Tuesday, March 27, 2018

My Life At The Mic- Not Always ‘The Diva’


When I was in high school, I was on the staff of our literary arts magazine, Pegasus. I enjoyed discussing the work submitted, and was already writing a lot of poetry myself. However, when it came time to present my own work, I would have others read it for me. I was too shy to read it aloud myself. In high school, that never changed. Even when I got a chorus part in the spring musical of my Senior year, Fiddler on the Roof, the only thing that kept me from freezing on stage, I suspect, was taking off my glasses for performances, in an effort at authenticity.

In college, I again joined the literary magazine staff, briefly, Cadence then, and several other things since. I don’t remember how much of my own work was involved, but I’m pretty sure the pressures of my dysfunctional marriage put the kibosh on that endeavor early on. I think the first poet I heard read her work aloud was Carley Bogarad, the late professor at SUNY New Paltz. I was a flop in her Intro English class, skipping as much as I could without flunking out, not feeling a part of the clique that had been firmly established among most of the other students during the previous semester.

But, I had the good fortune (and the nerve, considering my shoddy academic behavior) to hear Carley read her impressive work on campus once. The effect of hearing the poet read, as opposed to the many hours I’d spent reading the work of so many others, always in my own voice in my head, was profound. The connection between audience and writer was palpable. This was what I had longed for in writing, and never knew was missing.

After college, after divorce, I began to become involved in the Hudson Valley poetry scene. There was a group that met bi-monthly at the Stone Ridge Library that I found helpful, supportive, and really, a safe place to find my voice. We met in a living room of sorts, cozy with couches and lamps and threadbare rugs. The Stone Ridge Poetry Society, where I made friends that I still keep in touch with to this day, evolved into the Woodstock Poetry Society. WPS holds monthly readings at a Woodstock bookstore, and as such, it’s probably one of the longest continuous readings in the county.

Then there was the Tinker Street CafĂ© readings. I was driven by then to put my work out there as efficiently as possible. Mailing poems away to editors meant they were out of your hands for months at a time, and perhaps you’d never get a reply. Reading is a little like self-publishing, in that the poet gets to decide the shape of presentation, the tone of the work, the when and where. I felt like a goddess when I managed to get to the mic, and perhaps my hesitance made my experiences there basically painless. The volatile host, Dean Schambach, had no beef with me, and the drunks at the bar must have found my poems uninteresting, and left me alone. But, I got up and waded through the testosterone of that legendary watering hole, and practiced my art. Ever grateful to Dean for the chance and the support.

Today, so many years later, I marvel at the ease with which I approach the mic. I still feel a slight rush just before, plan out my path between the folding chairs and the wires, but once I’m there, my schtick begins. I sell my latest chapbook, talk up any readings I have coming up, then get down to the work. I don’t spend too much time explaining. If the poem doesn’t say it, it’s not done. If I don’t want to say it directly, any explanation will spoil the effect. I keep within the time constraints, because I respect the host and my fellow readers, even if they don’t return the favor. I like to leave listeners wanting more, in any case.

Afterwards, I get a few handshakes, some polite remarks from friendly and unfamiliar faces. I have taken to giving away pens that promote this blog, in fact. And I am happy with what I do. Without it, what would I be? Hardly a Diva.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

(Most Of) The Truth Will Set You Free

Although there are short periods when I’m not writing much poetry, I don’t think it’s because of a lack of topics. For example, the other night I was up at 2am, not common for me but an occasional thing. I ended up writing a poem about Fred Allen, a humorist from the mid-20th Century who’s been all but forgotten in this digital age. If it weren’t for the reruns of What’s My Line on Youtube, via the Game Show Network, I’m never would have had the pleasure of seeing Fred’s spontaneous quips. He was a favorite pen pal of Groucho Marx, and for a time one of the biggest stars on radio. You might have trouble finding people under 40 who remember Groucho, much less Fred.

