edited by Meg Hurtado
Where? Albany Library, 1247 Marin Ave, Albany, CA.
Curator/s: Catherine Taylor and Richard Russo
When? Now taking place the second Tuesday of each month.
Parking? Yes, and it’s free! The library has a lovely little parking lot.
Donation: Not required, although a donation to the library probably isn’t a bad idea.
Is There a Blog? Yes, the Albany Library Website.
The Run of Things: The reading begins at roughly 7 pm and ends around 8 pm, at which time there is a break for chatting and refreshments. After the break there is an open mic session for audience members which lasts until 9 pm or so.
Quotes from the Readers: “Each poem is different, wild . . . . Maybe not so lucid as I like to think they are!” –Alena Hairston
“Everything and everyone that lives on is trapped in love.” –Indigo Moor
Poems from each of the readers are featured below the review.
Albany Library Reading Series
by Meg Hurtado
The Albany Library reading series recently hosted poets Indigo Moor and Alena Hairston, each of whom, when asked to pick a podium-partner, selected the other. This sort of happy synergy is exactly what has kept the series going for nearly four years. Of the series in general, which is sponsored by the Friends of the Albany Library, curator Catherine Taylor says, “Every reading is so different,” and that the series, which runs for ten months of every year, makes a concentrated effort to attract a diverse range of readers every season. Past readers include Camille Dungy, Al Young, Brenda Hillman, Robert Hass, Jack Marshall, Adam David Miller, Joshua Clover, Anne Barrows, Jane Hirshfield, and a great many more of all walks and schools, etc.
However, the pleasant and convenient space also cultivates a comfortable sense of community, and Catherine adds that, “There is a core following. Poets here have been very generous . . . . the open mic allows people to read in front of poets they really respect, and they do get feedback.” However, in spite of the nurturing atmosphere and loyal local audience, this series faces the recession-inspired obstacles facing many other libraries and arts programs – series co-curator and Albany Library research librarian Richard Russo retired this month and, due to budge cuts, will not be replaced. The series will go on but will most likely move to another time slot. The next reading, in September, will be the last to take place on a “First Thursday”.
Alena Hairston read from her new book The Logan Topographies, a “hybrid collection” of “postcard poems” reflecting the West Virginia coal-mining countryside. Hairston spoke briefly about the heinous environmental threat posed by new coal-mining methods, in which the top of the mountain is actually shaved off (!!) in order to harvest coal at greater convenience to whatever corporation is responsible for such things. In addition to the environmental undertones of her work, Ms. Hairston also addresses the dynamics between black and white coal workers, and between men and women. The poem which I found most haunting, the one whose shape and spirit I remember (I was too caught up in listening to write down any of the lines) channels the voice of two young black sisters born into a community that values the physical labor/monetary value of their brothers over anything they have to offer.
What Hairston’s poems put forth in substance and social awareness they match with lyricism and love – not an easy thing. Hairston herself is a stunning blend of energy, wit, and physical grace, and in this way her poems are a genuine reflection of their author. They address an almost early-Romantic refusal to isolate Desire and History, to show us the equation in its most tender, terrible, redolent entirety. For instance, she says in her poem “How to Belong” that, “when a somebody is witness to a gleaming shadow, there is desire to share it with another.” Not only does this line tackle the notion of need head-on, it’s a vibrantly-apt description of poetry’s purpose and of Hairston’s style in particular.
Indigo Moor (clad in an appropriately purple shirt) followed Hairston and read primarily from Tap Root, his critically-acclaimed first book. (His second, Through the Stone-cutter’s Window, is on the way.) He began with “Through the Storm Door”, the first poem in Tap Root. In the poem, the speaker hears of his brother’s imminent death and reflects on his childhood/past in the South. Indigo mentioned that when he wrote the poem he’d been estranged from the South for twelve years and from his brother for twenty. The paralysis that floods the poem as the speaker debates returning to see his brother resonates with anyone who’s lost “home”, one way or another – but it also upholds the classical anxiety on which post-Civil War Southern literature is founded.
Moor’s poems often run to music – “the pond is a knot”, “as evening bakes in, thick and slow”, etc – so it’s not surprising that he paid homage in his reading to two great musicians, Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson. The latter was especially memorable and addressed Johnson’s habit of foregoing hotels while on tour. Most music-lovers already know the story: Johnson was cheap and preferred to seduce a townswoman for his room and board. He made it a rule to select plain women – the one exception to this rule led to his early death by poison. Indigo’s poem “Another Man’s Bed” hi-lights the humor and intimacy inherent in the tale: “Is this how Death catch me, one hand lost in the dust? Where are my shoes?”
Moor read a few more bits of new work, including a poem called “Messages from the Ether” about a series of text messages he received from a wrong number. A brief Q&A followed, and then the open mic commenced.
The open mic at Albany Library is, as I found out later, something of an institution. What I noticed immediately, however, was the enthusiasm with which each reader shared his or her work, and the support with which each reader was received. Some shared love poems, some shared poems of disillusionment. One man requested a minute of silence for Hiroshima (it was August 6th), and one woman sang. Christina Hutchins, Poet Laureate of Albany, read work she had composed for a local tree-planting ceremony. Julia Vinograd , one of the few active poets who has been part of the Bay Area poetry scene since it first blossomed in Berkeley in the 60s or so, read a poem she’d written earlier in the day.
