A Night on the Day Job
Poetry in the Eyes and Ears
An intern who has formatted the club’s bi-weekly pamphlet finally selects an event to attend at the Bowery Poetry Club. One of the poets on the bill for Page Meets Stage, 8pm on March 11 piques her attention. Besides how Suheir Hammad’s online poems exude rhythms this intern would like to think her poetic smatterings evoke, Suheir has recently been interviewed by Gloria Steinem in New York Magazine; she looks beautiful and different in each of her press photos; and Gary, a creative and managerial keystone of the club, vouches for her pizazz, as well. The intern believes the hype. She is beginning to understand how press and marketing influences the public–an important lesson for this position. Plus, one of her friends from college has just spent the past three months living in the West Bank. He’s having difficulty expressing the injustices, fear and violence he’d experienced. The intern hopes Hammad’s activism surrounding the Israel-Palestine conflict will seep into the reading. The friend may also find solace in one of her books. The other poet’s bio–compiled by the intern from a few web sources– hasn’t drawn her in. It feels anonymous among the many bios she’s been editing in her initial few days at the BPC. Laure-Anne’s fits into the foreign territory of journals, awards, critics, publishers, venues, writing workshops, and academic positions, which don’t differentiate her in such a novice noggin. What better than a night of poetry to inspire and educate?
Arriving a bit early to get a good seat, the intern passes through a red curtain that usually remains open in the daytime. There are many prime positions among the chairs neatly arranged. So this is the BPC at night, she thinks to herself, not having previously imagined how the space transforms at night– light on the stage, music in the atmosphere, bar flowing, people coming from work, meeting friends for beer and poetry. The audience is small but very diverse– students who look like the next intern, people in their thirties, forties, fifties, and those who are staying cool into their sixties. Bob Holman, the club’s founder, welcomes people as if into his home. This is a novel place, she thinks, beginning to appreciate her position here more and more. Suheir leans on the bar. Though Laure-Anne grows younger during her reading and her long blond hair is the same, the old picture the intern had copy + pasted isn’t a spitting image.
Once the host, Taylor Mali, gets on stage to introduce the poets, it becomes clear that this event is way more dynamic than the relatively dry bios tell of it. Taylor describes the dichotomy of his reading series: one poet supposedly more comfortable at a podium behind glasses, the other amplifying her message on the circuit from cafes to bars to Broadway. The light bulb switches on: page meets stage is not a gimmicky title, it is an innovative format.
Suheir Hammad and Laure-Anne Bosselaar take the stage to trade poems. They take turns at the center microphone and alternate between roles of listener and performer. Each has some plan, some idea of what she wants to present, including surprising each other by reading one of the other’s poems– in one case, even backwards line by line. If she’s ever asked to re-publish that poem, Laure-Anne promises to use Suheir’s eye-opening reversal. Building the conversation of poems, they seem like long-lost friends who reunite and share the last twenty years of their lives on stage.
Suheir reads from her new book, breaking poems, along with past works and favorite poems by other authors. With a Tony award for her performance on Def Poetry on Broadway, Suheir brings hip-hop rhythms to her empathetic poems on the Israel-Palestine war terrors. With foundations of a Brooklyn upbringing by her Palestinian refugee parents, Suheir’s poems seem a far cry from Laure-Anne’s musings on languages, her childhood in French nunneries and life as a mother, wife, and poet. And yet, these two women converge in the personal. Laure-Anne reads about her son; Suheir reads about her father. Suheir reads an homage to Brooklyn; Laure-Anne to Manhattan’s niches. Traveling into the physical, they also share poems about sexuality. They sift through folders and dog-eared books selecting poems to continue a theme or veer in a new direction. Not only do they influence each other’s content, but their rhythms mingle– Suheir’s more melodic and Laure-Anne’s sharper. They infuse Arabic, French, Flemish, and a broad range of intonation and accents.
The women poets improvise a lovely stage dynamic for over an hour. The intern stays attuned to Suheir’s and Laure-Anne’s indulgences in both their own poems and in their co-performer’s. Suheir describes their humility and flattery as routine for the “society of mutual appreciation.” Ending the program with peaceful poems about the moon, both poets seem surprised by how the interactive performance has transformed their published work. “Same moon,” Suheir repeats, universalizing circumstances all over the world. Two poets connect to each other, to their audience, and an intern to her day job.
Page Meets Stage is produced by Taylor Mali of Words Worth Ink and Blue Flower Arts. Proceeds from the reading series benefit Bowery Arts and Science.