Saturday, January 9, 2010

Powerful Poetry Performances @ Forbes Library in Northampton

On the evening of Three Kings' Day, some of the community poets of Springfield, or, as poet and writer Linda Thomas named us in the car-ride up, women poets of the Diaspora, read in the Coolidge Museum at the Forbes Library in Northampton.

Lisa Downing, Assistant Director of the Forbes Library, and I had, by chance, ended up sharing lunch and conversation at a Diversity luncheon in Springfield many months ago. Thanks to her follow-through, her suggestion to the Spanish Advisory Committee of the Library manifested into an event which I organized and in which I participated.

My first impulse was to have ALL of the community poets of Springfield participate in this event. Considering, though, that I was allotted only an hour and fifteen minutes - leaving time, of course, for socializing and light refreshments afterwards, I intentionally chose Linda Thomas, Melody Rivera, Marian Tombri, Caren McKenzie-Carter, to join me in sharing our distinct, powerful voices at this event. Robin Coolbeth and Adam Batt, other community poets of Springfield, Janet Aalfs, former Northampton poet laureate and dear friend, were among the intimate gathering of audience members present to experience our voices.

The themes of the poems were as moving as the poets who read them.

As our first poet, Linda Thomas immediately immersed us and sustained us with rapid, lyrical rhythm and an intentionally vivid African American dialect in the Sunday rituals of a church gathering filled with such unique characters that made us laugh, nod, tap our feet, and shake our heads. Melody Rivera's concisely crafted poems revealed pain with such clarity that made the audience swallow their applause and ponder, for who can clap at pain? Marian Tombri's poems moved the audience to identify immediately with the persona of "Mama Africa Indian Sweet", whose very loco-motion through the world challenged stereotypes of race and cultural expectations, and with the personae of temporary workers, who are invisible no more. Caren McKenzie-Carter's poems delved into relationships, with the most powerful poem being the one in which the poetic speaker addresses her unborn child with such hope despite the reality of losing him. My poems, which included a few from my first collection, Gathering Words: Recogiendo Palabras, and from my chapbook, Touching and Naming the Roots of This Tree, engaged issues of domestic violence, family history, desire, and self-affirmation.

Elated, we left Northampton after the reading. As the organizer of the event, my expectations were exceeded. Each poet remained true to her self, to her own poetic voice, and came prepared to share her own vision with an audience who appreciated poetry.