Poetry International Annual Reading, Dec 15

Poetry Event Review by Zac Bange

It’s not often that I find myself to be the least-talented person in a room, and it’s even less often that I enjoy it, but it’s impossible for me to think back on Poetry International’s staff reading without smiling. Maybe it was the glass of wine that my fellow audience members were kind enough to fill for me each time it got low, or maybe it was the warm, friendly atmosphere of the room that so contrasted with the harsh cold waiting just beyond the venue’s doors. But I suspect the real reason I enjoyed myself so much was that I was surrounded by fellow lovers of poetry.

PI logo

Poetry International is a literary magazine with a global perspective that is based out of San Diego State University. The magazine publishes English translations of poetry from around the world, with an emphasis on introducing poets from under represented regions to Western readers. They produce one journal every year, but the hundreds and hundreds of poems they publish in each volume will keep you busy for a lot longer than that. The editors of Poetry International made up most of the audience at the reading. It was clear from spending just a few moments in their presence that they weren’t just coworkers, they were a close group of friends brought together by their passion for the written word and their commitment to bringing translations of great poetry to the masses.

La Gran Tapa food

Some delicious, but unidentifiable, food.

This was the third time that Theatre District restaurant La Gran Tapa had played host to the annual reading and it’s hard to imagine a better venue for the experience. The room we ate, drank, and read in was filled with texture that heightened the sensory response of listening to poetry. Everything from the wooden furniture, to the framed photos of matadors, to the slightly creepy dolls that hung on the walls and mantle created an ambiance that was conducive to enjoying the reading of fine written works. The sangria was excellent and flowed like a waterfall from pitcher to glass over and over again, and while I can’t speak to how authentic the tapas were to Spanish cuisine, I can say that they were quite delicious.

Twelve staff members from Poetry International each chose two poems to read aloud. One poem had to be from the latest or the upcoming issue of Poetry International and the other poem had to be the reader’s own work. While one or two of the readers needed a bit of encouragement to get on the mic, each one of them delivered a stellar reading. This may be my personal bias coming through, but as amazing as the poems chosen from the Poetry International issues were, I thought the best performances came when readers shared their own poetry with the audience.

While all the readings were memorable in their own way, one of the standout performances came from an editor named Dillon Scalzo. His elegy to Lou Reed was packed with energy and earnestness, and it had the whole room laughing and clapping along with him. Dillon mentioned that it was a work in progress, but I can’t wait to read and hear the final product. Another crowd favorite was Hu Xodong’s “Mama Ana Paula Writes Poetry”, from the 2014 issue of Poetry International that many members of the audience were working on. The editors of Poetry International who translated the poem to English did an amazing job of preserving the humor that was only matched by the reader’s excellent performance of the poem. I swear I saw some people in tears from laughing so hard.

It’s hard to talk about the experience without gushing a bit. While I’m interested in poetry, this was my first experience interacting with a community of like-minded individuals outside of the community. The reading left me with fingers itching to turn a crisp page of poems and the urge to do more writing of my own. It’s a shame that this event only happens once a year, but if you want to help create one of the most extensive and impressive collections of poetry you’ll ever see, you should send them a letter; they’re always looking for new editors.

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