Talking all night on Youtube sounds like something Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady would have done, had the technology been available. This is another kind of ambitiously spontaneous endeavor. Mark McDonnell and Mary Meriam have set up a Youtube channel called The Ballsians where you can hear poets read their work aloud, including several of the Powow River Poets: A. M. Juster, Kyle Potvin, and Andrew Szilvasy. Other talented contributors included Erica Dawson, David Southward, Rick Mullin and David Katz. Here’s a link to my reading.
Thanks to Barbara Egel for her generous review of A Brief Accident of Light, my collaboration with Rhina Espaillat and illustrator Kate Sullivan, which appears in the new issue of Light Magazine. You can read it here.
The omnibus review also includes a consideration of Rhina’s masterpiece, And After All, as well as delightful new work by the incomparable A. E. Stallings.
Daniella Gitlin and the other wonderful volunteers at Word Up Bookshop in New York have made available videos of the Rhina Espaillat Symposium which took place in October. It was a memorable day. People came from as far away as Los Angeles to show their admiration and affection for Rhina, and she, of course, reflected all that loving energy right back on us. I’ve been comparing her to a mirror ball when I talk about what happened that day.
So much happened that day. These videos are studded with gems. Leslie Monsour borrowed John Tavano’s guitar to sing —beautifully— a song she’d composed using one of Rhina’s Spanish poems as lyrics. Harvard Professor Lorgia García Peña revealed that, ever since hearing Rhina read at Dartmouth over ten years ago, she has carried Rhina’s poems with her as a daily source of inspiration. Paula Dietz of The Hudson Review celebrated her friendship with Rhina. The young scholar Dan-el Padilla Peralta delivered a riveting essay. Juan Matos read his poetry with a passion that moved even the Spanish-challenged, like myself. Nancy Kang and Silvio Torres-Saillant, authors of the first full-length study of Rhina’s life and work, presented new papers. It’s impossible to list all the treasures to be found in this trove. It’s worth coming back to, whenever you want to be reminded what literary community looks and feels like. Here’s a link to the links: Rhina Espaillat Symposium
Brief Accident of Light is a collection of twenty poems, ten by Rhina P. Espaillat and ten by Alfred Nicol. The poems were written for an arts collaboration initiated by Newburyport Chamber Music Festival Director David Yang. Mr. Yang, a distinguished violist and composer, made a list of emblematic locations in and around the city of Newburyport, and assigned to each location a specific time of day or night. He first commissioned composer Robert Bradshaw to write a new piece for string quartet drawing its inpiration from those locations. Mr. Yang then invited Espaillat and Nicol to visit each spot at the specified time and to give voice to their experiences in a series of poems. Because the poets chose to make their visits together, most of the poems gathered here are paired —a reader will hear two voices emanating from each place, as when two birds perch in the same tree.
The two poets found themselves a little taken aback by the way these poems seemed to write themselves. One can only surmise that the spirits of City Hall and Oak Hill Cemetery really had something they needed to express, and were only waiting for an opportunity! A poet can get carried away when that kind of thing happens. You’ll see that there are four unpaired poems in this collection—“Waking Up,” “Fly-By: The Newburyport Art Association,” “The Closing Year,” and “Fog at Night”—each resulting from one or the other poet writing from a place not mentioned on the original list.
In keeping with the collaborative nature of this project, Kate Sullivan was invited to illustrate the collection with images of the sites mentioned in the poems. She too got caught up in the spirit of Mr. Yang’s vision, and contributed the celebratory ink-wash sketches the reader will happen upon, turning these pages.
Purchase Brief Accident of Light at Jabberwocky Bookstore.
David Yang, Director of the Newburyport Chamber Music Festival, has commissioned composer Robert Bradshaw to write a string quartet channeling the energy and spirit of eight locations in the town of Newburyport, and has asked Rhina Espaillat and me to write poems that draw their inspiration from those eight places. The three of us will present our work at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church at 7 PM, Sunday, Aug. 18. Click here!
Here’s a terrific video put together by Ely Campaneau to celebrate the the five-year anniversary of The Frost Farm Poetry Conference in Derry, NH
Mishara Records has just released a new LP (yes, a vinyl record!) of music performed by the Justin Quinn Band called Lazy By Nature. I wrote the lyrics for track #6, “A Woman’s Trick.” Justin, a legendary blues harpist, and guitarist Jon Ross teamed up on the music. I’d like to think that puts me at only two degrees of separation from two of the greatest songwriters of our time, as Ross has played guitar for Duke Robillard, who played for Bob Dylan and Tom Waits! The LP cover in its cover is a work of art suitable for hanging (I’m talking from experience), but for those of you without turntables, the songs can be downloaded from iTunes or Amazon.com here
Passages, our new CD, was released on October 1! Hard to believe that it has been nine years since our we made our first recording of melopoeia,, the art that so delighted Rhina Espaillat when she heard it as a child in the Dominican Republic. Rhina’s earliest memories include the pleasurable one of hearing poetry recited in her home to the sound of guitars and the piano. Her grandmother, herself a poet, would invite other poets and musicians to the house for recitals. Though as a child she could not understand what was being said, she understood immediately an essential thing about how it was said: music came from the spoken words as well as from the instruments. “These people were having fun!” she remembers.
We’re still having an awful lot of fun putting together programs of melopoeia and performing them for appreciative audiences, though I’m afraid many of our best performances take place around Rhina’s kitchen table. It must be the sherry!
In this most recent program we explore various kinds of journeys, or passages: the very different sea-voyages of conquistadors and exiles; the swift travel of atomic particles; a seemingly inconsequential walk from the work-place to the bus; and finally, the passage of time and the final border-crossing that lies ahead of us all.
Classical/flamenco guitarist John Tavano has never sounded better!
Thanks to Alan Bull for letting us use his painting for the cover, to my sister Elise Nicol for doing the graphic design, and to the wonderful poet Alicia Stallings, and the great Richard Wilbur, whose poems we’ve borrowed to add to the mix.
You can view track listings and listen to samples at CDBaby.