I cheated on Su. It was my second of two Monday nights off from work, and I went to a different reading. I had received a few invitations and chose to hear Jack Cooper http://www.facebook.com/#!/profile.php?id=100002537795376 feature at Peter Chelnick’s Go Cat Go Poetry Reading Series.
Jack invited me through Facebook. Somehow either I read the map wrong (my students would giggle) or it has a mistake, but I thought I was heading to 84th St. between 1st and York Avenues. I was looking for Gracie’s Diner. Walked all around; no Gracie’s. Then I asked a woman who headed me off to York and 82nd. Got there; it was Gracie’s Cafe; no poetry reading. Initially I was thrilled at the relatively short trip from home it was and how on time I would be. Now I was twenty minutes past suggested sign-up time and five minutes after the reading was scheduled to begin. I called 411. Got three choices and went with the one on 86th and 1st. I called the restaurant and was told the reading started and to hurry up. I was glad I called and didn’t just give up.
When I arrived, there was a crowded side section of a diner where folks were eating and having a poetry reading. Two poets I know greeted me which always makes it more comfortable. There were a couple of tables where only one seat was taken, so I approached a man and asked if he minded. He gestured for me to feel free to sit there. I did.
There was no mic and that should’ve been okay, but a radio was on and coming through the speaker above my head. It was annoying. After my walking all over and getting late, I was somewhat irritable which would wear off in minutes but the commercials and songs coming through were making it hard to hear the reader, Allen Goldschmidt. When I saw the waiter, I went over to him and ordered wine and asked him to please shut off the radio. I told the man at the table I shared that I asked for the radio to be turned off. He seemed glad too. The waiter was very accommodating. I sipped the wine and began to immediately feel more relaxed.
Peter Chelnick, who sat with others at a round table at one end, probably had never heard the radio at the end where I was sitting. He yelled across the area, introducing himself and told me that it was nice to meet me and he’s heard of me and so forth. He asked me if I was reading. I actually felt shy to read, but I know at times, people have taken it as something snobby if I show up to just listen. When I first realized that years ago, I was shocked. I guess I very much underestimated that I mattered. That is a result of childhood. So I said that I wasn’t sure yet. After the words came out, I realized that too could be taken as snobby if people have no idea that I’m trying to get my courage up to read my poems aloud in a diner. Not only was there no mic which is not really a problem in terms of sound because I can project my voice, but I’d have no place to hide my as yet unrepaired teeth. (I’m getting major dental work this week.) Plus there was a photographer there. He was sitting, and that angle would surely get what I don’t want to show. This was not a dimly lit bar.
Peter had the open reading first. Though I’m sure I missed some readers, I was glad not to have missed Patricia Carragon, Peter Chelnick, Roxanne Hoffman, and Ice. I haven’t heard Ice in a long time, not because she hasn’t been out there, but because I hadn’t. Many years ago, I met Ice when she and I featured together for Vivianna Grell. I remember hearing how she came to call herself Ice. This time, she read “The Key.” The audience was very attentive, and the waiters and the hostess seemed to be enjoying the Go Cat Go poetry reading as well. Everybody ate and/or drank. It was definitely a plus for the place. When there seemed to be a moment open, I went over and told Peter that I did want to read. He put me on the list and told me I’d go on after Ice. I liked that. It seemed right, given how I met her.
Now, I do realize Peter probably had no idea I was nervous. He introduced me by honestly saying he had never heard my work before but did hear I was dynamite. That of course feels good, but that also makes me nervous because it sets the expectations high, and I don’t know how my work and delivery will be received. I read my first poem and think it let them down a bit. Then I bravely read the second one, “Immoral Dumping,” and people really liked that one. They burst out laughing.
I asked the man at my table if he was reading. He said that he lives in the building and just came down to listen. I liked that. He liked my poem. At some point, Peter Chelnick introduced someone and said that he had a big, thick… . Yes, he paused just long enough for it to sound penile, whether intentional or not, before he completed that sentence with the word “book.” I laughed, and found myself the only one laughing. The man at my table nodded and told me he heard it the way I did. I appreciated that.
A woman who was a customer on the other side of the diner came running over asking if she can read a poem. “I eat here every Monday night,” she said, “I live down the block.” Then she got her eyeglasses and read about the sun splashing yellow. Afterwards, she shared that she never read a poem before to such a group of listening people, and she thanked us.
Go Cat Go happens at Gracie’s Diner on First Avenue and 86th Street the second Monday of each month at 6:45. This night, Jack Cooper was the featured reader.
This photo with the microphone is not from that reading obviously, but of the photos I found of Jack, I like this one best. When Jack got up to read, what struck me most was how limber he seemed. That remained my feeling as he read his work. Maybe it was the season because he was springy. “April is a lilac thing, phrases in fuschia…” Toward the end he announced, “Now for the jazz portion…” and he read “A New Life.” Then I thought, jazzy, that’s what he is. I was tempted to snap my fingers at applause time. It felt like that — limber, jazzy, finger-snappin’ springy.
(c) 2012 Mindy Matijasevic