Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Poetry Night at Adeline's

Seems like every time I turn around I am finding more gatherings of poets, publicly sharing their transparent hearts and bountiful literary observations, both vivid and translucent, comic and serious. Here are some notes about the first four poets who read from their work ten days ago at Adeline’s Salon on the East Hillside of Duluth.

Chairs had been arranged in a semi-circle facing the mirror in the back left of the salon and a fairly healthy crowd had arrived by the time I slipped in shortly after eight. The mirror there is interesting because one's first impression is that there is a back room and perhaps the speakers will step out from the other room to read, as if coming out of the mirror. Having been to Adeline's before I am always surprised how this "effect" always fools me at first. There is something magical about mirrors.

Amy Groshek read first. Groshek brought along a new chap book called Shin Deep, which has a sepia-toned photo of work boots on the cover. She hails from rural Wisconsin and the poetry in her collection is rooted in this experience, some if it -- like Paying the Bills -- capturing the pain she and her family experienced upon having to leave the land. The poem is essentially the story of cow number 49's attempts to resist being led to the slaughterhouse, breaking away while her father held on to its tail. The insight that emerges has references to the ancient Greeks and tragedy.

Groshek opened with The Revolutionary, an unexpected "autobiographical" sketch of Christ the healer whom Pilate held up to the crowd in the end for a verdict. "...and they shouted to kill me." A poignant, tight summation. Other poems had titles like "Parochial" and a humorous piece called "Usage." A piece she read about her grandmother who died of Alzheimers, called "How It's Done," touched me for its relevance to my own life.

Hannah Adams of southwest Wisconsin read next. As introduction she noted how she left home, westward bound, and ultimately ended up in Maui. Her mother's illness brought her back to the Midwest. She began with a piece called "Herstory Lesson," reciting with professional form. "American history is not my own... I have homes and countries...I spread my DNA over my future."

She shared a love poem "For Adrian" and another piece called "The Secret." But I especially liked the setup for he poem "Occupation" in which the shifting dreams of her life emerge than permutate into other other futures. "At four years old I wanted to grow up to become an alien.... I am so young compared to the sequoias and still learning how to grow," she recited without text. "Today I am already living the life of the wise woman I hope to become."

Three of the four featured poets were younger women. Ellie Schoenfeld is a veteran poet from Duluth who is respected for her dedication to the craft. She opened with a piece titled "Patriot."  "I pledge allegiance to all the soil of the world..." Her work takes common images and extracts uncommon ideas from them. Her poems bore titles like "Summer Stasis" and "Blueberries" and a fun piece called "Paparazzi of the Mind." Another poem called "Owl" was written the year the Boreal owls were here. Her wry piece "Some Things I Have Observed About Jesus" is a pointed reminder of divide between political Christian conservatism and the carpenter of Nazareth.

The final poet of this quartet was Kat M who read from her new chapbook titled Something Is Happening to the Archtypes, a collection of prose poems. At first I thought she said the booklet was titled Something Is Happening to the Architects, so fortunately I have a copy of the book and was able to get at least this much right. (The idea of something happening to the architects does, upon further reflection, seem to intrigue me as a theme.)

Each of the poems is written with relationship to place, so the first piece, titled "How To Dance Like No One Is Watching," begins with the tag Los Angeles. Kat's writing is deliberately dense, and the prose format seems to emphasize this. At times the poems strike me as literary equivalents of Salvador Dali's surrealistic paintings, with disturbing images presented with such precision and technical skill that there is a beauty in the horror. The poems appear to have stakes in the ground in each of the places she's be, Pittsburgh, Traverse City, Duluth, Provo and New York City. Titles like "Detaching the Retina from Behind" and "Chronicles of Insomnia: If You Can, Build It Now" take you places you didn't expect to go. This night she shared, "I'm nobody's Orpheus," and got away with it.

After a pause there was an open stage for the other poets gathered, many of them familiar faces in this circle. The night gave proof once again of a serious literary world in place here in the North Country and a lot of youth really getting immersed in it. Write on!

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