Pasadena Public Library, Santa Clarita Branch
Saturday Afternoon Poetry
26 June 2010, 3-5 PM
On Saturday, I attended an afternoon reading the Santa Clarita Branch of the Pasadena Public Library, located on East Washington Blvd. off Lake Ave. in Pasadena. I arrived a little bit late, but luckily they also started late, so I didn’t miss anything and didn’t even interrupt the introductions. The reading was given in a back room of the library, and if I hadn’t asked where to go, I wouldn’t have been able to find it because the door to the room looked like it was meant for librarians only (and perhaps it was, once). At the front of the room, there was a long folding table that had various collections and chapbooks from the featured readers for sale on it. Fours rows of six chairs each were set up facing the table, with the chairs split down the middle for an aisle. Though Poetry Flash only mentioned three featured readers, there were actually four.
It seemed like it was a group of regulars who all knew one another (and had heard some of the poets before) because there was little in the way of introductions. There was also an open mic, the readers of which signed up ahead of time and were interspersed between the featured readers. There were two open mic readers, who each read for five minutes or less, and then a featured reader, who read for around fifteen minutes. Then, two more open mic readers and a featured reader, and so on. I didn’t take many notes on the open mic readers since I wasn’t attending the reading for them, and they seemed to have less of a stage presence than the featured readers anyway. I don’t know if that’s because they  read fewer of their poems (as opposed to the featured readers), or  had less time to get going, or  rarely raised their heads from the page (so frustrating! It was like they were giving reports instead of reading poetry!), but there you go.
The first two open mic readers were Rich Lufta (I’m not sure of the spelling), who read three poems, and Rafael F.J. Alvarado, who read one. The first featured poet was introduced as “Poetbroker” (left) and he never gave his real name, so I guess an alias is just fine for him. He explained that he is a real estate broker who writes poetry about real estate and has therefore taken on his moniker. He didn’t give any titles to any of the poems he read, so I wrote down the first lines of each, including “When a poet was heard to say” and “Developers are tinkering with a tinsel town tool kit”. He was an engaging reader, but his choice of topics was completely uninteresting to me, so I found most of his poems to be, basically, forgettable.
Poetbroker had a tendency to explain each poem before he read it and interrupted himself at least once midway through a poem to explain something he didn’t think we understood. (Or maybe that interruption was part of the poem? It didn’t sound like it, but it’s possible.) One interesting one that he did name was “Ezra and Ezri”, which was named after Ezra Pound and Ezri Namvar, a man who is considered by many to be the West Coast’s Bernie Madoff. His last poem, which began with “Terrence O’Connor was a kid that wasn’t afraid to make trouble”, was also memorable (to me) because he mentioned the Far Rockaway Local, which is part of the A Line that makes local stops in the New York City subway system. He has a chapbook published called Jaded Deco.
Following Poetbroker were two more open mic readers: Jerry Garcia (no, not the Jerry Garcia), who read two poems, and CaLokie, who read four poems, including a sonnet and a call-and-response, “Oklahoma Stomp Dance“. “Ghost Ships”, his third poem, had (a) good line(s): “Weeping Cherokee woman walking in front of Anglo-Saxon soldier on horse could have been my ancestor. The soldier, too.” The second featured reader was Lucia Galloway (right). She read seven poems from her collection, Venus and Other Losses. One interesting line from “Winter Tales” was “small rat he was to trail a tail so long”. The title poem, “Venus and Other Losses” was in seven parts, one part of which had the line(s): “Last night I dreamed my infant daughter had been thrown into a barrel and I, armless, could not save her.” It included poignant imagery of arms and hands and mentioned the Venus de Milo along with other references to ancient Greek mythology and architecture.
