Poetry, Pioneers, and #PaythePoets

Review by Rachael Ikins

At the Just Poets Presents! Fundraiser last Thursday evening (5/16/2019) at Nox the heat was on as poetry drove the rain away. Because the poetry road is a challenging one (aka nobody is waiting for the “movie version” of a chapbook,) it can be difficult to be adequately compensated for work. As well, Poets can tend to isolate in restricted areas and stay within their own tight-knit groups, cultivating ambition rather than risking the outreach to far away venues. It matters to meet in person, not just behind the computer or phone  screen on social media. What is possible to forget is that we are all in this together. Those clichés “strength in numbers” and “united we stand” exist because they are truths.

This lovely venue puts that truth to the test and walks the talk.

The Just Poets Presents! reading series at Nox (302 North Goodman Street in the Village Gate Square) was recently founded by Jennifer Maloney, with a mission to reach across geographic boundaries and ask regional poets to step out of their comfort zones and come to Rochester! Just Poets Presents! aims to amplify under-heard and marginalized voices from everywhere. A big part of this series is the idea of normalizing payment for Poets (and all artists), to educate people that artists do valuable work for which they should be compensated. Jennifer Maloney promotes the hashtag #PayThePoets. No one would consider it normal for a physician or an auto mechanic to practice their profession for “exposure” or “experience.” This series is dedicated to paying these professionals as one would pay any professional.

Featured readers at the fundraiser were accompanied by a fabulous improv musical performer. Trumpet player Mike Kaupa has toured North America, Europe and Japan as a leader and member of other groups, such as "ONIX" (Spain), "Equinox" (Lyon), "The Existing Reality" (U.S. and England) "The Institute for Creative Music" (U.S.) and "The Glenn Miller Orchestra" (U.S., Canada and Japan).  He recently performed at the "Remembering Marian" tribute to Marian McPartland concert at the 92nd St. YMCA in NYC. Kaupa is based in Rochester, New York where he maintains a busy schedule of teaching and performing.

Karen Faris is perhaps best known for her “Aliens like Us” series which she has performed at the Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, and is a poet and a visual artist. On such a rainy Thursday her poem “Like The Rain,” which recently won Editor’s Choice in Golden Walkman Magazine’s “Dialogue” competition flowed in and filled the vessels of our ears. “Restrooms” provided some small comic relief. Karen is also the author of the artist’s book “The Strings of Motherhood” and the all-ages eco-adventure/fantasy, “Before There was Yonder.”

Just Poets’ Vice President, Bart White, was second of the featured four journeyers. His poem “Burning House,” kicked off the readings. It is an allegory about current immigration policies, the story of an impoverished and “undesirable” family who loses their home in a fire. “Asking the Measures” relates the story of a recent widow, overwhelmed with her new responsibilities. The narrator sees her through the thought-provoking lens of his own parents’ marriage.

Just Poets’ President, Jennifer Maloney wowed with her seductive style as her words intertwined with the melancholy sighs of the trumpet. “A Lion Once Again,” her #MeToo poem, transforms a lion to a pussy (cat) in wonderful satire. “Onomatapatterplay,” is a sexy piece that plays with sound, and “What It Costs,” which expresses the poet’s anger at the way artists are devalued in our society. Jennifer and Karen are frequent readers in Auburn at Word, Revisited hosted by Olive Trees and aaduna.org.

Dionna Vereen’s work described her childhood self as a “peanut” in “& Wonder”, and she sang a few lines of “We Are Brave.” Her second piece was the classic Neruda Sonnet LXIX. This reporter first met her at ArtRage last fall where we both performed in Art in the Age of Trump and where I picked up a copy of her first audio collection CD. A force to be reckoned with, she is working with Clare Songbirds Publishing House to produce her first book of poetry.

The Auburn/Clare Songbirds Publishing contingent made good on the premise of this evening, traveling 3 hours out of their comfort zone to commingle with other poets in the greater community.

Rachael Ikins led the open mic portion, from “Eating the Sun,” the cookbook poem. “Everyone’s mother had one.”

Heidi Nightengale explained what she would say if she were the poet chosen to read at a presidential inauguration.

house sugarpunk spoke of “the gardens of heaven,” where “dandelions bloom.”

Matthew van Scott’s strong spoken-word poem included details on current events—fenced-in immigrant children, “huddled masses seeking haven.”

Charles “Seabe” Banks explained how he “kisses with two hands”.

Doug Curry stopped the clock with Sin & Soul jazz, Oscar Brown Jr., the auctioning of a woman.

Robin Reale Flanigan—“Play me, bow against string until the hairs shred”, concluded with a composition about miscarriage, “lost in the longing.”

After the readings, many books went home with new readers. Jennifer passed the jar throughout the fundraiser. Most attendees contributed to the coming trip resulting in about $200! Thanks to all who stepped up.

It is a fabulous idea to commingle poets from different areas, to reach out in person, not just on social media. It seems sometimes as if these tiny islands of geography are isolated, and this group of four poets vows to change that. Looking forward to meeting some of our poetry colleagues from the southern portion of NY state after their journey.

If you were unable to attend but wish to support this Just Poets Presents pioneer group on their outreach to Governor’s Island Poetry Festival, NYC in July, it is not too late. Please contact Jennifer Maloney at jmaloney467@gmail.com for information as to how to donate.

Rachael Ikins is a multiple Pushcart & CNY Book Award nominee, & 2018 Independent Book Award winner.  Author of 6 chapbooks, a full length collection, a fantasy & new mixed genre memoir, her work appears worldwide in journals and anthologies. She is also a prize- winning visual artist. Her work appears on book covers and illustrations and has been hung in galleries from CNY to Albany, NY and in Washington, D.C. A writing consultant, Ikins is a member of NLAPW and Associate Editor of Clare Songbirds Publishing House.

Robin Flanigan

Robin Flanigan

Dionna Vereen, Mike Kaupa

Dionna Vereen, Mike Kaupa

Jennifer Maloney

Jennifer Maloney

Karen Faris

Karen Faris