Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Bowery Poetry Club, etc...

There is still a bit of wild wonder left to the Bowery and its environs. Not the showy, frenetic kind that’s manufactured for us now. But the authentic kind that grows out of the hard –won, steady efforts of an artist insisting on showing their mind. Not hoping for fame or money in that moment, just working because you have to try once more to feel that alive: on the edge of what you know and what your willing to dare not to know.
A few Sundays ago Bowery Poetry Club held a reading of Daniel Wolff’s work. He’s one of those guys who everyone wants to know- so easy going and personable it can almost make you forget that he is also a delicate thinker of deep intelligence and heart. These were bird poems. Just that. Gorgeous and true, they gently communicate an awe of these creatures and a terrible pity for the rest of us. The humor: wry, sly and deliberate. And an almost imperceptible joy that slips out between the lines. It is such a relief to be required to pay close attention to grasp the meaning of something.
The poems were read by a unique cast of artist and activist voices: John Sayles, Maggie Renzi, Michelle Montas, Dennis Boutsikaris, and Jonathon Demme, among others. It was lovely to hear the variations on Daniel’s “voice” and to hear what each found in the work. Humbling to watch the more famous among us get so beautifully behind the poems -everyone making way for the words they were asked to steward in that moment.
You want to read the poems again in the quiet, when nothing else is tugging at you.
It was followed by a preview of Jonathon Demme’s unflinching documentary about the aftermath of Katrina in New Orleans (Daniel co-produced). Told through the lens of one of its citizen’s, Caroline Parker, it is an elegant reminder of why we build community - our only real power. And like everything Daniel tends to be involved with – imbued with a willingness to see what they were looking at.

That night reminded me of what I love about this neighborhood. Like how a few years back, Loudon Wainwright held an unannounced (to the public) busking for his new collection –High Wide & Handsome- The Charlie Poole Project. If you were lucky you happened upon this wondrous event - free and there for the taking. There they were, playing and singing their hearts out in the scruffy backyard of a low-income senior nutrition center. So much sheer joy and mischief- you can’t make that up - you either feel it or you don’t.
(High Wide and Handsome clip)
And then there was discovering Steve Elson and Erik Friedlander, music heavyweights, pouring out soulful sax/clarinet and cello sounds respectively in nearby M’Finda Kalunga Garden. Playing full out for a local public school in a sukkah (with its required “roof open to the skies”) for the Jewish harvest festival. The music simply enveloped neighbors out for a stroll, drawing them to the fence with the passionate and deeply human echoes of Jewish life.
Or those brass players who suddenly appear on Rivington Street to make rowdy upbeat sounds together, just for the thrill of it.

The Bowery Poetry Club anchors the arts community by insisting that poetry and music are not a luxury, but an essential that everyone is entitled to. Art is one way people thrive and think afresh. This neighborhood can still surprise you in this way: artists doing their work and generously giving it to anyone who will stop by long enough to pay attention.
I’d like our arts institutions (not just those funded by hedge fund guys) – but our places -to be preserved and protected so that our culture – working artists’ culture- is not forgotten or smoothed over. And offered to anyone who will dare to notice.

K Webster