This was the last of the season’s reading at the College of St. Rose in Albany, NY, with both poets, Sharon Mesmer & Jonah Winter, having entries in series co-ordinator Daniel Nester’s 2013 The Incredible Sestina Anthology (Write Bloody Publishing).
The first poem Sharon Mesmer read, titled “I Want to Expose Myself for the Love of the People,” introduced her style (outrageous language trying to be funny with bizarre juxtapositions sometime useful, sometimes as gratuitous as the language) & her persona (self-absorbed punk, or as the title of one of her books, Annoying Diabetic Bitch). So when she read her 2nd poem “What Happens If Your Eyeball Falls Out of Your Socket” it sounded just like her 1st poem. Her sestina, written for the anthology, “Super Rooster Killer Assault Kit,” turned out to be Google-generated “flarf poem” (so Google it) filled with pop culture references & — you got it — outrageous language. In fact when she read an assemblage of “beautiful poetry” to counter criticism that she only writes “ugly poetry” it actually sounded like all the others. The title of her last poem could’ve been the title of her reading, “Song of Myself.” I remember when I discovered Dada when I was in high school & my friends & I sat around composing poems from random word-searches in the dictionary (pre-Google) & laughing at our cleverness. Maybe I should dig out those old notebooks & perhaps I too can get a good-paying poetry gig in Academe.
One thing that could be said about Jonah Winter’s reading is that at least his poems were more varied than Mesmer’s, although they could also be characterized as “cleverness personified.” He read his 2 sestinas from the Nester anthology, “Sestina: A Cowboy’s Diary” (based on an actual cowboy’s diary) & “Sestina: Bob” (only 1 end rhyme, “Bob,” rather than 6) as well as a couple others: another limited-vocabulary sestina based on a student’s response to Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, the other sestina in the form of an infomercial for increasing one’s vocabulary. Other silliness were a series of poems in the persona of an ignorant 13-year old boy, a poem from a beard’s point-of-view “Ode on Santa Fe,” an (actually funny) satire “The Lord’s Pledge Drive” & an audience participation piece “Psalm” where he got us to make the “poetry grunt” as needed.
Perhaps over the Summer Dan Nester should meet with St. Rose College administrators to initiate still another money-making scheme for the graduate program, an MFA in Stand-up Comedy. Such a program may bring in even more money than the MFA poetry program. Then perhaps one could double-major in both poetry & Stand-up & then get high-paying gigs at both Comedy Clubs & Colleges like St. Rose throughout the country. Hmm, if it wasn’t so much work I might consider it myself.