too divine
for such bland-tasting fleshy tubers.
I believe they are really the names
of foreign kingdoms,
lands of of untold wonders.
I am the farmer’s son,
but not a good one.
I am, by nature, an indoor child
grown pasty by the blue light
of the television screen,
a pale boy who prefers
school work to farm work,
who withers and faints
while picking string beans
in the summer heat.
My dad conceals his disappointment
in a son who does not share
his love for the land
he has toiled for his entire life.
Yet somehow he understands
and tries not to push me so hard.
Perhaps he recognizes
I am not a crop to be cultivated,
but more like a weed
which must spread its roots
wherever it pleases to survive.
And now once again,
it’s twenty years in the future,
the path I chose, led
not to the potato field,
but this cramped city apartment
where I lie in an unmade bed,
trying to come to grips
with the passing of my father,
harvesting longings and regrets.
It is soul, not soil
I dig through now
and what I uncover may not be
as comforting as potatoes.
—Paul Szlosek (originally published in The Landmark)
Before I turn the podium back over to Ron to close out the show, I just want to thank everyone that participated in tonight’s program including Curt and everyone in the virtual open reading as well as the talented contributors to our group poem: Bob, Howard, Jonathan, Gail, Ron, and Dwayne. You are all both amazing people and poets! As I keep saying, without all you wonderful folks, there would be no Poetorium! And that especially applies to you too, Ron, even though you can’t seem to get my name right tonight…
RON: Well, thanks, Fred! This has been another great show, and now it’s time for my closeout poem..
Parking lots and restrooms
Who doesn’t love barefoot walks
in the summer sand
or the bars that line the beach
or the bathing suit beauties
who dance two by two
to the jukebox music that fills the air
And I wonder did the native Indians
vacation here, before the coming
of Christopher Columbus
and his merry band of eight
and who are these Pilgrims
who brought the knowledge
of saltwater taffy, hotdogs
and cotton candy too
And I wonder
When did the ocean
become a tourist trap
with folding chairs and beach umbrellas
and boardwalks to keep sand
from your feet
and who is it that made the decision on what is
a public or private beach
And I’m wondering
what do the Indians think
This show went by very quickly I’m sorry that I have to wait for an entire month for another show Fred and I will be busy preparing and writing for the next one.
We will miss you one and all, good night everyone (I’m waving)! May God bless each and every one of you, be safe and for god’s sakes don’t come down with the Covid. We need you and want you to come back!
Good night Mrs Cowart where ever you are!
Love you guys,
Fred and Ron