By Katiuscia O’Brian
Looking for something fun and different to do this past Friday night, I found out about a poetry reading on Cherokee Avenue. Knowing full well of the artistic renaissance occurring on a several mile stretch of Cherokee starting at Gravois Avenue, hiccuping past Jefferson Street, and butting up to the historic Lemp Brewery at I‐55, I jumped at the chance to catch what I assumed was up and coming poets, crafting their art right before our eyes.
Much to my surprise, I happen-stanced upon a cozy, intimate evening with two amazing, accomplished, and award‐winnings poets: Joy Katz and Simone Muench.
This unique onetime event occurred November 9 and was sponsored by All Along Press at Fort Gondo Compound for the Arts. Fort Gondo is a fun, small space known for being one of the very first venues to open on Cherokee after decades of urban decay along this once bustling commercial district.
There wasn’t an empty seat to be found in the bright white sparse space with wooden folding chairs lined up in one room, facing the podium in the center of the second room. The backdrop to the podium was the current installation of found art: dark wood pieces interrupted by bronze metals that were splashed upon the bright white walls – like archaic religious relics. The turnout was surprising for being early on a Friday night; folks were even sitting in the windows!
Right before each author got up and read her pieces, she was introduced by way of a questionnaire completed before the event began. The audience got to know them a little bit more intimately through questions such as – What is your all time favorite city? Favorite city to walk around at night? What was your first concert? What was the first poem you read? It ended up being that despite these women being from different parts of the country and backgrounds, they did have one major thing in common: both of their first concerts were Styx.
Muench started the night off with a poem based off her favorite horror film of all time. Spectacle: Possession was raw, ethereal, and really stuck with me – the imagery of the electric knife cutting her neck, the blue dress, and red cardinals:
When i move you carve yourself out of me
Continuing with the color scheme imagery, Muench then read a section from her well‐ known 3‐part poem from Orange Crush called “Orange Girl Suite.” She shared with us the history behind the young girls who sold oranges, and often themselves, in London theaters in 1700’s.
“We were translated by churchwomen who placed umlauts over our words”
This was my favorite line of the entire night.
Muench finished her readings with a selection from her collections of Centos. Centos are poetic works comprised of phrases from other authors laced together to create a whole new work of poetry. She wowed us with her “Wolf” Cento which centered on popular works of art that have wolves as central to their meanings. I really admired the ability to take other people’s lines, with their own meanings and contexts, and craft – patchwork style – an entirely new piece.
After being introduced with her own answers to the fun questionnaires, Joy Katz followed Muench’s reading with a powerhouse of both old poems and new ones – mainly drawing from her experiences of being a mother of an adopted son from Asia. I was actually lucky enough to be seated next to her son for a short while, until the late hour overwhelmed his young sensibilities and his father whisked him away.
Coincidentally, Katz’s first reading was an experiment with word play – a crafting together of first lines of her own work, and of other prominent authors, to see what the outcome would be. This was a difficult piece to enjoy as the tone was constantly beginning. There was a lack of transition, and I felt I was almost on the edge of my seat the whole poem, waiting for where each line was going to carry me. The inflection in her voice was always the sounds of a poem starting, which added to the suspense. Brave experimentation.
Katz quickly followed up that poem with a few poems about her being a new mom and her attempt at capturing the emotional and psychosocial space she found herself to be at that time. In fact, I loved her disclaimer for the first one she read: that she may have sound stoned in these pieces, but in fact she really was not. Just overwhelmed being a new mother and also incredibly sick with a fever at the same time.
My favorite line she breathed was from “December Fever”:
“Please don’t need anything from me”
she pleads from her infant son who is keeping himself occupied tearing up her writings as she lays ill on the bed. The imagery conveyed through Katz’s words we breathtaking.
In “His Sounds,” I could feel her terror as to his fragility of a small baby and having to navigate these waters step by step:
A spine made of moths, wings pulsing
Dried leaves scrape over my neck
Next comes a long unfolding of a map
In “Death Is Something Entirely Else,” which is a selection in the Best American Poetry anthology, was very melodic and fun to follow. My translation was that she was establishing a connection with her adopted son from a foreign country through lessons in life in a way he could document in his mind.
Mingling after the readings with the authors and wonderful collective of local writers and supporters of the arts in attendance was encouraged. We also had the opportunity to buy one-of-a-kind beautifully detailed and autographed Letterpress Broadsides of two of the poems each author read. The free beverages (wine is what always brings me to these events!) and the intimate space allowed for wonderful access to these two great authors.
The location was perfect for the readings; I even enjoyed having the faint noises of traffic from Cherokee being the backdrop to add a certain amount of edginess. Open to anyone and everyone, a drunken homeless guy even joined us at the end and made to feel welcomed. I walked away feeling inspired by these two very diverse but incredibly talented poets.
Now that is what I call real access to the Arts.
About the Poets:
Joy Katz is the author of the poetry collections All You Do is Perceive, a National Poetry Series finalist (forthcoming from Four Way in 2013), The Garden Room (2006), and Fabulae (2002). She is also the co‐editor of the anthology Dark Horses: Poets on Overlooked Poems (2007). She was educated at Ohio State, Washington University in St. Louis, and Stanford. Honors for her writing include a 2011 NEA fellowship, a Pushcart prize, a Stegner fellowship, and the Nadya Aisenberg fellowship at the MacDowell Colony. Her poems are anthologized in three volumes of The Best American Poetry, among other places, and appear in such journals as American Poetry Review, Notre Dame Review, Ploughshares, Cincinnati Review, and elsewhere. Her prose has appeared in The New York Times Book Review and the Village Voice. She has taught literature and poetry at The New School and NYU and currently teaches in the graduate writing program at Chatham University, Pittsburgh, where she lives with her husband and young son.
Simone Muench is the author of four poetry collections, most recently Orange Crush (Sarabande, 2010) . She is an editor for Sharkforum, chief faculty adviser for Jet Fuel Review, and an advisory board member for Switchback Books. Her honors include two IAC Fellowships, two VSC Fellowships, the Marianne Moore Prize for Poetry, the Kathryn A. Morton Prize for Poetry, the PSA’s Bright Lights/Big Verse Award, and others. She received her PhD from the University of Illinois Chicago and directs the Writing Program at Lewis University, where she teaches creative writing and film studies.