Alternative Books in Kingston is maybe not the ideal place to showcase one's art. The wall space is about two feet up near the ceiling. but it does have a charm all its own. There is virtually no walking space among the overflowing boxes of collected but not yet sorted out books. In the back room, they had set up a bunch of couches and easy chairs -- perfect for an audience of about ten people, which was actually optimistic.
Dr. Henriquez, the proprietor, had also scheduled a singer/songwriter for the same time, so I arrived with a certain amount of puzzlement. About 15 minutes after I had sorted out the poems I was going to read from the ones I wasn't, the singer/songwriter came in. Her name was Krista Weaver, and she combined a sort of Rocky Mountain High blonde and sunny energy with an East Coast sense of purpose. Two attributes I have in short supply. We introduced ourselves, and Dr. Henriquez wandered in, said "Well, I'll let the two of you work it out," and wandered back out.
While we were waiting to start, she took a quick look through one of my books, and said "I can't relate," Which got things off to a good start. Not that I expect people, especially singer/songwriters who sing the innermost secrets of their heart, to relate to what I write. Since I never sing the innermost secrets of my heart, on the theory that they'd bore me to death, so why should I expect them to have a different effect on anyone else? I said, "That's OK, my poems are on the outside edge of anyone being able to relate to them."
Of course, given how rotten my hearing is, she could well have said "I can relate."
A question I had cause to pause and consider, as the evening went on.
Anyhow...there we were, and what we were going to do next had been left to us. So I asked - "Well, what are we going to do? Who should go first?"
She said -- "I thought maybe we'd alternate -- you read a poem and then I'll sing a song that somehow relates to it."
I thought, Well, since she can't relate to my poetry, this will be a bit of a challenge, but I said "Sure, let's try it."
So 5 o'clock came and no one was there. Except for Pat (Krista had asked what the secret of a 20-year marriage was, and I told her for my part, it was simple. I was just as crazy in love with Pat still, as the day were married.)
I said, "Shall we wait a little longer?"
She said, "No, let's start."
This was another odd idea. I'd never considered reading to an audience of no one, but what the heck. So I led off with a poem. I wish I could remember which one. But in any event, she listened carefully, thought for a moment, and began a song (all the songs she sang were her own) that was an uncannily perfect commentary on my poem.
I'd done something similar to this once before. I was reading at a Saugerties art gallery with Nancy Willard, and the setup, instead of the usual chairs to the side of a lectern, was a couch in the front of the room. Nancy suggested that we do a kind of tag-team reading, answering each other back and forth. It was a magical evening, as befits a joint reading with our premiere North American magical realist, and we really did keep the ball in flight for the whole evening, each finding poems that would echo the other. We each completely changed our normal rhythm and pacing, and actually changed our repertoire -- both of us found ourselves going to poems we hadn't planned to read, or that we never read.
This evening with Krista was a little different. It wasn't so much like tennis as skeet shooting. I fired a poem up, she followed it and bagged in flight,
Which she did. Every time. I found myself varying my pace as a good skeet launcher should, sending up a poem that might be easy to connect to, then a poem that I couldn't imagine how she could lock in on.
I remember one -- I said, "This might seem like an easy subject, because it's about a girl with a guitar, but maybe not..."
She bagged that one, with a song that had music and guns, joy and pain.WEEKEND
When she stopped
making chords angled like
bone shards protruding
from ripped skin
and spun notes like long strips
of gauze dipped in
vaseline she had
left her first
husband and the guy with
burns on his hollow
which he left behind but
she never played
but took with her to
in the Catskills along
with a box of
hollow point bullets
of her second wedding
only five more weeks
She bagged them all. She was great. We left vowing to stay in touch and do it again, and I sincerely hope we will. Anyway, here's Krista's home page, and here's a link to some of the regular Wednesday and alternate Saturday singer/songwriter jams that she hosts in Red Hook, and that I will certainly be dropping in on, -- and a complete list of her local gigs.