The Brooklyn Poets Reading Series took up residence in Dumbo Sky on September 19th as a Brooklyn Book Festival Bookend Event. It’s a loft space on Jay Street right near the river, with winding staircases and huge windows that display the backdrop of the glittering Manhattan Bridge.
Fitting, then, that each poet is silhouetted against a projection of their latest book cover, the first of which is R.A. Villanueva’s Reliquaria. Shadowy, a figure in the background who could be Villanueva holds a menacingly Shakespearean skull in the foreground. Villanueva’s grin, colourful casual button down, and neat haircut make him look like a typical Brooklyn boy in a trendy loft space, excited to read from the pleasing, matte-finished book in his hand. But as the crowd hushes and Villanueva digs into his poems, at times sentimental, at times mythical, by turns ordinary and heartbreakingly sacred, we see the sensitive Filipino American poet who yearns to understand his connections to his history and his emotions. He pieces together in “Fish Heads”:
“At dinner she alone
will spoon out their eyes with her fingers,
suck down each pair as we watch. See, this is why the three of you
could never hide anything from me–as though these organs
brought her sight to be soaked through the tongue,”
Dialogue, observations, incantations and prayers blend into one even-toned, evenly-metered voice of calm gratitude toward the world around this young man.
Jericho Brown rose to the stage with the cover of his book, The New Testament, cast behind him. His speaking voice was quiet enough to urge an increase in volume, but his reading voice was even quieter. Brown is a tall, wiry figure, with long black dreadlocks smoothed back from his face, utterly serious, though his tone of voice and expression are the kind of sombre that draws you in. And draw us in he did–each word was whispered, but as such each was given its own breath, its own special puff of air. Sensitivity was paid to each syllable. This forced us as listeners to pay the same sensitivity to each poem. When MC Jason Koo regained the mic, he remarked upon what was obvious to us all: everything seemed too loud now.
Cathy Park Hong certainly was able to shush the everything, if what we needed was a little coddling after being brought into such an intimate sonic region. She read from her latest book, Engine Empire, her hand perpetually thrust into the crook of her hip, eyes down, her attitude comfortable. As Brown’s strength is that of sensitivity and bravery, Hong’s domesticity is empirical, observable, felt in the heart but also weighed practically in the hand. Her tone carries the contagious serenity of a master poetess. Her voice cares for her words like newborn children not because she is a mother, but because she as a writer is connected to the endless spiral of mothers and children and living and dying. Her voice cares for her words like newborn children in that it is filled with love, but also exhaustion, and fear, and wonder.
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Amy Carlberg is a current MFA student at Sarah Lawrence College from Toronto. She’s a tall girl with a short fuse. Her poetry has been published online in Baldhip Magazine, the Squawk Back, and is soon to appear in the upcoming issue of The Boiler Journal.