The Possibilities of Sunny Afternoon Repositioned Rooftop Poetry Performances
As we emerge, let's turn to the arts
This week’s newsletter is devoted to the memory of Davis artist Mark Rivera.
Nothing was normal last Thursday as we tried to return to normal at the poetry series I run twice a month.
First of all, Governor Newsom has not yet opened up California for business – that happens on June 15th. As a result, John Natsoulas proposed that Poetry Night return to the roof of his John Natsoulas Gallery on June 3rd. I agreed, even though I had grown used to the Zoom poetry readings, appreciating the opportunity virtually to gather far-flung audiences, including especially a number of Sacramento-area poets who prefer not to make the Causeway drive from Sacramento to Davis after dark (check out the names and bios of the poets we’ve featured over the last decade!). The increasing number of Poetry Night regulars joining us from New Orleans, Chicago, and New York City brought their own drinks, and I didn’t have to unfold a single folding chair.
The best poetry audiences are local, though, for even in the socially-distanced Zoom age, poets need live audiences, and they depend upon in-person events to sell books. The poet is almost a playwright who performs her own soliloquies, leading us to wonder if the more authentic experience is provided by the author who reveals her own confessional nuggets or the actor who can best embody the breadth and depth of human emotion. Either way, whether embodied by author or actor, a live performance in a shared physical space gives us access to performed artistry, and invites us to be present in our own heads and hearts.
When I proposed that we move the time from 8 PM to 7 PM to give the poets more light to work with (a concern at past rooftop events), I hadn’t anticipated that June 3rd would be one of the hottest days of 2021. That afternoon, Natsoulas texted me a screenshot of the weather report (91 degrees at 7 PM!), and recommended that we mask up and move the event inside, where he would provide the art-covered walls (some of the paintings mounted by Mark Rivera), the sound system, and the air conditioning. I called one of the poets to propose the change, and she went for it.
That same poet also showed up at 6:20 that evening with enough cupcakes for a classroom full of graduating first graders. The other poet brought beverages. So from the moment I arrived, I was on the job: fetching bottle openers, helping to find napkins, and testing the microphone. John and his staff had already set up the chairs, dispersed at six-foot intervals, as if we were adhering to an earlier round of CDC regulations.
As we approached 7 PM, a steady stream of attendees appeared, marveling like time travelers at the wonder of standing inside a public space with other humans from outside their pods. Everyone was vaccinated, everyone was masked, and everyone had access to all the cupcakes they could eat.
But could the rusty host, Dr. Andy, the poet laureate emeritus of Davis, recapture the magic of 2019 and before, amusing the audience, hyping the poets, and catching his breath while taking in the moment?
The answer to this trivia question is perhaps expected: Yes. Magic was present and presented. The featured poets both astounded us with new poems from their new books, and the open mic featured an Indian dancer (who brought her own music), a couple of the regulars, and an extended and full-throated introduction of venerable poetry scene mainstay Allegra Silberstein that benefitted from my years of my blowhardy Pub Quiz braggadocio. Allegra said that she had left her hearing aids at home, but she could still hear me.
Let’s hope the microphone still works at de Vere’s Irish Pub in Davis when I return to Pub Quiz duties there, perhaps at the end of this month. As soon as Gavin Newsom gives us the go-ahead, I plan to let loose with as loud and breathy an 18-month-delayed welcome back as I can muster. Even if you are not there to see it (though I hope you will be), I bet that you will be able to hear it from wherever you spend your evenings in Yolo County. But really, you shouldn’t miss any more of our events ever again. As we say around here, you only live once.
Tonight’s Pub Quiz will be virtual, with questions written about expected topics (the craziness in the news), as well as unexpected topics, such as San Juan Capistrano, people who bear cups, and people who bathe garishly. Other questions will address the following: soliloquys, corn, Spanish translations, independent contractors, California counties, pop singers, the employment picture, lazy machines, molecular biology, Emmys, the rotation of the earth, Mexican culture, dystopias, pogs, singer / songwriters, royals, gross domestic products, people named George Washington, far-flung countries, and Shakespeare.
Thanks to all my regular supporters on Patreon. I’m able to continue this work because of your support. As a special treat, I have tucked a shout-out to one of you in two contiguous pub quiz questions on tonight’s quiz. I will let you see if you can figure out the implied meta-question.
This Thursday afternoon I will be participating in a celebration of the life and the (very public) work of the local ceramic artist Mark Rivera, who died unexpectedly last month at age 49. If you are a Davisite and you check out the Facebook invitation, you will likely recognize a number of pieces of public art that you didn’t know all came from the same artist. Rest in Peace, Mark.
P.S. Here are three questions from last week’s Pub Quiz:
Mottos and Slogans. What beverage allegedly “gives you wings”?
Internet Culture. What cross-platform web browser developed by Microsoft was first released for Windows 10 and Xbox One in 2015?
Newspaper Headlines. According to CNN, “A century ago this week, the wealthiest U.S. Black community was burned to the ground.” In what city did this take place?
P.P.S. “Every one of us is losing something precious to us. Lost opportunities, lost possibilities, feelings we can never get back again. That’s part of what it means to be alive.” Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore