National Poetry Month was inaugurated in 1996 by the American Academy of Poets. Book Culture’s Open Mic on April 19th showcased 19 poets, many from Columbia University and a few more established poets, such as George Spencer and Moira T, Smith. One of the readers was an editor of Columbia New Poetry and another works for the Columbia Journal of Literary Criticism.
I was the second person to read. This is fortunate because I had less time to feel nervous. I plugged Beyond Belief, Cami Ostman and Susan Tive’s anthology in which I have a story, Swan Sister. My first poem, Full Moon, which I wrote about my brother when I was 18, is related to this story. The other poem, which I wrote more recently when I cried on my computer and the mouse got stuck, is not.
The funniest poet of the night was Moira Smith. Dressed in bright red and yellow, she spun through pages of truisms, such as, Every man’s wish is to be guided and corrected by the right woman.
Then she started shuffling through her sheaf of papers.
“I’m looking for the one,” she said.
“Aren’t we all?” said someone in the audience.
And maybe we were all looking for the one, except perhaps for poet George Spencer who held hands with his partner, Anoek, also a poet. George Spencer’s poem moved me tremendously, although I didn’t really understand it.
“It’s a sestina,” he said. “I can read this here because you’re all from Columbia and you know what a sestina is.”
“I don’t,” I said.
As I learned later, a sestina is a 39-line poetic form consisting of six stanzas of six lines each, followed by a three-line stanza. Poets.org lists 34 different forms of poetry, the most popular of which were pantoums and prose poems at this reading. I learned that found poems are like word collages of things seen and heard. I put together some bits and pieces I remembered from the reading to make a found poem of sorts, all words written by the poets at the event.
Hands that trace the blue path of her nerves
With dark arithmetic
Pink rose petals put in my mouth
My voice is maroon,
He had a squid tattoo on his left shoulder
A million atoms of dark blue
The womanly showcase as expected as breath,
Like solving an equation.
With ereaders dominating the market, bookstores like Book Culture are becoming fewer. This event provided something one can’t find when shopping for books online: a sense of community and living words.