Poetry Immersion

I made valiant efforts to attend the Poetry Bus reading at the Menil last Thursday. The morning before, I woke realizing every toss and turn produced agony in my neck and upper back. I surmised my hunched Milo-feeding posture plus stress of a sick, moping, not-eating Harley Cat took its toll on my muscles. Heat, stretch, ice, rest - determination to hear live poetry! The next day I threw on jeans and a T-shirt, pulled back my hair, mixed two shades of Lip Shimmers, popped two Extra Strength Tylenol, and hopped in the car.

My driving soundtrack was the Sad Accordions' new CD, A Bad Year for the Sharons, featuring our friend Seth. The tollway arched high and above strips of concrete below, and I landed on a miracle, an uncongested Hwy. 59 leading the way. I circled Menil's neighborhood, snatching a parking space under sinewy trees of Sul Ross, parallel to Rothko Chapel. I walked under gloomy clouds, past THE Poetry Bus - unabashed red letters.

The kind curator said, "Yes, the Poetry Bus reading will begin soon, but by the way, they are filming a documentary today." Oh great. Not that I dress up often, I play it very casual, but I prefer to release my hair - a meager attempt to be more photogenic. I played it cool, the whole crowd was fairly casual, typical of artsy crowds. Poet Joshua Beckam informed us that we would partake of a "Surrealist Lunch." Three or four poets, including himself, walked around the Menil, observed the permanent Surrealist collection and/or eavesdropped on patrons, and text-messaged comments to a poet-typist near the entrance, by the oversized brown octagonal ottoman. That poet pounded away on a typewriter, handing off pink sheets to a poet-actress dressed in runner's garb who played ambassador between the typist and poet-readers. The running poet was hysterical and impressive. She ran in good form; cried; laughed maniacally; crawled; channeled a cell-phone user mocking her neighbor's fake boobs; unfolded into a headstand; gave the poet-readers a shoulder massage; and asked for a fellow listener's autograph. She remained in character the whole time while the audience laughed. The readers controlled their facial muscles fairly well, and crumpled each pink page when finished reading. All the while, the cameraman followed the runner or tested a listener's composure by shoving the camera in their face. I purposefully emitted a snob's vibe hoping my repugnance would repel his camera. It worked! I think he got me in a passing shot, but I escaped for the most part. I think.

There is no film from the Menil reading yet, but you may see a few pictures here. The surreal Menil reading is mentioned here, and the Aurora Picture Show reading here. HELLO! Where has the Aurora Picture Show been all my life? An old Baptist Church converted to an indie cinema, located in the Heights - the same neighborhood where I go to Church every Sunday! Houston is so deep and wide that new cultural discoveries such as these make me swell with pride, and expand my to-do-in-Houston list, especially during Autumn/Winter.

After a surreal lunch, I browsed current exhibits: "Klee and America;" "Color and Line;" and "The Imagery of Chess." I've stated this before, and I shall again: not only do I love to view paintings and sculpture, but the descriptions are a feast of words, often causing me to think I want to be a poet. For example, from the art of Paul Klee:

Angst (Fear).
Narr in Christo (Fool in Christ).
Als Gott sich mit der Erschaffung der Pflanzen trug (When God Considered the Creation of the Plants).
New Harmony
~ I loved this painting which seemed to change color as I stepped closer.
Lonely Flower.
Fish Magic.
Owl Comedy.
The Twittering Machine.
Tree Culture.
City in the Intermediate Realm.

And from a color-soaked Rothko painting near the curator's desk: Plum and Brown.

Strolling back to my car, I stopped by the Menil Bookstore in a cottage across from the museum. I longed for two books which I did not buy: African Zion: The Sacred Art of Ethiopia and Libraries by Candida Hyyfer (introduction by Umberto Eco). I did buy the October 2006 issue of The Believer; all things Dave Eggers are genius. Back in the car, woozy with hunger, I headed to my continual addiction of Empire Cafe. It deserves its own blog entry, but I must say, it healed hunger once again. Half chicken panini on thick slices of focaccia, cup of minestrone, ice water, and a steaming cup of the Empire House Blend. I sat at my favorite table in the "Lusty Ladies" room (due to the paintings) - the one on a compact stage, ironic since I shy away from attention. I flipped through Broke, (from the free section by Menil Bookstore's door) and admired rusty lanterns swinging above the backyard patio and leaf carpet.

Friday evening Johnny and I crept through traffic heading downtown to hear our friend Allison Smythe read at the Houston Poetry Fest. I am thankful I don't work downtown, but I love when we venture to the heart of our city for amusement. We arrived at dusk, the clouds goldleaf fringed. Skyscrapers tall, inverted funhouse mirrors; assorted shapes seemed to liquefy and waver as we looped looking for the Willow Street Pump Station full of poets. Unbeknownst to us, we circled the building 7-8 times; Johnny frustrated, I delighted to spy a new eatery - Dharma Cafe - tucked into old architecture of the Warehouse District and lofts. I should have lived in a loft during singlehood. It does not seem practical now - we want both front and backyards, and don't forget a porch swing. But I do love lofts. I peeked into Houstonians' lofts approving of antique chandelier light and rustic furniture, all hovering over an art gallery.

We figured out that building was the Willow Street Pump Station at 7:15 pm, hoping we did not miss our friend's stunning poetry. She was the Featured Poet for 2006, so her time slot nestled in the middle! I, a literary geek, brimmed with excitement to hear twelve poets. We are not solely biased, but Allison was the best poet by far. I don't dare try to describe poetry, but her poems are narrative, Light-filled, and transcendent. She read one about her obsessive-compulsive nature, and Johnny poked me through the entire poem, "That is YOU!" She read another about a small town in New Mexico - breathtaking. Someone, please publish it, and Johnny, take me to that town whose name slips my mind. I also enjoyed poets Brian Beard and Carol Cotten. I purchased the anthology to further examine other poets who lacked in delivery, as I would myself. Reading in front of a crowd is terrifying. Regardless if they read well or not, I found each poet to be brave, baring their souls and craft. I fondly recalled my big, black dictionary at home, all those words, placed in such a way to create beauty, mystery, on a page, in the air, audible.

Afterwards, Allison and her sculptor-husband Wayne, the Simmons, and other friends walked through cool night air, past the lofts and warehouses, to Last Concert Cafe in search of sustenance. I ordered guacamole tacos on wheat tortillas. Guacamole tacos! I love meat, but if stranded on a desert island, I would be content with only guacamole. Guacamole will be in Heaven, I assure you. I ate all three tacos distracted from our funny friends by Day of the Dead decor and vivid oilcloth table tops.

After bidding Allison goodbye and accepting an offer to visit their rural home in Missouri, I decided poetry is vital. I need to read it more often. Poetry is not dead, who cares what they say. I gathered an idea from The Glass Doorknob: to read a poem each morning. I will do so directly after our Morning Prayer. I chose Mary Oliver's New and Selected Poems: Volume One, a black and blue book from Johnny with an untitled Rothko painting to mark the next page (Oliver will read in Houston in April 2007!). Today's poem is "Rain," timely as Houston received a deluge the past two days.

All afternoon it rained, then
such power came down from the clouds
on a yellow thread,
as authoritative as God is supposed to be.
When it hit the tree, her body
opened forever

The snails on the pink sleds of their bodies are moving
among the morning glories.
The spider is asleep among the red thumbs
of the raspberries.
What shall I do, what shall I do?

I once heard that poetry is prayer. It is not the only form of prayer, yet I do agree.

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