I’m listening to Cole Porter while I write this because Abigail McGrath, founder of the Renaissance House, told me to. Or more specifically, she was talking about Porter and poetry and Eminem when I walked up to the porch on a recent summer night for the Salon Series with Martha’s Vineyard poets Justen Ahren, Dan Waters and Michael West. The poetic posse was enjoying a post-meal discussion of lyrics and music and the confluence of the two. We moved indoors for the evening’s poetic banter, tea and dessert.
Mr. Ahren, West Tisbury’s current poet laureate, is the founder and director of Martha’s Vineyard’s Noepe Center, a writing retreat center. He started writing poems when he was seven years old, but is still uncomfortable with being called a poet. He read from a work in progress called Execution, a backwards-running reel of the world’s violence, aimed at re-sheathing the machete.
Mr. Waters, a poet and linoleum-block print artist, has illustrated and published poems in the Vineyard Gazette, Martha’s Vineyard Magazine, Yankee Magazine and others. He was the first poet laureate of West Tisbury, and shares Mr. Ahren’s mixed appreciation of the post, which has them reading an ode at the annual town meeting. While Mr. Ahren aimed for the global perspective, Mr. Waters went local and celebrated in sonnet form Nancy Luce, the chicken lady, with The Hag of Titus Cove, told from a first-person plural point of view of the neighborhood kids who bullied her. Then he grabbed his guitar to sing a few songs, as if to prove Ms. McGrath’s point on music’s perfect marriage of sound and sense.
Mr. West is a poet, novelist, playwright, singer, actor and musician. He started with his guitar to croon Talkin’ Disillusion Blues and I Dreamed I Saw a Great Big Bear, tips of the hat to Bob Dylan, as well as a ditty he wrote during the Occupy movement.
Jacqueline Jones LaMon and Afaa Michael Weaver, both writers in residence at the Renaissance House, read a few of their poems as well.
Ms. LaMon, the author of two collections of poetry and a novel, is an NAACP Image Award finalist. She held the room in her hand with a poem about her displacement after Hurricane Sandy and cleaning her mother’s cold body.
Mr. Weaver is a Pushcart Award-winning poet, playwright, and Fulbright scholar. He’s the director of the Zora Neale Hurston Literary Center at Simmons College, and recently won the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award (to the tune of $100,000) for his work, The Government of Nature, the second part of a poetic trilogy. He won the battle with his new iPad to read a poem called The Fish We Ate and one about a Chinese woman whose name, in English, means “Nice to meet you,” a sentiment I could not have expressed any better, comfortable in the company of poets steeped in their work and sharing a glimpse behind their collective creative canvas.
I collected names and phone numbers and emails, anxious to take these new connections back to Portland, Me., with me in the hopes of having their work in our quarterly, The Café Review, now celebrating its 25th year.
Timothy Gillis is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in The Cafe Review, The Portland Sun, The Coastal Journal and elsewhere.