What did all of these poets have in common? In style, in cadence, in substance, not very much. But the true art of community building is more than a collection of individuals who happen to make a uniform crowd. Each and every person, no matter what they’d been doing that morning or what they’d be doing tomorrow, was a poet. Really, what more can Poetry ask but that every once in a while, for a few hours, its body of believers wakes, swells, grows stronger?
The next reading at the Albany Library will take place on Tuesday, October 13 at 7 pm. Giovaani Singleton and Douglas Scott Miller will read.
Two poems by Alena Hairston:
Route 44 to Route 52
for Doug (1974-2005)
The mountains begin
over and over
in the eyes spelling
out each unincorporated town
bound by the cartels of history,
clasts of deciduous time.
Today we drive
behind the forgetting trucks
heavy with the gravity of tomorrow,
a pulling work between the edge
of tipple and leftover mountain.
Rock shadows and silt seams
landlocked, this tectonics fleeting
in the now of absence.
There is rip and sash in your voice
as you mouth homecoming
in the various bitumen
of passing caves
which appear on no map.
past the coal camps and company
houses stoked in careless sun;
past adult children who know
more than we should,
standing firm and removed
like the cracked, handwritten signs
for peat and gravel roads too far
away to be called highways.
These are the fields of tar
that smoked our eyes,
took away the open welcome of quiet,
did not love us back.
pregnant belly of coneflower and larkspur. coalcaves of lupine and barberry.
where shale grows up and bumps into sun. breathes across the moon.
lunar party. dream of history striated.
people find here. people found here. people lose here. people lost here.
people hunt here. people hunted here. people trap here. people trapped here.
people live here. people lived here. people sing here. people sang here.
people take here. people taken here. people come here. people left here.
people return here. people stay here. people gone?
at its base a labyrinth of rivers spilling sedge and cattail into an island creek,
beholden and cut for use.
sentry and citadel, flying.
Alena Hairston’sThe Logan Topographies, a collection arranged as a post-card book and inspired by the histories of the Mingo Indians, Italian and Anglo immigrants, and African Americans associated with West Virginia’s coal-mining region, won the 2006 Lexi Rudnitsky Poetry Award from Persea Books. Hairston will read from this work, and also share her current project, which combines poetry, prose, and image.
Two poems by Indigo Moor:
Robert Johnson, seeking out older, often less attractive women, or a homely young girl, for whom there would likely be no competition, would exchange his attentions for their kindness and a place to stay. Johnson was a reputed ladies’ man to whom women “were like motel or hotel rooms.”
-Alan White Robert Johnson’s Life
Another Man’s Bed
My dream is always:
I wake to a ruptured silence,
an icepick cracking my dream slumber.
Get your shoes.
Keyhole has sucked daylight
from the room.
Get your shoes.
Left hand sweeps the floor
beside the bed.
Is this how death catches me?
One hand lost in dust?
Where are my shoes?
Dim streetlight glow pushes
through the window,
graying the room.
My eyes become focused rods
divining shape from shadow:
Someone has polished my wingtip
shoes, granted them flight, nested
them on the dresser. The chair
in the corner now wears a hat,
grinds on a cigar. Its single,
smoldering eye finds mine.
Smoke climbs the air
like ivy on an invisible trellis.
A gentle click and a tiny hole
floats above the chair’s arm:
deep, hungry, trying to drag
the room into its mouth.
Six chambered screams curled
like fetuses in lead wombs.
A silk-sigh, rustling of sheets
as she shifts beside me.
I lie unbreathing, an eternity
away from motion, wondering
which way rolls me into the grave.
I am told it was moonlight that ripened
your failing heart until it finally
cracked, sent the clockhands spinning
off your flesh. I was a coward, still 3,000
miles away, convincing myself that if I
came at all, I could never catch the dying hour:
arrive too late and reconciliation falls
on upturned soil; arrive too soon and
stuttered gushings peak, then sour in the air.
Forgive me, brother. For decades, your
name has stretched my tongue to breaking.
But love and pain often anguish logic
Long ago, on a night like this,
I watched uncle rocket a coyote
skyward with a fistful of buckshot.
It slammed to the ground twisted,
skidding across the grass. Somehow,
it didn’t know it was dead.
Front legs pawed the air as if leveled
by nothing more than errant moonlight.
Chicken feathers lined its muzzle.
It mewled, eyes tunneling through me
to the underbrush where its mate stood,
crosshaired down uncles’ barrel
and already dead by every book and clock.
It stood, mesmerized no knowing, in this
world, every fool carries a twin heart.
Bang! I shouted and the underbrush
went wild with the mate’s running. Still,
if animals have souls, two died that night.
Uncle cursed me under a killing sky.
Why, Boy? You know she’ll hit
the coop later .Dont’cha know that?
This is my understanding
of the fear and silence
of these wounded nights:
the moon snares in the sweet
spot of the throat. Everything
that lives on is trapped in love.
John Keene wrote, “Indigo Moor writes poems that crackle with ‘cryptic lightning.’ These poems open a sustained and impressive dialogue with the visual arts, history, the natural world, and the poet’s dreams and nightmares, while dancing polyrhythmically across and down each page. An assured and engaged aesthetic vision takes shape and sharpens here before our eyes.”
Reginald Gibbons said, “Indigo Moor’s second book of poems concentrates ‘on every letter and symbol before winging them across ether.’ Always in motion, his lines are choreographed to make sense of all that is most elusive in meaning: music, violence, art, love, history, anger, race, belief, desire. By turns irreverent, passionate, and startling, these poems are vigorous, sensuous, and vivid.”