Geraldine Green, Lancaster Creative Writing student, reads her poetry in New York, Long Island and Connecticut, July 2006
The Bowery Poetry Club in New York, hosted a rich tapestry of poetry readings this week, as a combination of British and American poets read their works in a program billed as "UKNY" by organizers. On hand to read were British poets Geraldine Green and Linda Graham. Joining them from the New York area were Steve Dalachinsky, Amy Ouzoonian, Angelo Verga, Rhonda Ward and George Wallace. Read two of Geraldine's poems. See a clip of Geraldine reading at: http://www.poetryvlog.com/.
It started as we stepped off the plane. Excitement, buzz, jazz, anticipation. The heart of New York, the new world, the poetry scene of Manhattan and our host, NYC poet George Wallace, to meet us, greet us and whisk us off immediately with 'you guys tired? are you up for a little sightseeing on the way to mine?' Yes! So off we went in his car to Fire Island, a walk barefoot on a huge stretch of sand like velvet, strange sights like a rickety old wooden chair, piled higgledy piggledy atop a giant mound of sand, the lifeguard's post, a young Canute, keeping a watchful eye on the sea which was being swept in on high winds. Over the waves came, over the banked up sand trickling down in long flowing rivulets where I bathed my feet in the wild Atlantic ocean and felt at home.
Back to our friend’s house in Huntington, where I and Geoff, George and his son, Ted played badminton in an ever increasing downpour of thunderous rain. Badminton, on the lawn, barefoot, holding metal rackets, playing under dripping trees while lightning flashed overhead. Badminton and we got wetter and wetter! Our clothes sticking to us, the shuttlecock, stuck in our rackets and, amidst wet gales of laughter, we eventually ran indoors, a dip in their pool and a sleep before dinner. After dinner we were treated to a display of fireflies, lighting and flickering in and out of the trees.
PEOPLE AND PLACES
Next day, up at 545, the unusual noises wakening me, the clanging of the Long Island Railroad, bells of the railroad crossing, hooting of what seemed to us, giant trucks, the long, slow call of doves, an easier crooning than English ones’ more urgent cooing, Mikeybob, meeowing at me in greeting and when the heat built up, cicadas awakening calls as the sun's rays hit them, startling them into a crackling, rasping morning song. Monarch butterflies like young angels and me, walking the bounds of the Wallace's acre-long garden, sniffing sweet dawn, inhaling America.
I couldn’t wait to get into the beat of the New York streets, but first there was the ‘new world’ of Long Island to explore, a reading to give at The Poetry Barn and the Island itself to unpack. So let me tell you a little about it.
We walked the trail of Indians through a wooded path by Twin Ponds, down to the Estuary. Blazed a trail, in fact, as it wasn't well tramped, learnt the names of bushes, birds, insects, plants... what's that? Sassafras. And that? Sweet Gum, Beach Rose, White Birch, clusters of Sumac (the stem used by Indians as a pipe if you hollow out the soft inner bit), reed grasses such as Spartina down by the salt meadows, pickle grass and croaking mud creatures, the flit of persistent small birds through sand-hot underbrush and the urgent, Don't touch that! It's poison ivy. And Indians lived here? Yes, they'd come for the clams and sweet, fresh water from the stream…
… spoke with Clammers, their slow, easy drawl as pleasing to our ears as the long call of the early morning doves, their rough brown hands well used to raking for clams and prying their shells open with a knife. There were lobster catchers, too, getting their pots ready for the next day's catch. Come again tomorrow! We'll have fresh lobsters for ya!
