Monday, October 8, 2012

Aimless Reading: The V's, Part 5 (Janine Pommy Vega)

The Green Piano
Vega, Janine Pommy
The Green Piano

Given to me by the late author, inscribed thus:


for Mike Kelleher

under the fireworks
this spring night


Janine Pommy Vega

I first met Janine in 1997 or 8. I had been working on a project for the NY State Council on the Arts and they asked me if I would like to earn a little extra money writing reports on various projects sponsored by the council.

One of these was the Geneseo Migrants Center in Geneseo, NY, about 90 minutes east of Buffalo, which ran a remarkable program that brought art into migrant farm worker camps. At various points throughout the year they brought painting, poetry, music, et al into the camps. This had been going on since the 1970s.

The woman who ran (runs, still, I think) the program, Sylvia Kelly, had all kinds of amazing stories about the changing demographics of the workers. Initially, most were southern blacks who made the trek north in the spring and worked their way southward by winter. By the seventies, many African Americans had transitioned into more permanent industrial positions in the north, at which point many of the workers came from places in the Caribbean, mostly Jamaica, from what I understand. By the eighties, though, almost the entire work force was comprised of Spanish-speaking laborers from Central America and Mexico.

This is where Janine came in. She brought poetry workshops in Spanish into the camps a couple of times per year. I was dispatched to report on the program. Sylvia drove me out to a very isolated farm that had a row of cinderblock barracks housing the workers. I would say about 15 lived at that particular farm. Janine brought all who wanted to participate together around a table, read them a little poetry, and then gave them an exercise.

After a while, I became less than an observer, utilizing my knowledge of Spanish to help some of the men (they were all men) with their poems. Janine and Sylvia were both surprised I could speak Spanish. Janine said to Sylvia that she thought I should get invited to be a writer in residence. And so I was.

I gave my own workshops in 1998 and again in 2005. There may have been a third time....

I have to run, so I'll continue this thread tomorrow.

Song to the Moon

In the waning days of red October
you make the shadow of my house
a turreted castle
a walled medieval city
I am propelled to the easter window
to see what you're up to

Upside down over rising mist
your smaller than usual size,
a yellow half-penny
nailed to the sky,
your intentional remoteness–you're
up to something, moon.

I'm watching.

Willow, New York, October 2002

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