On Sunday (Oct. 25), I had the opportunity to hear six amazing poets at Unnamable Books in Brooklyn, New York. The event was hosted by Jessica Smith, founding editor of Coven Press, who managed to round up some truly inspiring women writers creating powerful, quirky, witchy, and heart-tugging poems for a basement full of eager listeners and friends. The event was curated by David Kirschenbaum, editor of Boog City, and included a live performance by Mia Theodoratus, a modern harpist who has played around the world for a variety of companies, including the Shakespeare Theatre Company. Although hearing an introduction by Kirschenbaum and music by Theodoratus, all who came were there to hear Gillian Devereux, Michalle Gould, K. Lorraine Graham, Jessica Smith, Jasmine Dreame Wagner, and Annie Won share published or newly written pieces.
I left early in the morning from Boston with Gillian, Brian, and Michalle to arrive in Brooklyn by 11:30am and in serious need of coffee and breakfast. Thankfully, we met up with the rest of the poets at a nearby restaurant for brunch before heading over to Unnameable Books and cramming ourselves into a basement lined with books of all sorts. It seemed almost surreal to be around this many books piled all over the place and I felt like I was on a set for a new hipster film. But, alas, I was not, and it was the place where so many people gathered to hear all of the poets read.
The event kicked off with Gillian Devereux reading some of her new erasure poems from text by Increase and Cotton Mather. All of her poems kept to a theme of witchiness and covens, which was fitting for a poetry reading for Coven Press. She read with finesse and perfect timing, so that everyone in the audience could digest their own meanings from each poem she shared. With a timely thud that came after her first poem, Gillian set the mood for the rest of the poets to follow.
Following was Michalle Gould, who, not only read in her own style, but also wrote completely different from Gillian. She decided to share poems from Resurrection Party, her full-length collection of poetry. Each piece had its own cadence, which juxtaposed with the next poet, K. Lorraine Graham.
Lorraine’s poems were personal, heart-felt, and raw. She read them with passion and emotion that emulated from her voice to her stance. A fervent reading, she brought her audience into her words and images before taking a breath and finishing. Lorraine’s poems brought the event to its intermission, where we were lucky enough to hear Mia Theodoratus’s play a section of her performance art piece. I had never seen anyone play the harp besides in those period movies, so I felt kind of honored. Along with some music, Mia shared some history about women harp players – one of the only ways they could make money for a living without marrying into it – and how it connected to her feminist stance.
After the intermission, we started up again with Jessica Smith and some poems from her newly published book, Life-List. Because of the style of her writing, she believes that poems can be read starting from any point on the page. This idea allowed her to share a few recordings of her students reading her poems all at the same time. The results were amazing, with the words crescendoing into an (almost) white noise, to a few stragglers at the end.
Afterwards, Jasmine Dreame Wagner kept the experimental reading going by reading her poems with Mia playing the harp. It seemed fitting to hear her poems alongside music, as Jasmine is also a professional musician, as well as a published poet. Mia and Jasmine played off of each other for each of the poems and to keep a rhythm that was mesmerizing, while also musical.
Finally, the event ended with Annie Won. She came up to the front with her laptop and read as if she was multiple people. Annie fluctuated her voice, changing her tone and speed so that we could see how each image became something new. She also read with humor, but a connection to the work where most might find a detachment. The last poem mentioned witches, and brought the event full circle to conclude with some more music by Mia before we headed off for drinks and some good food.
I don’t go to many poetry readings – I’m not sure why, and should probably change that soon – but being in attendance for one that was all women poets has set the bar high for my expectations of future poetry readings. Each one had their own style of writing that came out in their way of reading and presenting their work to us. Not only that, but all of them were accomplished poets who had put themselves out there for people to hear and (inadvertently) judge their work. It takes a lot of courage to do that, and I am so happy that I was able to be there and hear all of their work. It’s fair to say that I left the event excited to get home and make my own poems to maybe someday share with others.