Met with Mankh, a friend of George’s, at Tom Stock’s garlic farm, obediently tucking our pants into socks to ensure no tiny deer ticks should sneak onto our skin and bite, possibly giving us Lyme's disease. It was HOT, oh so hot hot hot in those Pine Barrens, where Tom has his wholly childlike farm. His flitting enthusiasm, like a a tall, skinny dragonfly with white hair and beard, was endearing. I do love a crazy enthusiast! And his, You wanna see my pressings of flowers and leaves? Ok come! I have fifteen projects on the go... and he went onto describe the rattles he was making from seed pods, the puppet show he planned to give to local children. He showed us his old-fashioned, wind-up telephone. 'Hello, yes, who's that calling? Oh hello Mother Earth! Sorry, I can't talk with you right now, I have friends here. Talk to you later, Mother Earth, stay cool', then 'You wanna clam?' Clam? I wanted a whole barrelful of 'em!
Here, choose one. He sliced open clam after fresh clam, sweet, nutty and slipped down easily. More more please! Here's what we do with da shells - fling, like a flying saucer the sharp, slim clam shell whizzed down the garden. He spotted his horseshoes and said, wanna play horseshoes? We did. He was accurate every time, the clang of the iron shoe as it hit the metal post and spun down gracefully right on target.
And, wanna meet Buffalo? He lives in these woods. We met Buffalo, a gentle, African American Indian who lives in a bendy in the heart of Tom's ancient, Ice-age Pine Barrens, with the sounds of nature all around, the deer that flit through the woods, the birds, Icelandic moss, butterflies, trees I was beginning to grow familiar with as their names took root in my heart.
Back to George's for bouillabaisse, salad and garlic bread, chilled white wine and warm friends. Chantal, a French friend of the Wallace's, joined us, a cultured, charming woman, whose spirit met mine and connected gracefully, while fireflies winked at us as we ate and drank.
Next day, dawn-bright and hot. A perfect beach day, deep blue and full of anticipation, ready to tread on the velvet sand of Robert Moses’ beach that stretches for miles, facing the surging, toppling waves of the Atlantic Ocean. Oh, let me in! You had to dance to their rhythm, or else get tumbled over and over, sucked underwater and turned like a corkscrew opening your eyes to milky opalescence, til you got your balance and let yourself go with the sea and let your spirit move with the waves and rise up with the swell and dive through the giants as they came beating beating up from the ocean. I loved every, blessed, tumbling, swamping, dancing, laughing, screaming moment.
Into the waves for one last Tango with the tide, tired with the salt, sea, sun and wind, we cooled off in the Wallace's pool and lay down, til the next event…
… wanna go to CBGB's? home of Punk. I have complimentary tickets to go listen to the Bossa Nova Beatniks! One of em’s a friend o' mine' so, yeah, why not? That evening George, Peg, Geoff, myself and other poet friends met up with Edgar, Anna and Simon Pettet outside CBGB's, across the street from the Bowery. We were told it wasn't open just then, so we went to a bar called the 'Manhattana' and stayed there and missed the music! But hey, why worry?
So we went on to another bar, Simon chatting animatedly in my ear, interesting discussion on poetry, the Beats, London, poetry, England, Kent, Wordsworth, music, reading short poems twice, a sense of place, broadening your mind, travel and poetry and so on and out to another bar, Swifts, with its cider served with ice and its 'Englishness', friendly atmosphere and free postcards, where Geoff drank his favourite beer, 'Speckled Hen' and Simon practised karate on one of the glasses, til we were hungry again after our bits of delicious snacks in the Manhattana bar and we ended up in the final bar, Phebes, on the corner of Bowery and Fourth, a street full of experimental theatres and ate plates of guacamole, dips, nachos, pitta bread and creamy spinach. The night was a carnival, each bar a booth to peer into in wonder, before moving on to the next one.
Next day we visited the Vanderbilt Museum, Eagle's Nest, Little Neck Road with its elegance and strange lack of organisation, charmingly in disarray, like an elderly debutante, if there is such a thing, in sweet deshabille…
… wandered around the grounds in the deep blue heat of another hot, Long Island day, the ornamental pond, the views across to Lloyd’s Neck and Eaton’s Neck and 'that's where I grew up’ George told us, ‘spent my summers swimming in the sea at Lloyd’s Neck, on Target Rock, gathering clams' in the world that would nourish his dreams and his marvellously strong poetry. Vanderbilt Museum with its collections of butterflies, cleaned and vacuumed with extreme delicacy to prevent damaging the fragile wings, their colours gleamed purple, turquoise, gold and green, the shrunken human heads and the collection of stuffed animals, which I found compelling and sad.
