Poetry to Get You Through the Holidays – in Boston, Anyway

First Night Ice Sculpture -- Boston Customs House
Last year’s First Night sculpture is still relevant for a few weeks or so

Here’s the latest list from my informant at MIT. Please comment or contact me if you’d like information on how to be added to his mailing list.

I’m a member of two workshops (three if you count Toni Amato”s Write Here Write Now in Somerville — I’m not often able to make the Wednesday workshops but Toni is one of my mentors and the two of us meet regularly). One of them I run. In the other, I have theĀ luxury of being a student. And in that second one, the “host poem” of our closing session for this term was by Gary Whited, who headlines this Friday (tomorrow!) at the Chapter and Verse series in Jamaica Plain. I’ve never met the man but appreciate his work. Word on the street is that he incorporates poetry into his day job as a psychotherapist.

If you’ve already got plans on Friday, Mr. Whited makes an appearance at the Brookline Public Library’s monthly open mic in January — details below.

I’m also calling out the Small Animal Project, a regular reading series held in a space that’s near and dear to me. Until the mid 2000s, it was the back room of the New Words Bookstore and home to a feminist/queer monthly open mic. Perhaps someone in Camberville can tell me if Small Animal Project does justice to New Words’ legacy.

Friday, December 13, 7:30 pm
Gary Whited and Mary Bonina
Chapter and Verse Series
Loring-Greenough House
12 South St.
Jamaica Plain

Sunday, December 15, 2 – 4 pm
Afaa Michael Weaver and Larissa Pienkowski
Brookline Poetry Series
Brookline Public Library
Main Branch in Hunneman Hall
Brookline
Open mike sign-up: 1:45 pm

Monday, December 16, 8 pm
Tamiko Beyer, Jenny Browne, and Kate Greenstreet
Small Animal Project
Outpost 186
186 1/2 Hampshire St
Cambridge

Sunday, January 19, 2-4 pm
Susan Becker and Gary Whited
Brookline Poetry Series
Brookline Public Library
Main Branch in Hunneman Hall
Brookline
Open mike sign-up: 1:45 pm

February 13, 6 pm
Rowan Ricardo Phillips
Katzenberg Center, 3rd Floor
871 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston University

Sunday, February 16, 2-4 pm
Elaine Terranova and Justen Ahren
Brookline Poetry Series
Brookline Public Library
Main Branch in Hunneman Hall
Brookline
Open mike sign-up: 1:45 pm

Is It a Date? Will There Be Cupcakes?

Is it a date, a friendly get-together, or an interview? The femme is zaftig and pale with dark auburn hair, a violet orchid behind her ear that matches her dress. So I’m guessing it’s a date. Because my own femme-dar tells me this woman might be wearing that fabulous dress, but not the orchid if she didn’t have a reason to. Why else would a femme and a butch — or is ze a transman — be sitting together on an October afternoon at Fiore’s Bakery, in Jamaica Plain, the the Ground Zero of our tribe? Why else would they be asking and answering all those getting-to-know-you questions? Are all queer women so matter-of-fact witht their first-date questions? Or is it an interview? Are they sniffing each other out as they consider collaborating on some performance art piece, or some vaguely charitable business plan, maybe a cupcake store that sources all its chocolate from a women’s coca collective in Ghana?

[Adapted from an October 2012 journal entry]

Sadness Comes Apart in the Water

I met up with some of my circle sisters last Thursday night at the Forest Hills Lantern Festival. There are actually about three different events of this type in Jamaica Plain every year. It’s inspired by a Japanese Buddhist tradition that honors the spirits of the ancestors and is very well-attended. The image of hundreds of hand-decorated lanterns floating across the waters of the pond as the light leaves the sky is really magical. Lots of people bring cameras on tripods to capture the event. My friend Butterfly took a photo on her camera phone and emailed it to me, but I refrained from taking any myself, partly because I knew I wouldn’t be able to get a good shot with my camera phone, and partly because I wanted to experience the event myself without the intervention of technology. There are tons of photos of the lantern festival on the web. I found Innusa‘s and ReallyStrangeGirl‘s flickr sets to be particularly beautiful. Still, nothing captures the experience like being in the middle of it.

I took the Orange Line from Green Street to Forest Hills and followed the stream of people heading toward the festival. It was one of those hot, heavy, dreamlike evenings we get in July, and the grounds around the pond were filled with people on blankets. My circle sisters had camped out right in front of the performance space, and it was such a wonderful feeling to arrive to see a group of women holding a space for me. By the time I arrived, the festival had been going on for about an hour and a half. I attempted to get a lantern for myself, but by the time I got to the tent where you could purchase a lantern and have a calligrapher paint a word on the rice paper, there was a huge crowd. I didn’t feel like waiting in line, so I returned to the blanket to watch the tail end of the Taiko Drummers’ performance. I wish I’d gotten there earlier so I could have watched the entire thing; Japanese culture fascinates me, especially the traditional forms.

My circle sisters made beautiful drawings on their lanterns. Although this tradition is meant to honor the ancestors, people at this festival seem to use it as a way of sending out all kinds of energy and prayers. Each of my sisters has something fairly major to release right now: one of them is going through a divorce, the other just split up with her long-term fiance, one is embarking on a new romance, and the last has been recovering from cancer surgery. But for the first time in a couple of years, I have really nothing to release. I have good news. I am in love, my job is going well, and I am overall very happy. I was nice to have some good news to share with the circle and to be able to listen and give my support about my sisters’ own tragedies. The Wheel keeps turning.

When everyone walked down to the water’s edge to place their lanterns in the water, I stayed on the blanket. I watched the many kinds of people milling around and soaked in the atmosphere of Jamaica Plain. Each neighborhood and community in the Boston Metro Area has its own unique flavor. The prevailing wisdom among people who do not live in Jamaica Plain is that it’s geographically isolated and difficult to get to. There is definitely a truth to that, but in the past few months I’ve found that getting there is not nearly as difficult as people make it out to be. And the neighborhood itself is quite wonderful. I’ve been considering moving there at some point. Of course, I’d hate to give up my lovely and affordable apartment in Cambervilleton (Cambridge/Somerville/Arlington), but I find the atmosphere of the neighborhood much more appealing.

I lay back and looked up at the sky as people milled around me. It was a blue-green, tinged at the edges with the burnt orange of approaching sunset. Trees ringed the edges of my vision.

Once the sun was down completely, the crowds dissipated. The five of us made a circuit of the pond, watching the slowly changing spectacle of the lanterns on the water. They followed the invisible lines of current and wind, and as the daylight faded away they looked like a line of souls marching into the other world.

It would have been nice to paint “forgiveness” on a lantern and send that message off to my father’s spirit beyond the veil. But there will be other opportunities to do so. That night was meant for other people’s releases.

Sadness comes apart in the water. Over the course of the last two years, though, my sadness has come apart on dry land. I have no grieving left to do, and nothing to share but joy.