I like to gender balance my readings so since 2 male poets read last week (Don Levy & Donald Lev) I scheduled “The Women Poets of Willett St.” for tonight’s Poets in the Park. It was another fine Summer eve under the shadow of the Robert Burns statue in Albany’s Washington Park.
Sylvia Barnard read an eclectic selection from a manuscript she is preparing for publication. A classicist, she said she was letting the gods make the selection for her, the way the Athenians chose their leaders by lottery. Tonight the gods did well with their selection. She began with her newest poem about a visit to SPAC, “Ballet on a Summer Afternoon.” Most of her reading was a mix of poems about Great Britain (England) & New England where she grew up. She visited the old homestead to comment on the ravages of time in her poems “Magic” & “The Frog Pond.” Poems set in old England included one about the ruins of a church in Thetford, & “Drum” (about St. Alban’s Abbey), & one about her 15th century ancestor William Bardwell. The poem about World War II, “The Mothers of London,” echoed in its images of mothers & children one she read earlier set in Athens, “Grave Stele.” She included “Gallows Hill Madison Ave. Albany, NY” from the 1994 collection Open Mic: the Albany Anthology, with its mention of a cathedral, like her poems set in Great Britain. Even her poem about butterflies, “Monarch,” recalled her trips across the ocean to look for records of ancestors. Sylvia reads regularly in downtown open mics where one hears only 1 or 2 of her poems at a time, so it was very rich to be able to hear such a broad sample of her work.
Carolee Sherwood also reads regularly here in open mics, another “Woman Poet of Willett St.” whom was good to hear in an extended set. In contrast to Sylvia’s play list chosen by the gods, Carolee had a carefully prepared program of “mostly downtown poems” to celebrate her past year, when she moved to Willett St. She began with “Ode to Tess’ Lark Tavern Where Good Friends Meet” to the old Lark Tavern before the fire in May 2010. Her poems took us from her move from the suburbs (“What I Will Miss When I Move to the City”) to urban images of her new life in poems such as “February Without Snow” & “Wednesday Night Poetry Reading.” While she introduced her poem “January Divorced from Winter” as satisfying the need for “a relationship” poem in the reading, in truth that theme popped up in many others, such as “Do Not be Startled” & “On the Mend.” But the tender poem of thanks “To My Dearest Friends on the First Day of Another Year, January 1, 2012” was really where her work was headed. She ended with 3 recent, upbeat poems looking forward & back at the same time. “Independence, July 4th 2012” contained vegetables, lilies & fireworks, & “Poem for the Albany Aqua Ducks,” complete with a souvenir quacker, was about her boys & her city, proud of both. Her reading also included 2 birthday poems (the earlier “On Turning 39” was filled with images of her moving boxes), & she ended with the celebratory “On Turning 40 In a Basement Apartment Downtown,” complete with fake glasses, a poem in which she smiles even at pigeons. It was a good year.
I must say I am most pleased with the pairing of these 2 fine poets that help make our poetry community the wonderful, vibrant, creative place it is. Another fine night in the Park.
Poets in the Park at the Robert Burns statue in Albany’s Washington Park on the Saturdays in July since 1990.