Back into the gardens to breathe living air again and listen to the fountains. and inside to see the 3,000 year old mummy, a girl child, aged around 13 who was taken to the hospital to be examined and taken there in an ambulance with lights flashing and siren blowing and the x-ray notes calling her 'mummy dearest' with tender, affectionate humour. We were told this by a brown eyed man with a stammer and a joy at speaking with English people.
And so on to see more mansions, and the Gold Coast, old Woodbury village with its millionaire houses and polo grounds long, leafy country roads, reminiscent of the road alongside Windermere, then on to the Sculpture Park at Nassau County Museum, its formal gardens designed by Marian Cruger Coffin. There were playful sculptures in the grounds, also thoughtful ones and my favourite the spinning, metallic 'tulips' large squares placed on a slender metal stem whose silver 'petals' spun around in the wind and the condensed strength and beauty in the ceramics of Fernand Léger.
The place I liked best was by the pond, where Geoff photographed a large, silverblue dragonfly and frogs splooshed into the water at our feet and there was a large, metal disc which reflected its own peace into the waters. So feminine. And the strong, iron square plates, giants like Stonehenge, receded down gentle gradients of a hill, felt to me in contrast to the disc and waters, to be masculine.
As we walked peacefully round the formal box-hedged knot garden big lumbering airplanes circled overhead, on their hold pattern.We later learnt they were being stacked over JFK, unable to land due heavy rain. Clouds darkened like bruises in the west, the heat increased and we longed for it to rain. It waited til we got into the car and the sky flung thunder and lightning at us in manic delight. I love storms! The energy meets something in my spirit which wants to immerse myself in them. Next we went to see where Frances Hodgson Burnett was buried, she wrote The Secret Garden after her son was killed in a motor car accident, which she should have been in but decided not to go at the last minute. It was after this tragedy she wrote Secret Garden.
We stood in the thundery, fat hot raindrops and paid respects to her memory, then on to Hutton House, where George teaches. What an elegant room to take creative writing workshops in! It was beautiful, peaceful, on a spacious university campus. the thunder continued and the rain wet us and we went inside. Like the Vanderbilt museum, the doors were open, but it was strangely Marie-Celeste-like. A caretaker appeared, grinning kindly, 'you just stepped in outta de rain?' yes, so he showed us the room George teaches in and left us to it.
We finished up at St. John's Church, the rain still hissing like fat on a fire, roads pouring like vaporous rainbows, steaming in the heat and wet and I leant on the rail, outside the church, looking out over a large tarn and said a prayer of thanks.
THE POETRY BARN
Although the highlight, the bull’s eye was the eagerly awaited Bowery Poetry Club reading, the others were just as vibrant, so let me tell you a little about them.
Before the evening's reading at The Poetry Barn, Huntington, George, the perfect host and local guide, full of the history of Long Island, his beloved home, each street, house, tree, cobble, he could a tell a story about. Who lived where and when. See over there, when the Methodists came from New York city a-preaching and set up camp right there, well the locals got curious and one young boy climbed a tree, to watch them. And he fell outta that tree! landed smack bang in the middle of their preaching circle! the Episcopalians and the Congregationalists were first, later, Methodists came in the 19th century, first 'riders' on their horses, then the boatloads on retreat from the city.
