Last But Not Least: Environmental Reading

By Ma’ayan D’Antonio

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Down Home Kitchen. Photo by Ma’ayan D’Antonio

As the rain tapped on the windows of Down Home Kitchen, the inside was abuzz with excitement and chatter. Down Home Kitchen, once a book store, was a fitting location for the last event of poetry month. On the menu was a hot cup of soup with a side of fresh corn bread, green salad and a large chocolaty brownie. The diners sat around the long wooden table enjoying the family style dining.

James Crews, Julia Shipley, Sean Prentiss and Jody Gladding are environmental poets, letting the place shape them as writer and as humans.

The first to step up to read was James Crews, as he took the mic, he nervously adjusted it admitting that mics stress him out. James read poetry for his husband who is a farmer as well as poetry about the places he has been to.

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From left to right, Sean Prentiss, Jody Gladding, Julia Shipley and James Crews. Photo by Rachel Senechal

As passersby walked past, they glanced curiously through the window to see Julia Shipley thank the captivated audience for taking part in PoemCity. She was kind enough to take into account that people were still eating. She chose to read “poems that one can hear while eating.” She laughed nervously. She admitted that she “is too in love with my puns” as she read us her new poem Glass Eye Factory, with a line that reads ‘blink and you miss it’.

Sean Prentiss, charming as ever, was kind enough to thank both his students from Norwich University and VCFA for coming down to support PoemCity. “Throw the double chocolate cookies at me” he said, in truth tomatoes just wouldn’t do. Sean read from his new poetry collection, poems that mostly read as love poems to nature and his wife.

Jody Gladding was the last poet to read that night, as the rain stopped and plates emptied, she handed out the poems that she was going to read from. Her new poetry looks strange and unconventional but the reading is beautiful and ever changing. With words spread out on the page there is no right or wrong way to read it, just the will to let it take you where it may.

After all that is what poetry is all about.

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Documentary Poetry: a workshop with Simone John

By Ma’ayan D’Antonio

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Simone John photo by Ma’ayan D’Antonio

With the sky overcast, we gathered at the Kellogg-Hubbard Library to the sounds of soft music playing. Simone was busily getting ready for the workshop, on the table lay books of poetry. Among them was Testify, Simone’s debut poetry collection, that revolves around the murder trial of Trayvon Martin. Olio by Tyehimba Jess and Blood Dazzler: Poems by Patricia Smith were also among her examples of documentary poetry.

Simone went around the room asking how everyone was doing, based on a scale of 1-5. Simone said that she was a 4.75, because the sun was not yet shining that day. She then preceded to explain in depth what is documentary poetry. A lot of it is researching an event or issue that is on your mind or that you like, get to know it.

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Workshop photo by Ma’ayan D’Antonio

For Simone it was mostly what was being said during the murder trial in the death of Trayvon Martin, as well as what people where saying on the social networks. There still are poetic libraries within this form, yet you can pull things from court documents, testimonies, court transcripts, comments that people left on news feeds and so on.

This form of poetry she explained, comes from a place of obsession. It is a way to reflect on the world in a poetic way. “A machine of words.” she said. Find what moves you, hunts you, dig deep into it then write about it.

Simone offered some techniques to consider when writing this or any other kind of poetry:

– Think about tension and how you play with the white space. What is the white space saying, or not saying.

– Think about the view or lens that the poem is taking on.

– Diction and word choice.

– You can have multiple voices in the poem.

– Juxtaposing, comparing things or placing them in conversation with one another.

– Form.

– The writer as the camera, Maggie Nelson does this well.

– Layering texts/ texture. This is a way to use statements that others have made that seem important to the poem.

– Interviews. Olio is an example for what she meant.

With the sun coming out, the poets shared what they had come up with during the workshop. Nothing complete, yet true beginnings.