I feel incredibly honored to have been invited to read at the 2013 New York City Poetry Festival. I had such a blast hearing so many great poets read at last year’s festival, and it never occurred to me that just a year later I would be joining them on stage. I have poet RA Araya to thank for continually supporting my writing. He invited me to read Homer in the ancient Homeric Greek and from the literary biography I’m coauthoring with Paul Maher Jr. entitled Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” so I read two road trip pieces.
For my Homer selection, I chose the opening passage from The Odyssey. Growing up in the Peloponnesus, my father had to memorize part of the epic poem in school. To this day, he still can recite the lines! I studied Classical Greek at Pomona College (while a student at Scripps), which is different than Homeric Greek. We never really read aloud in class because it’s a “dead” language, one that is no longer spoken but read by scholars. There are debates about how ancient Greek dialects were spoken, as the pronunciation is, according to some scholars, different than modern Greek. I am therefore definitely not adept at reading in the ancient tongue, but if someone asks me to read something specific, I do my best. Fortunately, there are many great English translations of The Odyssey out there too!
It was a no brainer to choose one of the passages about poetry from Burning Furiously Beautiful. In telling the story of the making of the novel On the Road, it was important that the literary biography also explored Kerouac’s poetry and his friendship with other poets. Although he is mainly remembered as a novelist, Kerouac wrote poetry throughout his life, including the period when he was on the road. There’s a really strong section in the book about how Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg influenced each other’s writing, and I wanted to read that, but in the end I found a passage in Burning Furiously Beautiful that seemed to better encapsulate the mood of the Poetry Festival. In the passage, Kerouac has been walking along the highway, hitchhiking, and finds himself composing a poem about everything he sees around him. It reminded me of how out on Governors Island we were all a bunch of writers lofting in the grass and translating the world around us into poetic language.
I read directly after RA, who opened up the event with his famously short-but-sweet poem, and then came Hillary Keel, Sarah Sarai, Carmen Bardeguez-Brown, Kate Levin, Carlos Manuel Rivera, Sparrow, Bonafide Rojas, and Keith Roach. They were amazing! Seriously. Hilary read in German and a couple of the other poets read in Spanish, and I suspect our reading—under the name Miguel Algarin’s Brooklyn Poetry—was the most linguistically diverse at the Festival. I had traveled over the Governors Island with Kate, and I think this was her best reading yet. In addition to poetry about Manhattan and our value as people, she read from her punk novel, which I would’ve thought was a poem if she hadn’t said otherwise. I always enjoy hearing Sarah read, and in particular enjoyed her poem about meeting an angel at a bus stop. The poet who had me in stitches, though, was Sparrow. I’d heard him sing at RA’s birthday party last year, and I loved hearing his one-liner poems this time around.
Special thanks too to our stage manager Liz von Klemperer, who did an excellent job. There were a lot of volunteers who kept the entire event running smoothly. The New York City Poetry Festival is put on by The Poetry Society of New York and is organized by Stephanie Berger and Nicholas Adamski. For the full lineup of the two-day event, check out NYCPF 2013.
I also want to thank my family and friends who trekked out to the island—some coming from as far as Jersey and Brooklyn—to support my reading. The photos here were taken by Leslie Marks, except the last one which is a self portrait. For more photos of me and all the other amazing poets, check out asterix611’s flickr.