And the Poetry Barn? Well, it used to be in Oyster Bay, but the Huntington Historical Society acquired it and re-erected it next the Conklin House and Museum. It was put up in a day, when the Amish came down from Pennsylvania and we had a barn raiser. You know what a barn raiser is? The Amish can raise a barn in a day. And that's just what they did. They came here in their horses and buggies, the men hammered and pulled and raised that barn like a flower. The sides lay flat on the ground and the men, they had to get the timing just right, and the men pulled on the ropes of each side of that barn and raised it! Whilst the women set up cauldrons and kettles on big fires and cooked and stirred and kept us all fed.
And the Poetry Barn welcomed us with open wooden arms and the sweet smell of old timber. I read barefoot and was made to feel so welcome. The day got hotter and it was no cooler into the evening, so a big fan burrrrred away behind each poet, like a giant moth, battering the window, and the barn smelt old and hay-ey and musty and it was bare and wooden and clean and wholesome and my poetry felt at home, right with it in spirit. as if Walt Whitman’s hand had shaken mine and we loped along the trails together.
After sharing a reading with Bob Cooperman of Boulder, Colorado and Christine Rau of Long Island, meeting Mankh, Edgar, Barbara, Tony… we laughed and chattered through the streets of Huntington to the Nag's Head - a happy gang of us, with George as the spearhead, the driving force, rounding up poets and friends and so back to the Wallace’s for wine and a swim in the pool at oh! round two in the morning.
BRANFORD HOUSE, AVERY POINT, UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT…
Branford house, a 31-room mansion that rivaled those found in Newport. It was built at a cost of three million dollars in 1903 when Groton Savings Bank at the time had $312,738.39. Features included panoramic views of Fishers Island and Long Island Sound, its two-story fireplace, a winding staircase of imported Italian marble, and paneled walls carved by Italian and German craftsmen.
… was where Linda, Rhonda and I were reading that evening, organised by Rhonda and Julia Pavone, a delightful, modest and loyal supporter of the arts with guests who Rhonda had invited from her poetry and artist connections, attended by people unknown to her, including grandparents who had a poet-grandson staying with them from the south and who brought his reluctant granddad along... he gave us a standing ovation, one convert to poetry
Branford House, outside and in, was a feast for the senses. standing on Avery Point, with its historic lighthouse overlooking Long Island sound, the smell of the sea, the history of the place... we read with a backdrop of an enormous marble fireplace two floors high.
Then the inevitable coming down and glass/es of wine, back to Rhonda’s airy apartment, downstairs to the long basement, shared by a group of artists, including Rich, a talented artist who presided over the litre bottle of whisky and made us feel at home as did everyone we met, into the long, night of chat, poetry, art, laughter and drink. I avoided the whisky and cooked chicken strips in garlic and Ratatouille in Rhonda’s place. Crawled into bed around 430am, to be up for the 9 o'clock ferry from New London to Orient Point, Long Island. We missed it and caught the 10 o’clock instead. George met us and took us straight to Oyster Ponds, for a quick swim before the recording for Michael Mart's Poetryvlog website. I think George took one look at me, saw I had a hangover and thought a swim in the aquamarine silk of the ocean would do the trick! It almost did.
Michael had arranged for Linda and I to be recorded in a studio owned by Joanne, a superb photographer. Her home was thrown open to us straggly looking travellers and fruit and cool drinks appeared to provide some fresh energy, the hens' soft clucking round the door, the crazy, lazy barn leaning to one side on its wooden elbows, with a bicycle parked against it, reminiscent of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, lent a charm to the event and I read two poems in the cool of her studio, under the watchful eye and supervision of Michael as he recorded us reading.
Flying over the New York skyline the previous Thursday, necks craning, we had been keen to catch a glimpse of the famous buildings, Chrysler, Empire State, a gap inside us as we thought of the Twin Towers, the glittering sea, silver, in a grey thunder light and Fire Island before dipping into JFK, we wanted to get into the heart of it and this we did on day three, anticipating the Bowery Poetry Club reading.
