One of the things we were a tad concerned about was the fact that the reading was scheduled for 11 am on a Saturday morning. Molly Charland, our host at the Society of the Four Arts, wasn't completely certain what kind of attendance to expect, though their poetry events in the past had done well. Weather would be key. Thankfully, it was a sunny morning as the four of us strolled out of The Chesterfield down Cocoanut Row to the King Library. We were told to arrive around 10ish for a sound check, though that didn't seem urgent when we got there. We had time to relax, take a stroll in their gardens, which are quite beautiful, and begin to have our first "King Sling:" Molly, the director of the library, believes that every library should have its signature cocktail, and the one we sipped that morning was called the "King Sling." I can't precisely remember what was in it, though I do recall frozen berries of a sort. Eduardo, do you remember what kind of berries those were?
The reading took place on the second floor, which one got to by elevator after walking past a special glass display case that held first editions of James Merrill, whose family had a home in Palm Beach. By the time we got started, which was a shade past 11, my guessestimate is that there were around 40-45 people in attendance---which is about what PALABRA PURA in Chicago averages (I'm increasingly less a fan of the mega crowds where poetry readings are concerned; I find myself enjoying more intimate spaces and audiences). In fact, I had assured Molly that equally important to this initiative (The Wind Shifts TOUR), in addition to sharing work from the anthology with the public, was providing an opportunity for poets in the anthology to meet and interact with each other. This was very much part of the grant narrative that I put together and it is one of the driving philosophies behind PALABRA PURA and, increasingly, the work I find myself doing at Letras Latinas: bringing people together.
And so yes, the reading was great. Eduardo, Kevin, and Sheryl all read beautifully. In addition to hearing them read their own work, Eduardo read a poem by Emmy Pérez; Kevin read a poem by Naomi Ayala; Sheryl read a poem by Gina Franco; I read a poem by Deborah Parédez as my contribution. The comments from the audience during our Q and A were glowing with regard to the work they heard performed that morning. At the reception back downstairs, it was gratifying to see our three poets seated at a long wooden table signing books---the anthology, Pity the Drowned Horses, The Night Tito Trinidad KO'ed Ricardo Mayorga---and interacting with the public. We sold around 20 copies of The Wind Shifts. One of Molly's assistants (whose name I am forgetting) took pictures with her digital camera which I hope to share here very soon. All this was great.
But equally great, in my view, was being joined by Emma Trelles, poet and journalist; Richard Blanco, fellow anthology contributor; and poet Rita Marie Martínez (author of the forthcoming, Jane in the Box, which was a finalist for the 2007 Noemi Press Chapbook Award) afterwards for our "salon meal." After the reading, the seven of us strolled over to Worth Avenue to Taboo, which became our choice space during our stay (Eduardo, Kevin and myself had a late dinner there the night before; Eduardo, Sheryl and I had a late dinner there the night before our departure). We sat at a large round table and had a wonderful time talking about a plethora of subjects, including Cuban American poets we were eager to learn more about, including a poet Emma and Rita mentioned, who is a firefighter and has an MFA Florida International University. This prompted me to tell them about Sarah Cortez and How to Undress a Cop. Kevin, Richard and Eduardo were having simultaneous conversations among themselves. Eduardo had never met Kevin before this reading. Richard had never met Kevin, either. I was meeting Emma for the first time, in addition to Rita, whose work I'm now looking forward to reading. Sheryl shared with the table what an interesting time she was having teaching African American literature in Colorado, and Zora Neale Hurston in particular. It was a pleasure to be able to convey to her how much Cornelius Eady and Joyelle McSweeney enjoyed 7, the manuscript she submitted to the Sandeen Prize and which is is now going to be published by University of Notre Dame Press. In short, the camaraderie that was enjoyed was as important an experience as the reading itself---creating the opportunity for it: that's what this tour is also about.
Of the 25 poets in the anthology, 23 have agreed to take part, for which I am grateful. All the players involved in this first installment, including the special guests mentioned, made for a memorable launch.
And finally, a heartfelt thanks to the Guild Complex and Ellen Wadey for her crucial logistic coordination in getting all the poets to Palm Beach. It's an organization I feel very fortunate to be associated with and with whom Letras Latinas has been partnering now for nearly threes.
Gracias, as well, to our two private donors who more than doubled the modest grant NALAC gave us, which got this ball rolling.
Next Stop: The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis on May 31.