Thursday, May 20, 2010

New York #2 - Almost Dorothy by Neil de la Flor, Marsh Hawk Press, reading at Ceres Gallery

My friend, Neil de la Flor, had a reading of his book Almost Dorothy, winner of the Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize 2009 at Ceres Gallery. Three other Marsh Hawk authors, Philip Lopate, Sandy McIntosh and Eileen Tabios, also read from their works. They were certainly engaging readers and writers, but I've never giggled with them over crepes and red wine on South Beach nor collaborated with them in grad school on paintings and poems, so I'll just blather on here about Neil.

There was some concern that Neil wouldn't actually make it to his own book launch reading, as his flight out of Miami that morning was canceled.  But they rustled up another plane, and so he arrived with time enough to check-in, gather his thoughts, and show off his rather stylin' hat.

Ceres Gallery, a small but interesting space, is just what you think a NYC gallery should be, housed in an old building with huge wooden beams and white walls and track lighting. We arrived and helped those bearing cheese and fruit plates bring things up, and then we all stood around as people trickled in. Each poet had put the word out among their people, so in short order, it was a fairly lively room. For me, the biggest change from this room versus readings in graduate school was that the average age of the attendees and the poets was significantly higher. These were working poets well past college age, and heavily published. There were poetic vignettes on colonscopies and uretheral probes, not the ordinary material of sun-burnished U Miami coeds.

Neil read last, as his flight delay had put him there in the line-up, just in case. In some ways, his work is more out on the edge than the other poets reading that evening, as most of Neil's work, while often narrative, is also sharp images and playful language.

Being Neil, he started with a MadLib he had created of one of his own poems, so the audience full of word people churned up some interesting choices (an animal - lemur, a piece of furniture - credenza), and a hybrid poem was born. I've talked before about Neil's tendency to collaborate and teach, and this struck me as a fine example of that.  Having traveled with Neil on a road trip, I know that somewhere out there are old MadLibs full of goats, ham, lichees, Cracker Barrels and a host of decidedly not family-friendly words. 
After the MadLib, Neil read Introduction (the fake autobiography that starts the collection) from Almost Dorothy. Unlike much of his other work, it's very direct, talking about the narrator exploring homosexuality and his early sexual experiences with men. Wrapped into all of this is attraction, drive, lust, death (the virus), confusion, rejection, longing and how all that is and is not related to feeling close to another person. I thought it was a gutsy choice to read. At the same time that I love that piece, I would have also liked to hear some of the poems that are less narrative, with a heavier emphasis on the language and the way he flips it about so skillfully. So with that in mind (and with Neil's permission) here's a poem.


Sweetmeat is so goopy in the mouth, pulpy
and sentimental, goat-licked. All things

flaccid, I have no rigmarole left, only my sordid
lover to melt me down for fructose. Fructed out.

Your sweetmeat slick as grease goes down
a rearing hog's hocks. So I am hocked.

Sincerely. I wish every hard bent scorpion
on this earth will jab their hell-pincers in your eyes.

Eyes are myopic: two eyes. I will chew mine
in bed, I will slosh toward the dirty college

and fold the sheets in this porno of never
loving you. Because it is a chewing,

because today's cleavage is another life's
straightjacket. This shag baby dethreads life.

I keep threading the same Singer. Thread
and needle, Lucite and sphinx, I have no

fur but couldn't be hairier. Please,
don't come any closer. I am sorry my slab

is all dystrophy and no muscle -- the body
is a simple kind of bomb and language.

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