Into the heart of New York herself and her majesty, her highness, her looking down her beautiful nose at us. New York. Dropped off at the corner of 34th street by mine hosts, on their way to pick up a poet friend, Geoff and I piled onto the steamy crowded multi-coloured streets of New York, at last. New York of Woody Allen, New York of The Producers, New York of NYPD Blues, Sleepless in Seattle of John Lennon and Strawberry Fields and now to be part of its ebb and flow. A visit to the MOMA where, up on the 6th floor, we bled ourselves into the surreal world of the Dada-ists, Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Kurt Schwitters, Jean Arps, Max Ernst - crazy contraptions and visions and an insight for me into my poetry.
Then down to the 5th floor of Picasso, Chagall, Cezanne, Kandinsky, Van Gogh, Monet and Matisse, to name a few of the greats. My eyes grew large at the vibrancy of Matisse, the calm of Monet's garden, the love, beauty, fertility and innocence instilled in the images of Chagall's 'I and the Village' Geoff and I were blown away, reverenced into silence.
Next, something I’ve always wanted to do, after walking a few, hot, footsore blocks, I stepped out and hailed a Yellow Cab! Marvellous! and an easy train ride from Penn Station, which is close to Madison Square Gardens, to Huntington Station on the Long Island Railroad. Woodside Jamaica, Hicksville, SyOsset, Cold Spring HAHbour! to fall into the car sleepily at Huntington and back to the Wallace’s green and peaceful home. Next day …
THE BOWERY POETRY CLUB
with its roots stretching back to the gangs of New York, the Irish, the Bowery boys, prostitutes and tramps sleeping rough on the sidewalks. I led the way through the portals of the club, run by Bob Holman and today hosted by George Wallace.
I loved it! It was like stepping into a front room, long familiar with, meeting friends new yet strangely known. Yes. Family. A poetry family, the other side of the world, feeling I’d known them all my life. The buzz of excitement like fire through a cornfield, a hi to Patricia with her long red hair, and Amy hi Amy! Pleased to meet yer and Rhonda’s, Yo girl! A quick flick round to get my bearings and then down to the loos where graffiti is encouraged and philosophical, often humorous and never endingly written down the toilet walls, like an enlightened spider on acid.
We read under the neon pink watchfulness of Walt Whitman – yes pink neon! Linda kicked off the reading, shy with increasing confidence and her down to earth poetry, Amy Ouzoonian, slight and fragile, whose poetry kicked like a mule and Rhonda, passionate poet of street and soul.
I read after Steve Dalachinsky, an awesome, polished performer of reality, guts and energy and before Angelo Verga, a poet of great sweetness who read poetry that touched on the tough, bruised experience of the streets. Finally, George, with his inventive, sensitive poetry, finishing with his poem ECSTATIC SKYSCRAPERS.
Then whooosh! swept off to Back Fence, also located on Bleeker Street which hosts 'the oldest, continuously running poetry reading series in Manhattan, going back to the 50's when Kerouac, Hunke and Micheline were among the regulars on the scene' and hosted for over 50 years by Bridget Monaghan. there's dishes of peanuts on the tables, cheap beer, a great atmosphere and Bridget, taking orders for drinks. Bridget with her, 'Ya know wheyah da shells go. De shells go on de flawer' - marvellous! The gang of us went in and suddenly the place was filled with us ordering drinks from Bridget, who stood there, hands on her 70-odd year old hips, the formidable presence in a place of long running poetry.
We took in a group of three performers called 'The Rough Diamonds' Rough!? They were polished and beautiful, another poet who made us laugh and nearly cry then 'anyone hungry? let's go eat!' We'd tried before the reading to get something to eat at Figaro’s just round the corner from where Bob Dylan lived, but it's so laid back and easy easy that we had no time to wait before the performance. so we went back after and sat around eating and drinking a little, in the early evening sun, sounds and movement of a Manhattan Sunday.
