As good as it gets: August’s La Mama Poetica

DISCLAIMER: This is not a review from a person qualified, or even asked to give one. Just my unreliable impressions of a night of great poetry.

I want to tell you about the August 16 LA MAMA POETICA NIGHT because I was uplifted – I got three poetic inspirations as I whistled my bike back home.

First off, it was a great pleasure to sit back in the arms of four accomplished poets. You knew that they would not let you fall and you could really get wrapped up in their works. I felt glad to live in the city and amongst the people that nurture them.

Alana Kelsall read her poems sitting down. At first she pretended she was going to recline full length. I got a mental picture of Titian’s ‘Venus of Urbino’ (the pose, not the being naked). Being read to from a bed or a couch would have suited her poems: they flowed easily and simply, relaxed and in a manner that might lull a child to sleep. But her imagery is evocative, dreamy and perceptive. I particularly remember and liked her poems about a woman who wasn’t a Bond girl – which played vividly in my mind like a Bond movie. In fact the Bond imagery irked me a bit whilst I was hearing it, but now I think it was very clever and wonder how she managed it. And one about Wallis Simpson. She is a person I’ve only known about through one sentence remarks in the press “the American divorcee who captured the heart of a king…” but who, after Alana’s poem, I was glad to know a lot better.

Sam Ferrante’s spot was a complete contrast. She was energetic, animated and emotional, and she used the whole stage: dropping paper sheets of her poems around the place, climbing an imaginary ladder to a bunk bed and taking off and putting on her boots. Her stand outs for me were her first poem written from the perspective of her six year old self – her portrayal is vivid and convincing and made me think her kid self is within easy reach of her adult self. And her last poem, I think she said it was inspired by the recent mass shooting in Orlando, is intense and passionate and the use she makes of the colours of the rainbow builds to a powerful conclusion. Her performance is completely up to the linguistic challenge of the words. No it’s better than that, it’s stunning. There is a lot more in it than I could take in at one hearing and I look forward to hearing it more.

Komninos Zervos made me groan inwardly for a moment, thinking about Hallmark greeting cards, when he announced his set was all about his mother. But I needn’t have worried. I was in the hands of a gifted poet. For twenty minutes his mother and his family home lived in me – through perceptive and compassionate detailing and observation of the minutiae of everyday life. Who would have thought a mother’s criticism of peeling an onion could carry such happy significance to a devoted son. The love and compassion he has for his mother has me examining my relationship with my elderly mother. His language, at least in these poems, is plain and straight forward, perfectly in tune with his subject matter. Unlike Alana he rhymes, which I found encouraging – if only I could take my poems to his level. And, despite the tragedy at the end of her life, he found humour as well. He gave a brief background to each poem which did not detract from them, quite the reverse. I’m not sure why. Maybe it added to their authenticity.

Joel Deane was another contrast again. His poems and his delivery were ‘intense man’, with nightmarish, plague ridden images: wasps, a dying fox, a murderous eagle on Alexander Avenue at 3am that made your skin prickle with dread and foreboding. Visceral stuff and more cerebral than the others. He mentioned people and things I didn’t know but I did catch the reference to James Agee author of “A Death in the Family”. I studied it in high school, Class of ’71. His poetry was compelling like cruelty you can’t look away from. And that’s how he stood; very still, looking straight ahead, unflinching. Well, he must have moved a bit, but that was the impression he gave me. He gave us a choice of more misery, or a love poem, for his last piece. I opted for love, but more people wanted him to continue in the same vein. As we were leaving I asked him if his love poem was as intense as what we’d just been through. He replied that his love poem was full of misery, because that’s what he is, a misery guts. He said it in a way that made us laugh, which was nice.

I felt exhilarated as I rode home afterwards. I’d been to a night of poetry that’s as good as it gets. When the next La Mama Poetica comes around I highly recommend you give yourself a treat and go along. They’re held quarterly.

Well done and thanks to Amanda Anastasi who curates the night and to La Mama for hosting.

[Photo by Brendan Bonsack]

Nicholas Elliot
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