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Poets Go the Distance

Poetry Marathon Brings Boston Writers to the Mic

By Katherine Ryan

Boston National Poetry Month Festival

April 3, 10 a.m.

Boston Public Library

In two drab rooms in the basement of the Boston Public Library, 56 poets from in and around the city gathered over two days for a poetry marathon. Their 20-minute readings were sparsely attended; much of the audience was composed of the poets themselves. The public was perhaps put off by the length of the event (seven hours!), or even simply unaware that it was occurring. Few came to endure the entire marathon, though those who stayed for some of it found a few gems within the murk.

Joyce Peseroff recited grotesque poems on 19th century life, reading one poem about the reasons for the prevalence of axe murders in New England winters, before moving on to describe an old practice of pacifying babies with gin. Moving back to contemporary times, in her best poem, “Raptor in the Kitchen,” she creepily compared herself, eating the crust of a sandwich left by her child, to an animal consuming the remains from a birth, attempting to hide any smells from predators.

Michael Brown’s poems demonstrated a larger range of interests. In one poem, “The Homeowner,” he related the amount of pesticides he spots on his lawn (“We have learned to curse the dandelions”) to river pollution and human health problems. This was greeted with applause. Next, his poem “The Man Who Made Amusement Rides” began as a joke but then shifted: “I’m a playground terrorist turned to profit.” Another, the story of his mother’s death, was melancholy; he described holding her up from a hospital bed and insisting that they were dancing.

Emerging after him, Ryk McIntyre’s performance was the stand-out of the day. He snuck up on the audience, speaking from the seats, and quickly engaged the listeners with his “Ode to Jennifer.” The poet, hair uncombed, wearing an aged leather jacket, gestured out, “Suddenly, I’m reliving the perfume of her neck.” “Oh, Jennifer,” he lamented, “why, oh, why, won’t you love me again?” His performance, coupling a good poem with a sincere effort to speak to the audience, epitomized what the day should have attempted. Good poetry, after all, need not be spoken but read silently. But here, where the goal was to read the lines out loud, the best poems were not so much the winners on paper but were issued loudly and sincerely. As Boston poets struggle to bring their work to an audience, they might bring this lesson to heart: advertise well and perform with intention.

Promising future poetry events in the Boston area include Poetry Off Broadway, every Sunday through April 25 at 7 p.m. in the Davis Square Theater, and Wednesday nights at the Cantab Lounge in Central Square, with an open mic at 8 p.m., a featured poet at 9:30 p.m., and a slam at 10:30 p.m.