Mar 31, 2009

Reading With Jehanne Dubrow & Richard Blanco

On March 29, I had the opportunity to take in some contemporary poetry from two exceptional poets, Jehanne Dubrow and Richard Blanco, at The Writer's Center in Bethesda, Md. Part of the draw for me was to put a face, poetry, and personality of Jehanne Dubrow to the emails we exchanged as part of her 32 Poems Blog interview.

Sunil Freeman, The Writer's Center's Assistant Director, introduced the poet, and shed light on Jehanne Dubrow's well-traveled life and her studies regarding the Holocaust.

Jehanne Dubrow read first and read from her latest book, The Hardship Point, which I picked up at the reading and Jehanne graciously signed for me.

The first section of The Hardship Point explains her personal myth, a retelling of what it means to be Jewish. The poems read from this section included "The Diplomat's Daughter," "In Vincenza," and "Bargaining With the Wolf." (I assume if I get the titles wrong, someone will tell me--LOL) "The Diplomat's Daughter" goes over the good and bad of being a diplomat brat as Jehanne calls it. "In Vincenza" described a feeling of homelessness and always feeling like a visitor. "Bargaining with the Wolf" revisits childhood fears.

The second portion of the book examines Poland from a post-Holocaust point of view. Jehanne discussed how she is obsessed with sonnets, and some of them are in a Hackeresque style. "Isaac's Synagogue" provides readers with a different view of Auschwitz as an adult compared to her childhood view of the infamous location. The most poignant of the poems in this section for me was "Souvenier," which describes these figurines sold in Poland and how they depict the worst stereotypes of Jews, like weighing gold on a scale.

The final portion of her book deals with reconciling her views of Poland, and she attempted to write about her time in Nebraska, only to discover the poem was actually about Poland.

Finally, she read some of her latest poems from her forthcoming third book, Stateside, which examines what it means to be a military wife. Some of these poems have the best titles: "Nonessential Equipment," "Against War Movies," "Swimtest," and "Navy Housing."

Richard Blanco, who for a long time denied his Cuban heritage, renaming himself Richard, discussed his poems and his efforts to reconcile the ethnic disconnect he felt between his heritage and his American life. Sprinkled with humor throughout his explanations of each poem, audience members surely could see the nuggets of truth behind his quips about that struggle. Blanco is well published and some of his work appears in the Bread Loaf Anthology. He read from his first book, City of One Hundred Fires, and described himself as a reluctant Cuban. I picked up this book at the reading as well, and had Blanco sign it for me.

The first poem he read talked about his need to change his name to Richard, and one of my favorite lines was about how he wanted to wear a pinky ring like Richard Dawson and become all-American. "Mango 61" explored the Cuban equivalent to numerology, while "Mother Picking Produce" highlighted his epiphany as a youngster that his mother was human and made mistakes, but did the best she could.

I only have one word to describe "Shaving": WOW. A fantastic poem from a son to a father. "Havanasis" is an interesting retelling of the creation story in Genesis where God creates Cuba out of chaos and the conga beat begins in the background.

The next book Blanco read from begins with a variety of travel poems and narrators looking for home. Other poems in this book examine the links between memories and places. His poems provide a great look at the struggles of immigrants entering the United States and reconciling their cultural heritage with their new culture.

I wish I had "live" pictures to show you of Jehanne Dubrow and Richard Blanco reading, but the battery on the camera died and it just didn't happen. My hubby did get the nifty shot of the podium and of Sunil Freeman introducing Jehanne, but none of the poets reading.

The hubby did get a chance to take one shot with my camera phone of the old typewriters in the room, so I thought I would share that with you as well.


Kristin said...

I did an afternoon writing workshop with Richard Blanco a year ago--I could have listened to him talk for hours.

Sounds like a great time!

Serena said...

Kristin: I wish I had known him as an instructor at the center because he would have been fantastic to take a workshop with. I think he has a lot to teach students.

Dawn - She is Too Fond of Books said...

It's so great to be able to see/hear an author read his/her work. As you say, you get to put the personality and face to the emails or prose you've known.

I don't read a lot of poetry (make that "I read very little poetry. Mostly books in rhyme to my kids!). I was struck that these were both autobiographical about fairly heavy topics and perhaps some "soul searching". Interesting.

The pics are great, love that old typewriter!

Serena said...

Dawn: I love poetry that is very autobiographical in nature, especially when there is a splash of humor in the poems. It's great to meet poets in person after reading their work in journals, etc. You should pick up more poetry, more often. Ok, I won't pester too much, but maybe I will introduce you to some great poets this month, and you'll find yourself purchasing their books. :)

Jeannie said...

Sounds like you had a wonderful time!

P.S. I got "Secret Love Poems" in the mail yesterday. :D

Janel said...

How wonderful that you can go to events like this. Sounds like you had a great time!

booklineandsinker said...

interesting backstories and pictures...sounds like an enjoyable day. i don't get out too much for such culture--i'm busy reading or working! i've been to one reading and always see them in nymagazine...but just never go into the city for them. sad, i know. you've inspired me!

Serena said...

jeannie: I'm glad you got the poetry chapbook from arlene.

Janel: these events are fun, you should check out the site for events in your area.

Bookline: I hope I inspire you to go to more events, at least in April for National Poetry Month.

Anna said...

Richard Dawson...gosh I love Newkirk. LOL

Looks like it was a great time. Too bad I was busy that day. :(

Diary of an Eccentric

Serena said...

When he mentioned Richard Dawson in that poem, I could only think of you and your obsession with Newkirk!

naida said...

Richard Blanco's work sounds very good as does Jehanne Dubrow's. great post!

Serena said...

naida: I suggest you check out their poetry when you have a chance.