Busy Week for Poetry

Last week featured two solid poetry events in the Scranton area that I’ll recap quick. I hope this is the start of more poetry-oriented events coming to this area.

First, Carolyn Forché came to the University Scranton on Wednesday evening to deliver a lecture about Poetry of Witness. She also read some poems from her second book, The County Between Us, which was published in 1981 with the help of Margaret Atwood.  The book deals with her time spent in El Salvador during the Salvadoran Civil War, so the poems fit in with the lecture she gave on Poetry of Witness. I don’t want to recap the whole lecture, but I do want to point out some points I found interesting. First, I agree with her statement that when poets sit down and immediately say they’re going to write a political poem or poem with a message, it never turns out that well. Poetry of Witness personalizes the political and focuses on what the poet experienced. So, for instance, The Country Between Us contains poems describing some of the atrocities Forché witnessed in El Salvador. They are personalized, first-hand accounts.

She was also optimistic about the opportunities for social change, due to social media. She pointed to Egypt as an example, how those protests were organized using Twitter and Facebook. She also pointed out social media allows young people from all over the world to have a dialogue.

The second big poetry event that occurred this week was a  Friday evening performance of Langston Hughes’ 12 moods for jazz entitled Go Ask Your Mama. This event, held at Lackawanna College’s Mellow Theater, featured a live reading of the 12 poems, mixed with jazz music and film from the civil rights movement. Great performance overall.

Finally, I want to mention that my poetry students from a workshop/class at the Vintage Theater will be reading their work this Wednesday,  at 7 pm at the Vintage Theater (119 Penn Avenue). Admission is free, so stop by. Once this first workshop/class concludes, I will be teaching another one at the Vintage Theater, which will also be five weeks. This will most likely begin in May. The price will again be $75, capped at about 5 students. We hope to do a few more, though I’m not sure what my situation will be come this fall.

In response to not getting paid much…

I came across a sort of funny article in the Washington Post today regarding Busboys & Poets, the famous restaurant/bookstore/poetry venue in Washington, DC. According to the article, poet and Washington native, Thomas Sayers Ellis, stole a cardboard cutout of Langston Hughes from the venue in response to what he calls a “low pay scale” for writers that perform at the venue. 

Ellis, also an assistant professor of creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College, went on to tell the Post, “You would think that an establishment that makes as much money as Busboys would have set in place a reading series with a respectful pay scale for writers. The restaurant gives poets a venue, but it also profits from their talent. The literary community doesn’t know if Busboys is the good guys or the bad guys.”

The article also mentions that the owner pays a monthly salary for three poets-in-residence (one at each of the restaurant’s locations) as well as $50 each to a host and featured poet at three weekly readings.

A lot of poets starting out are used to not making much money at readings, and the little money they do make usually comes from book sales at readings. But the two Busboys & Poets locations are popular spots and staples of the poetry community in DC. Can’t they afford to pay more than $50 to some of the bigger names they bring in? At least what Ellis did has started a debate about the pay scale for poets at the popular venue.

Langston Hughes Project Coming to Scranton

Langston Hughes, the most influential Harlem Renaissance poet, is going to be showcased in the Scranton area, at Lackawanna College’s Mellow Theater. The press release I received about this project is posted below. It sounds like a wonderful way to spend a Friday evening and experience Hughes’ poetry mixed with jazz.

On Friday, February 18, 2011 at 8:00pm, Community Concerts at Lackawanna College will present The Langston Hughes Project, Ask Your Mama: Twelve Moods for Jazz, featuring the Ron McCurdy Quartet at the Mellow Theater at Lackawanna College. The Langston Hughes Project is a multimedia concert performance of Langston Hughes’s kaleidoscopic jazz poem suite. Ask Your Mama is Hughes’s homage in verse and music to the struggle for artistic and social freedom at home and abroad at the beginning of the 1960s. It is a twelve-part epic poem which Hughes scored with musical cues drawn from blues and Dixieland, gospel songs, boogie woogie, bebop and progressive jazz, Latin “cha cha” and Afro-Cuban mambo music, German lieder, Jewish liturgy, West Indian calypso, and African drumming — a creative masterwork left unperformed at his death. Tickets are $30 and $20 and can be obtained by calling (570) 955-1455, in person through the college’s box office and online through www.etix.com

Student tickets are available for only $15. This performance is sponsored in part by Prudential Financial. Jazz was a cosmopolitan metaphor for Langston Hughes, a force for cultural convergence beyond the reach of words, or the limits of any one language. It called up visual analogues for him as well, most pointedly the surrealistic techniques of painterly collage and of the film editing developed in this country in the 1930s and 40s, which condensed time and space, conveyed to the viewer a great array of information in short compass, and which offered the possibility of suggesting expanded states of consciousness, chaotic remembrances of past events or dreams — through montage. “To me,” Hughes wrote, “jazz is a montage of a dream deferred. A great big dream — yet to come — and always yet to become ultimately and finally true.”
Substantial group discounts are also available by calling (570) 955-1455.  For more information, please visit www.lackawanna.edu/CommunityConcerts .