'You wanna swing by another poetry scene?' Yeah! 'Yeah?' So, ok! and we piled into two cars and went to Gathering of the Tribes' run by the iconic Steve Cannon, out of a half converted, Lower East Side apartment, where Rhonda and Edgar read at the open mic, where we sweated and drank water by the gallon, listened to a whole range of poetry and sat on the steps of the fire escape, looking down into the back yard of the apartment block, a tree, kids' toys, a swing, seats, people taking in the warm air of the New York night. We were meant to go to New London that night with Rhonda and Amy, only we never - why, I can't recall. So we returned to Huntington for food and hospitality and a lazy winding down after, for me, a swim in the pool and easy chats into the Long Island night, the fireflies performing for us, lighting up the back lawn.
LAST DAY …
… and the highlight was a visit to the Walt Whitman museum and the home of his birth. We saw the birthing bed, where Walt arrived, full of the song of himself into this world; how candles were made; how the rough string 'mattress' was tightened by a wooden peg and how the saying 'night night, sleep tight, hope the bugs don't bite!' meant that the 'sleep tight' bit referred to the tightening of the thick string mattress.
I needed to absorb the atmosphere on my own so sneaked outside and sat on a wooden bench beneath the old lilac trees, there since Walt had written his poem 'When Lilacs last in the Dooryard Bloom'd' and thought back to how a friend had told me over 20 years ago that the journals I’d written between the ages of 27-30 were like Walt Whitman’s poems, full of joy and energy and how I’d never heard of Walt Whitman so went out and bought 'Leaves of Grass' and cried as I met a spirit whose energy and wonder at the world mirrored my own.
For me, the weather played a strong part in our trip. I was sustained in salty waves, pelted in rain with hilarious thunder. It rained crazily. So we shared the rain. The Vanderbilt was a disorganised old dame? So we basked in her confusion. We missed CBGB’s? So, ok! We poured ourselves into the sweltering heat of New York streets, shared pints and conversation with wild-eyed English poets. The ebb and flow of humanity, seas and rivers, all joined at the hip by poetry.
And the shells I collected, including those from Robert Moses' beach, arrived back in the UK intact. They’re on a piece of bleached driftwood, under a table lamp in our dining room, back home.
Geraldine Green 7.8.06
bloodied by the rain today on the island by the sand and the waves by the pack horse trails and the tales of indians along the way
here on the island bloodied by today and the waves and the rain here today on the island my legs scratched by blackberry trailsand waves of rain and blood
and the trails of indians and the paumasett and montaukett and shinnecock and settlers the settlers here on the island
and the amish who built this barn one day opening the sides flat on the ground like a wooden petalled flower and it rising up! rising up to the sky
like the sun drawing up water like my spirit making waves like smoke to the sky and the rain and the thunder fat as houses rain drops fat as sky!
and lightning zagging my eyes as i wake here at home on this island.
Geraldine Green 21.7.06
you with your jaunty smile and eyes in a teacup.
you with your hat on one side a wide brimmed smile blowing over the hempsteads.
you with your blackthorn stick and stride your billowing voice lamenting the parting of seabirds.
you with your arms like happy windmills! waving to the sea the land the railroads and soldiers.
you with your laughing beard like zeus baring his chest as you make your way round the boundaries of oceans.
you, walt whitman of the long line and bounding somersaults of tender poetry.
walt with your working man's hands and mystery in the digging of graves and gardens and planting of trees.
here on your beloved paumanok fishtailed island.
in your heart of lobsters and clams dancing.
inside your wonderful beard the king james bible walking.
with each step you make as you mark the bounds.
stopping to stroke a dog, touch a child.
smiling as you see someone you resemble.
a woman holding a child an old man a prophet a drugstore owner.
you walt, pray to the sea and the air as i pray
bending your knees to better understand the blades of grass.
WALT has been accepted by poet and editor of AllBooks, Walter E Harris III (Mankh) to be included in a fortchoming anthology of poems, celebrating the work of Walt Whitman. AllBooks is based in the US. http://www.allbook-books.com/