Just Poets welcomed first-year member Jen Maloney as the featured reader for our second Wednesday of the month reading at Before Your Quiet Eyes, Ken Kelbaugh’s fine bookstore on Monroe Avenue.
Maloney said the poems she read follow a twenty-year hiatus from writing when poverty, addiction, and mental and physical abuse dominated her life. Emphasizing survival, Maloney credits the gift of friends and community for her return to poetry, as well as advice from Ralph Waldo Emerson, quoting Polonius: “To thine own self be true.”
From her first poem, “Fight Song,” we realized the ambiguity of flight and fight, from “I’m loose, light, and ready,” then “shit peppered with love … maybe she’s dying of love,” to “I watch him silently planning his next drunk.” The flight soon becomes a fight for survival in the poem “Women’s Meeting,” in which the poem’s voice rose “high, high, high … then dropped back down … like a shovelful of graveyard dirt.” In “The Floor,” a child’s voice tells us, “I can’t explain the taste of the floor,” as the older-wiser voice reflects, “Children believe … they try to make sense.” The adult voice of “Stars and Stripes” wants her flag freed from the insanity in Washington today: “We are too old for tears,” and at night we have the stars as window blinds “stripe the floor with moonlight.”
Next Maloney lightened the atmosphere with several pet poems. “Sammy,” a dog, “stretches one leg back, arabesque,” as if he were a ballet dancer, and provides comfort: “Sammy has faith in us, faith in himself.” The man who hates his woman’s cats, “The Man Who Loved Cats Dancing,” wields the power of the tuna can while calling them filthy names and screaming at them to “use the scratching post!” Indeed, “they listen to him.” And for every pet-lover, “Thou Good and Faithful” dog who died thirty-plus years ago is remembered for “the white, muddy feathers of his underbelly.” He is “warm, wet and stinking … is there anything more than this?”
Maloney closed with four powerful pieces. “Miss September” finds a California sugar-daddy in “the place where honeypot meets honey trap.” A typical take on an air-headed beauty? No, Miss September “isn’t stupid … Miss October isn’t 18.” In “How Things End,” the poem begins at home where “the lights went off.” A couple living in their car eats “the last of the bananas,” thinking “we could drive home, but there’s nothing there. … At least the car has blankets.” In “Of Miracles,” Tatiana is a short young black woman mistaken by police for a tall black male suspect. She is beaten by the Bakersfield PD and bitten by their dog. She “made the mistake of thinking she was an American citizen.” Maloney’s observation: “The real crime is not driving while Black … but breathing while Black.” Like Maloney, Tatiana is a survivor.
Closing out, “The Poet’s Lament” poked fun at all of us when we take ourselves too seriously: “Do you know who was better, Bukowski or Ginsberg?” Maloney’s advice is learn to “shut the hell up … simply let someone else speak. … After all, we are just poets.”
Or was it Just Poets?! The room was rapt and packed. A dozen readers offered their work at the open mic. The Coffee Connection, a non-profit supporting women in recovery, provided regular, decaf, and decadent cookies. Thanks again to Ken for providing the space in which such magic happens.
Review by Maril Nowak