Poetry and Cannonballs

The best part of NYC Poetry Festival is its location. After years of wanting to go and not understanding boats, I finally got myself on a train to take a taxi to catch a ferry to go to Governors Island. What I thought was going to be a day of simply listening to poetry turned out to be an exploration of NY history along with booths upon booths of swag and conversation.

Before anything poetry, BMc and I met up and wandered into forts called castles and forts called forts. We were able to pick up heavy things that weren’t as heavy as cannonballs. I don’t know the point of this activity, but we did it. We also found something called a playground that seemed to be a way to lure children into getting tetanus or an art installation or both. Then a park ranger told us we could walk up a cobblestone path behind some of the buildings where the boat people reside (don’t ask—I don’t know, either) and find some cannons. We walked up the path and found some cannons! Each cannon had a sign that said not to climb on them, so immediately I wanted to climb on them, but I didn’t because it was early in the day and getting kicked off the island before the poetry wasn’t a good plan.

My two main concerns aside from boats were bathrooms and food. Actually, these are my concerns for life: boats, bathrooms, and food. I’m happy to report there’s a bathroom as soon as you disembark in the building that has the art gallery. There are also bathrooms that are trailers with stalls and not singular portapotties. I’m also happy to report that food trucks is where it’s at. I have issues ordering from counters, and luckily, I found a truck that was more of a cart and I could order at eye level. The salad I got was heavenly. I also purchased a cup of water for $2, but there were two limes in it, making the purchase worth it.

The poetry was a great plan. I listened to a group called Camperdown whose readings I’ve gone to online. I also listened to a chunk of the Red Wheelbarrow Poets, a group BMc is associated with. I heard a bunch more in the background because there were three stages of poetry all day plus an open mic. Not on a stage was a fun performance at the Walt Whitman Initiative table, which was my favorite poetry of the day because it was more than being at a mic but it was poetry in yo face.  

That’s also where I met in person for the first time someone I’ve known online through Walt Whitman Birthplace Association since I’ve been working with them. It makes sense that I’d meet him at a Walt Whitman booth, but to meet in a place that requires three methods of transportation is kind of funny. Then again, that seems very Whitmanian.

I also listened to Terrance Hayes and some of Deborah Landau, the two headliners for Sunday. That was the only time I felt like the entire festival quieted down.

The booths I hit up for some fun writing chatter:

The National Association for Poetry Therapy – this is a real thing and it makes me happy.

Nine Cloud Journal and the Queens Poets – I ran into a few poets I know from Queens, met some new poets from Queens, and bought some Queens poetry.

Sarah Lawrence College – I got professorial for a bit. They have a speculative writing track, and I’m all about that.

Squidbath – Old photos plus typewriter quotes plus stitching equals magic, and I have a piece hanging on my wall in front of me as I type this.

I also ran into Sarah Kain Gutowski whose name I recognized and we had one of those conversations trying to place each other’s names and faces. She had a booth that showcased a poetry and visual art project she’s been working on, which was stellar. Then we both remembered that I’d read for her students a few years back, and that conversation turned a bit towards how Fall 2021 is going to be as nutty as this past academic year has been.

Then I found the table for the Poetry Brothel and wanted to purchase one of everything. I found my necklace by Madame Tallulah and wore it for the rest of the day.

I also bought a tiny book by Michele Rosenthal called Smaller Than Life because it made my heart happy.

My most favorite activity of the day was the Poetry Labyrinth. You take a rock with a word on it. You walk around the brick labyrinth. You sit down. You write a poem. You can keep the rock or put it back. You can keep the poem or hang it up. I want this in my backyard. If I weren’t spatially challenged, I could probably make one.

The other most favorite part were the views. Like, I’ve seen the Statue of Liberty before, but from this island, it’s brand new. I’ve sailed on the Sea Streak into the port at sunset, but it looks surreal once more from this angle. The city is enchanting with all its history and all its words.

Then I got really excited when BMc offered to drive me home, so excited that I forgotten I parked my car at the train station that morning and then couldn’t figure out where my car was until after I got into my jammies and put on my acne medication that looks like clay and then called my mom to see if she could take me to get my car and I’m 42 and you’re welcome.

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