Three Women, Two Parks, One City: Poetry

1. Run! Poetry from the Rooftops takes cover. 2. Rosanna Warren, poet and rainmaker, escaping the deluge. Unfortunately, the Parks department conference room has light so low I couldn’t take any more photographs, so you’ll just have to imagine how awesome Dara Wier was.

What a weekend to be in New York City. The air was cool, keeping the summer stench at bay. Say what you will about the thunderstorms, I’ll take them any day over Eau de Urine avec B.O. that comes out in the subways after long stretches of dryness. I reveled in the benign stale pizza smell. Yes, it was a glorious weekend to be a New Yorker: sidewalk cafes were filled with freshly scrubbed couples ordering Six Point beer, the natural, native grasses at the High Line swayed in the breeze, the line at the Shake Shack was less than hostile. In other words, last weekend was a perfect Manhattan weekend, 2011 style. Cue the Gershwin.

It also happened to be a weekend when my aunt Mavis (Dr. Mavis Anne Bryant, to be exact) was in town, visiting from Texas. She lucked out; with the stench and strife of the city less extreme, the city was actually halfway pleasant. Mavis, in addition to being my aunt, is an editor and writer (Two Schools on Main Street), so along with the usual museum-hopping and eating, we decided to embark on a little literary tourism. Our first stop: “Poetry from the Rooftops” at the Central Park Arsenal.

“Poetry from the Rooftops” is sponsored by in conjunction with the Parks Department and takes places on the charming rooftop of the Arsenal building, located at 64th and 5th Avenue. The rooftop is intimate and lovely, the perimeter dotted with stainless steel containers of hostas and the vista filled with the treetops of Central Park.

Thursday’s poets were Cedar Sigo, Rosanna Warren and Dara Wier. Sigo went first, and ended with, “I loved you once too hard, and twice too soft…three times a lady.” That perfectly sums up my love/hate relationship with New York. Next to take the microphone was Warren. Now, I know writing is a way of controlling our experience of the world, but when Warren said, “and the sky opened up,” suddenly the sky did open up. We all rushed downstairs into the drab Parks Department gallery space. Warren quipped, “Someone told me that if you want to be a poet, you have to be willing to stand in the storm and get hit by lightening.” The gallery wasn’t nearly as poetic as the rooftop (actually, it was downright institutional and depressing) but final poet Weir tried valiantly to improve upon it. Weir is a fellow Texan, and with descriptions such as “like tarantulas dipped in honey,” she won Mavis and me over.

1. Forrest Gander channels Federico Garcia Lorca. 2. Pablo Medina used to sneak away from Fordham Prep to drink beer in the park; today he reads Lorca in the open.

After a Friday at the Met, we met up with writer Louise Bernikow on Saturday for My Lorca, which featured American poets reading their favorite Lorca poems and discussing the poet’s influence on their work. The event was co-sponsored by the Poetry Society of America and the New York Botanical Garden, in conjunction with their Gardens of the Alhambra exhibition. We all zipped up to the Bronx, along with Louise’s friend Lizzy, grabbed some watermelon, and snagged seats right in front. Now, Louise and Mavis are old friends (they were Fulbrighters together in Spain in the sixties), so this was the perfect opportunity for them to catch up and reminisce about their days dancing flamenco and following the bullfight circuit. For me, it was a great chance to hear Lorca’s poems read aloud, which I’d never experienced. Executive Director Alice Quinn presented the afternoon’s poets: Forrest Gander, Aracelis Girmay, and Pablo Medina. Surrounded by the flora of the Botanical Gardens, I was blown away by Lorca’s words — still powerful, still relevant. Afterwards, I resolved to have more poetry in my life. Today I started with Lorca’s “Lament for Ignacio Sanchez Mejias”:

1. Cogida and death

At five in the afternoon.
It was exactly five in the afternoon.
A boy brought the white sheet
At five in the afternoon.
The rest was death, and death alone.

The wind carried the cottonwool
At five in the afternoon.
And the oxide scattered crystal and nickel
At five in the afternoon.
Now the dove and the leopard wrestle
At five in the afternoon.
And a thigh with a desolated horn
At five in the afternoon.
The bass-string struck up
At five in the afternoon
Arsenic bells and smoke
At five in the afternoon.
Groups of silence in the corners
At five in the afternoon.
And the bull alone with a high heart!
At five in the afternoon.
When the sweat of snow was coming
At five in the afternoon,
When the bull ring was covered in iodine
At five in the afternoon.
Death laid eggs in the wound
At five in the afternoon.
At five in the afternoon
At five o’clock in the afternoon.

1. Dr. Mavis Anne Bryant with Louise Bernikow. Ole!

Now the weekend is over, and Mavis has gone home, but the poetry stayed.

The next Poetry from the Rooftops event is September 15. Deborah Landau, Srikanth Reddy and Atsuro Riley will read.

Next summer, the Poetry Society will present French poetry in conjunction with the NY Botanical Garden’s exhibition Monet’s Gardens at Giverny.


— Cassie Hay is a regular contributor to The Dish.

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