This past Wednesday, Dancing Girl Press hosted a poetry reading at E.M. Wolfman General Interest Books in Downtown Oakland. It was my second time seeing one of their events, and what was once a total novelty has quickly become a welcome and well-anticipated tradition in the neighborhood. The event features three DGP poets reading from a mix of published chapbooks and works in progress, all of which were bold and fresh and captivating.
When I left the reading, I met up with a friend at the Golden Bull down the street and tried to explain how awesome the readings were, but I came up short. I realized I have way more words for things I don’t like than for things I do like. And that’s not ok with me anymore. So I figured I’d take a stab at reviewing the reading for this blog.
The first poet, Nicole Borello is a joy to see in action. I’ve had the pleasure taking several writing classes with her, so I was already familiar with her work – her short stories are powerhouses of humor and insight, and her poetry is equally accomplished. In addition to running her own independent press, Nicole has published three chapbooks, all of which are rich and substantial and incredibly accessible. Here’s the thing about Borello’s work – it sneaks up on you. Her reading style is so casual and conversational that you don’t realize you’re being blessed with a dose of badass feminist poetry. I call her work feminist, not because it follows a political agenda or anything, in fact you would be hard pressed to describe her work as political or pedantic. It’s more that the images she presents of women are gritty and real and vibrant – in her work we get to admire bountiful asses and the contents of padded bras, we explore intimate grooming and rites of motherhood and prostitution and abuse – but Borello addresses these things with her signature grace, in effect saying “of course we should talk about these things, because they are beautiful and ugly and real and true,” And in a society where we avoid such topics, giving them a place in poetry is itself an act of feminist assertion.
Now don’t get me wrong, the strength of her work is not solely in it’s subject matter or the accessibility of its delivery – this is well crafted poetry, this is a woman who understands form and structure and employs them every which way to pack maximum meaning into her words. I could get lost in them all day, unpacking connections and associations. This is potent, primal stuff. Her latest chapbook, Fried Fish and Breast Milk is available from Dancing Girl Press.
After the reading I picked up Sarah Chavez’s chapbook All Day, Talking, also available from Dancing Girl, because her poems and the ongoing narrative they explore just got under my skin. The poems in the collection all take the form of letters to a deceased woman named Carole. They range over time, revealing snippets of both women’s lives and their relationship, things they believed in and things they questioned together, and they also chart the speaker’s explorations of life with and after Carole – there’s an intimacy to her private thoughts while washing dishes, reminiscing about adventures they shared, forming and reexamining her identity over time, and of course grieving her lost love. I had to pick up the collection because the story was so compelling, like a really good novel, but masterfully packed into the frame of compact epistolary poems.
Discovering Chavez’s work was a treat and one of the reasons I love these readings (besides the fact that they’re local and hosted at a seriously delicious little bookstore where pretty much every book on the shelves is on my Goodreads list), because they bring talented voices practically to my doorstep and introduce me to poetry I wouldn’t have found on my own. Check them out, especially if you think you don’t like poetry, ‘cause these two just might change your mind.