Galloway also read “The Comtesse d’Houssonville with Nature Morte”, about a painting of the same name. Another poem she read, “Jane Carlyle Laments”, is a persona poem in the voice of Thomas Carlyle’s wife. (Thomas Carlyle was a Scottish satirical writer, essayist, historian, and teacher who lived in the 19th Century.) “Instructions for the Lucialet” was an ars poetica for a made-up poetic form that the poet named after herself. Galloway’s last poem was interactive, with members from the audience reading parts of “Urban(e) Pianos”; I read the third and fourth stanzas, which were coupled together because of enjambment.
Two more open mic readers followed Galloway; Judith Terzi, first, read two poems, including an anagram sonnet. She has a collection out called The Road to Oxnard. Michelle Angelini went second and read three poems, including one called “A Metamorphic Weariness”, which alluded to The Wizard of Oz by mentioning Dorothy in a field of poppies. The third featured poet was Mikel Weisser (twitter) (left), whose most recent chapbook is Leaving the Empire. Like the last featured poet, he also read seven poems, including “Another ‘P’ Word” (a prose poem about plumbing at a friend’s house), “Reach” (a slam poem), “Here’s What You Do”, and “Careful, my hair is here to be dangerous”. Weisser had a very good stage presence and his work was more interesting than the first featured poet, Poetbroker.
In “For My Late Wife”, Weisser wrote about his wife’s six suicide attempts and her seventh success (if you could call it that): “Seven times we went down that road and the seventh time I came back alone.” Another poem about aging poets, especially one woman who had to drag her oxygen behind her when she stood up to give a reading, was called “The Good Grey Poets”. It had quite a few similes and ended with “a few more measured breaths, a few per minute, a few minutes more… or less”. His last poem, “Someday”, was about possibly coming across a Great Poem (so great that it can even cure cancer) written by someone completely unexceptional. It ended retrospectively: “and when that moment comes, I hope I don’t recoil. I pray I’m listening.”
The last two open mic readers were interesting for different reasons. The first of the two was Neva Wallace (on left in photo), who read two poems. The first was “The battle rampaged throughout the year”, a sonnet about man’s struggle against man that had a quirky twist ending. Her second poem, “Tribulations”, was much longer and more enthralling than most of the poems previously read by the other poets. Her two-poem reading made me wish that she was a featured poet instead of one of the other, lesser choices. (Actually, I think that she was a featured reader at Saturday Afternoon Poetry in April or May this year.) The other open mic reader was Don “Kingfisher” Campbell. He read three poems from two of his collections, Campbell’s Classics and Amongst the Detritus. He was interesting because he was also the afternoon’s emcee. He had commented on various other poems all the way through and then he read, too. His last poem was printed out on a broadside for some inexplicable reason.
The last featured reader was Heather Derr-Smith (right), who flew in from Iowa (specifically for this reading? I’m not sure; she might be touring) and who has spent a lot of time in Damascus, the subject of her second collection, The Bride Minaret. “It’s about exile and identity in the Middle East,” she said. Derr-Smith was an engaging reader and is a poet with a few memorable lines, but by the time she got up to read, I was pretty much poetry-ed out for the day. The poem called “The Girl Named Tents” was the most impressive of the ones she read, about a girl born into a (refugee?) camp in the Middle East. One line about why she was named Tents says, “She was supposed be a boy, as all girls are.” Derr-Smith also read “Witchcraft in Twin Springs” about her brother heading out of the suburb where they grew up with their mother to meet up with some 30-ear-olds practicing magic in the woods. “The Pelican” was a story in poetic form that her father had told her after she was able to reconnect with him as an adult. (The last time she saw him before finding him again was when she was five. Shortly thereafter, he “went missing” and lived in Mexico for a long time.)
I still would’ve liked to have the poems in front of me while they were read so that  I’d know each poem’s title, various spellings, and line breaks,  I’d be able to follow along more easily and not get lost in what felt like buzzwords (especially in the case of Poetbroker), and  I’d have a flavor of each poet’s work on which to base my assumptions. It’s probably a completely different experience when an audience member is already a fan of a poet’s work and then decides to attend a reading where that poet is speaking. Presumably, that audience member would already know the work and possibly more about the life of the poet than I did today.