The poem, however, is a thinly veiled political dig. Hopefully that comes through. I’ve never labeled myself as a political poet, but in recent times, it has become a means by which I can express my concerns and suggestions in a creative manner. I try to get to the demonstrations when I can, but in the meantime, I still work my 35 hours a week. I still try to keep my home in decent shape. I get tired. But poems burst out here and there that I’d like to think contribute to the cause.

There are certainly still subjects I try to steer away from, much as I am an adamant advocate for the truth. Poetry in particular seems to be held to the highest standards, even when the story is clearly altered for the sake of telling a good story. Poetry of all the arts seems to be most often taken at face value. I even try to change the facts, if a poem is inspired by real life, in order to shape the rhythm and effect, but I am not very good at it. Perhaps that’s why I’ve finally been drawn to memoir in prose form these past few years. The poems are always rooted in fact, but with memoir, there’s no doubt.

It’s taken me thirty years to begin to tell the story of my early and ill-fated marriage, but there are still parts I’ll leave out. Truthful as I’d like to be, there are still those who don’t deserve to be involved, even as peripheral characters. Memoir is also terribly subjective. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to pin down dates, creating a firm timeline to organize my episodes to. But to others who were there, it might not look like anything they saw. So, unless someone is crucial to the plot (because, after all, what good’s a memoir unless you’re telling it in the form of a ripping good yarn), they won’t be included.

Poems happen, and can be shared with particular audiences I can predict will be most receptive. I was surprised by the very positive reception the Fred Allen piece got this past weekend at a gathering in Arkville. But the memoir is a bigger project, intended for a broader audience (fingers crossed). The themes, plain and subtle, should be universal in appeal and timeless.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

*Poem: They Shot Up My Old High School

They Shot Up My Old High School
                                                                                    -for Noah

They shot up my old high school,
Xmas, Hanukah decorations still lingering in the halls.
Down by the lockers, the setting for my first kiss,
a boy with big brown eyes
laid in his own blood for hours
until the shooter was captured.

In the cafeteria, where I myself
organized the Food Fight of the Century,
doors were barred shut,
long lunch tables piled against them,
students huddled behind the hot lunch counter,
texting thanks to their moms and dads
for everything they’d ever received
in their short lives.

The big gym teacher we laughed at, until he hit a ball
out to the back bleachers, used himself
as a shield, took a dozen bullets aimed at his kids,
died in the line of duty.

We all knew the shooter, familiar site in the
principal’s office, or smoking on the docks,
hanging at the pizza place in the plaza.
The easy toys he collected, posed with
like a movie star on Facebook, got no response.
The throat of his gun had to open for them to see
how serious, how important it all was.

The school nurse, out of band-aids and hope,
resigned her post.

CAR   2/17/18

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Guy Reed & Cheryl A. Rice at WPS

Poets Guy Reed & Cheryl A. Rice will be featured, along with an open mike when the Woodstock Poetry Society meets at Golden Notebook (Upstairs), 29 Tinker Street on Saturday, March 10, at 2pm.

The readings will be hosted by Woodstock area poet Phillip X Levine. All meetings are free, open to the public, and include an open mike.

Guy Reed is a graduate of The American Academy of Dramatic Arts and author of the poetry chapbook, The Effort To Hold Light (Finishing Line Press). He has published both essays and poetry. Most recently, he has two prose pieces published on the podcast, The Strange Recital (the strangerecital.com). He’s published poems in Poetry East and contributed 2 poems, performing one, in a featured role for the independent feature film, I Dream Too Much (2015, 77 Films, Attic Light Films), available on Netflix. Guy has lived in the Catskill Mountains the past 20 years with his wife and their two children.

Cheryl A. Rice’s work has appeared in Baltimore Review, Florida Review, Home Planet News, Mangrove, The Temple, and Woodstock Times, among others. Chapbooks include Llama Love (2017: Flying Monkey Press), Moses Parts the Tulips (2013: APD Press), and My Minnesota Boyhood (2012: Post Traumatic Press). Rice is founder and host of the now-defunct “Sylvia Plath Bake-Off.” Her RANDOM WRITING workshops are held throughout the Hudson Valley. Her poetry blog is at: http://flyingmonkeyprods.blogspot.com/.