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Oh, New England!

12 Mar

Worcester.

The day after the Nuyo, Khary and I traveled (by train, the best way) to New England. I stared longingly out the window a lot. I hadn’t been back to Massachusetts – besides a transfer or two at Logan or South Station – in five years. Gorgeous, gorgeous Massachusetts. Purple and blue woods, little frozen lakes and ponds, breezes heady with sweet ice and rotting leaves. Late winter nostalgia: I miss the comfort in being sad. The deep aloneness of genuine winter that’s impossible to find in California or DC, how it ebbs and flows from melancholy and to joy as the seasons turn. The abandoned farmhouses and brick millhouses scattered in the quiet woods, sometimes peppered with graffiti, the places where kids go to feign boredom and smoke pot.

Here live Lauras sixteen to twenty-three, and all the people she loves and walks and talks with in these woods, the words they speak feeling very important, everything relies on their finding the right words… People she kisses, laughs, reads/writes and makes love with, trapped here forever. In real time, all of us are scattered now, and, but for sightings brief and occasional, almost entirely lost to each other.

Bittersweet is one of my favorite flavors.

Worcester view.

Yes, homecoming. I saw my first poetry slam ever in Worcester, back when the naturalist and I had just begun to be in love, and we still made each other happy – just happy. The Massachusetts poets were my first. Ryk McIntyre and Bobby Gibbs were at that first slam, and Bill MacMillan hosted. Iyeoka and Oz Okoawo were the first features I ever saw, at Hampshire College, followed by Tony Brown, Corrina Bain, and Sou MacMillan. Boston’s Cantab was the first Big Venue I ever attended, where I saw Jack McCarthy, Simone Beaubien, Eric Darby, and J*Me read for the first time. It would be a while before I saw Jared Paul, but I competed in a slam for the first time on his stage (long before it stuck), at the Providence Poetry Slam at AS220. The Worcester Individual World Poetry Slam was the first national event I attended, where I met Gabrielle.

Tony.

Tony picked us up from Worcester’s big beautiful train station. He’s a great first face to see. We’ve been friends for years and years, sharing poems and critique and love and snarkiness. We drove over to the house he and Missy share with Mike McGee, and the bunch of us sat around and talked for a while, unwinding a little before Mike’s Kitchen Sessions.

Missy.

***

INTERLUDE: Best Songs About the United States

Born and raised in this country as a conscientious female of color at the end of the twentieth century, I’ve had plenty of occasion to be embarrassed about my national identity (in an earlier entry, I mentioned how silly I find the concept of having national pride). It wasn’t until the night of 09/2001, when one of the deans at my college, who was trained as a storyteller, spoke to a group of us at the arts house about what genuinely is beautiful about this country, culminating in a moving rendition of “This Land is Your Land”. Since then, I’ve been very aware that my favorite songs about Americanness are songs that celebrate the place for itself. Here are a few of my favorites that meet those criteria. I’m not linking to music here, but finding renditions online should be very simple.

This Land is Your Land is one of those songs that feels really timeless, like it could’ve been around forever – but Woody Guthrie wrote it in 1940! I know, right? This might be my all-time favorite song about the US, because it celebrates the whole of the land, “from the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters”, and gives custody of the land back to we the people. Never fails to move me, never fails to get me singing along.

Country Roads, by John Denver, is another gorgeous song about place. And anyone who’s ever driven through the countryside of West Virginia knows just how stunning the landscape around those parts truly is.

Autumn in New York, by Vernon Duke. Sweet, melancholy, a lovely portrait of the busy city in its quieter moments.

Oh Shenandoah is one of those songs I wail sometimes. The melody is so rich with longing – and the lyrics happen to refer to the area of the country from which I hail, so this is a special favorite of mine.

Mount Pleasant, by Tuscadero, is, of course, even closer to home. I fucken adore this song. It captures the sensibility of DC in the days when I was growing up, a pure celebration of the city for itself.

New England, by Jonathan Richman, is the song to which the title of this entry refers. Hilarious and beautiful in its simplicity, this song always gives me palpitations and crazy nostalgia.

What are your favorite songs about the United States as a place?

***

That night, a bunch of Mike McGee’s friends gathered in his kitchen to read poems. I heard a lot of innovative and well-crafted work that only reinforced the stereotype of New England as a literary mecca. I performed what I think is my best poem, if a difficult one to read (The Kunstlerroman of Roger Bonair-Agard, the Greatest Lover In the World), and got a very good response, especially from Victor Infante, who’s definitely difficult to impress. Khary did an hour-long set (!) that showcased his beautiful strangeness, his adeptness with the language of the brain and body, and his quirky humor. It was a real pleasure to see him perform a full feature for the first time.

Khary preparing his set.

I have some video from Kitchen Sessions which I’ll upload soon, I promise. I missed a lot – the battery on my little camera died after forty minutes or so – but there should be a bit of sweet footage I can share with y’all.

Kitchen Sessions poster.

Do me one favor today: take a minute or so and appreciate something of the land, even a manmade part, if you want. The oak trees in your suburbs, the lake nuzzling your city, the sun gleaming off the face of a skyscraper, the mountains or vast plains you can see in the distance when you look a particular way. Just let something beautiful and still enter your mind for a moment. When we rode through the Massachusetts countryside, I realized just how long it’s been since I gave myself a chance to really do that. But theoretically, one of the best things about being a poet is giving yourself an opportunity to allow that stillness into your life, more and more, looking more and more closely at what surrounds us, and what we take for granted, every day.

Love.

Outside Mike's window.