Discovered Poets at the NY Chapbook Festival

Sylvia Plath
Sylvia Plath

I’m a little late on this, but I’ve been too tired to face the whiteness of the screen. The Chapbook Festival Award Ceremony took place on April 2. It’s a great event to meet new and veteran poets.  On this particular night in New York City, the 13th St. Repertory Theater was crowded. People were even sitting on the stage and standing behind the last row of seats. “Who knew so many people liked poetry?” remarked the hostess. There was wine and cheese—and plenty of tiny warm smiles.

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The ceremony is part of the PSA Chapbook Fellowship Program that gives new poets a chance for exposure and mentoring from veteran poets. The first judge to introduce their selected poet was Elizabeth Alexander who read for Obama’s 2009 inauguration. Her fellow, Callie Siskel read poems from her Chapbook, Arctic Revival. Her most memorable poem, whose title escapes me, was about a child entering her mother’s house and making her presence known while her mom and presumably a boyfriend were just setting up for a romantic night. The little girl represented her father in that moment when she hurled her school book bag on the floor. I thought it was powerful as it built up toward the ending.

Forrest Gander presented his fellow, HL Hazuka. Gander has a unique way of reading poems, almost bluesy, with ingrained beats while he taps his foot. It was lovely to watch him read Alfonso D’ Aquino’s Fronda and then Mano one of his own poems.

HL Hazuka’s Chapbook, True to Life: cuttings, mechanics & modification are mostly fragments of loose thoughts from films or visuals images. Gander described them as “landscapes in words,” and “how we understand the present.” The writer was not there to read her poems, so we were left without hearing her voice. But nonetheless as conveyed by Gander, we got a sense of her poems’ ethereal lightness similar to clear April morning.

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Eva Maria Saavedra

I was also delightfully surprised to hear there was a Peruvian poet among the Chapbook Fellows.  Marilyn Hacker,  known for her formal yet colloquial style, presented Eva Maria Saavedra’s.  For Hacker, Eva’s poems in Thirst demonstrate “the personal is political,” and that “double-consciousness” often paints the world of immigrants. I’m one of them. I know few Peruvians in New York and fewer Peruvian poets, so it was refreshing and familiar to hear words that felt close to my homeland. In one of her poems she mentioned pampas, meaning fertile plains or lowlands in Quechua. The world alone transfers a feeling and a memory. Here are some of her published poems: After Monet’s Water Lilies, 1919, Abuela Maria’s Refusal, 3 Poems.

Valentine is one of those approachable poets with a friendly smile. Just from her reading you can tell her humor is soft, but wise and she offers it to everyone gladly. Jean Valentine‘s  presented Max Ritvo’s AEONS, and mentioned his “playful deep sense of wonder.” One of his poems mentioned “lyrical company” —and I thought yes one must always have that. He used words in juxtaposition to create something akin to language poems. The language appears to carry the meaning, and his readings are mini performance pieces.

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Jean Valentine

A friend who invited me, managed to ambush (friendly ambush) Valentine, one of her favorites. She took out a copy of Home Deep Blue with big curious eyes: “This is why I’m here!” She headed towards the stage to Jean. Last I saw they were all smiles. Before Eva left,  I said hello, and chatted with her for a little. It was a swell night all around, and everything under one of those spring nights.

You can purchase Chapbooks here.

Upcoming poetry readings in NYC:

04/21 – 09/22          Bryant Park’ s Word for Word

4/26     Queens Writes Poetry Workshop

Various dates  KGB