Review: Poetry at the Wood Library, Canandaigua

On Sunday, June 17, 2018, I was fortunate enough to spend some time in the company of Just Poets member Scott W. Williams and friend of Just Poets Stephen Lewandowski at their poetry reading at the Wood Library in Canandaigua, NY. Scott’s friend Victoria Hunter organized the event which included an open mic. Victoria and Scott are old friends from the Rochester Folk Art Guild of Middlesex, NY, and several audience members who came to show their support were also associated with the Guild. Many poets and eager listeners were in attendance as well; Scott and Stephen enjoyed a full house!

Stephen Lewandowski read first. What impressed me initially was how funny many of his poems were; little jewels of brevity with an ironic punch at the end, the kind of work that makes me pause a beat and think, “Wait. What did he just say?”—and burst into laughter. That’s a pretty fun way to spend an afternoon, guys.

A departure from this tone occurred with his “Beautiful Dreamer,” dedicated to his Aunt Mary Jane Force, who passed away ten years ago. The poem recalls Mary Jane telling the narrator about a dream she keeps having about her long-dead horse, Tanager. Tanager (nicknamed Tanyer) has come to talk to her in her dream, and when the narrator asks his aunt what the horse says, her response is so simple and heart-wrenching it literally made me gasp. She laughs, and tells him:

Tanyer said,
‘Now we are old
and no more racing,
I can come home with you.
Now we can talk’.

Smack, right in the kisser.

There were really four discrete sets of poetry last Sunday, with open mics between the featured readers and at the end. I won’t list everyone who read in the open mics since I’m certain to forget someone, but I would like to highlight Just Poets treasure, Almeta Whitis, who read her inspiring poem “Womenspeace,” a work commissioned by the City of Rochester in 1992 as a “toast to the future,” and to honor Wilma Mankiller, the first female elected Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. Almeta sang and read her powerful piece, then shared with us the story of it’s creation—she says these words, this prayer, was very much given by Spirit.

Scott began with a poem about exactly how long he was going to read. He assured us it was going to be a very long time. He let us know he was going to read for so long we “would think we were married and ask for a divorce.” So long that we would “forget and remember and forget and remember and forget and remember...” in other words, settle in, friends. It’s gonna be a WHILE.

But it was not to be—the time flew! A few of my favorites: a scary/funny piece from A Flash of Dark, Vol. 1, the anthology of speculative flash fiction and poetry he edited earlier this year (and which I encourage everyone reading this review to purchase and read—it’s nothing short of FANTASTIC—see what I did there, wink-wink—but I mean it!), a truly harrowing piece about a frightening episode observed from a car window between a woman and her dog, and his last piece, a tribute to his late father, who loved watching trains with Scott, asking, “what’s coming on track one? What’s coming on track two?”, and the final, bittersweet answer to that query. What a way to end Father’s Day afternoon!

I’m gonna go ahead and break my own rule here and mention one other open mic performance—one that wasn’t poetry. Scott’s daughter, Rebekah A. Williams, treated the audience to two songs, both beautifully rendered; “The Heartbeat Song” has haunted since. Singing in the Tuscarora language, Rebekah had us clapping along with her: beat-BEAT, beat-BEAT, providing the steady tempo, as her lovely, poignant melody filled the room. To me, this song did very directly what I always hope poetry will do—connect me, connect US, to our own humanity. To the rhythm of our hearts. To the music of our souls.

This was a special afternoon. I’m so glad I was there!

Review by Jennifer Maloney