Part five of the Hoboken Historical Museum’s poetry festival “Something New (Jersey)” happens Sunday, April 10, with host/poet-in-residence Danny Shot hosting a reading featuring poets Frank Messina, Megha Sood and Reg E. Gaines, all of whom will be reading other NJ poets in addition to their own work at the museum in Hoboken.
Sood and Messina are both Jersey City residents.
Sood, author of “My Body Lives Like a Threat” (FlowerSong Press), has chosen Long Branch native Robert Pinsky.
“Poetry is about perspective as it always depends how the reader perceives it,” Sood said earlier this week. “My full-length collection inspects body politics from its various dimensions but I recently read this statement from Pinsky where he says ‘Poetry’s highest purpose is to provide a unique sensation of coordination between the intelligence, emotions, and the body. It’s one of the most fundamental pleasures a person can experience.’ And most of my poems explore the body and its emotions in the face of various discrimination and atrocities. Bringing those raw emotions of how the body perceives the various issues is the core of my book.”
Shot will be reading the work of Teresa Carson, and Gaines will be reading the work of Newark poet Amiri Baraka.
Messina, author of “Full Count: The Book of Mets Poetry” (Lyons Press), said he was excited to return to the Hoboken Historical Museum for the poetry festival and share the stage with Sood and Gaines – the latter of whom he has known since the 90s and their days at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe.
“I discovered Lillian Morrison’s work by accident one rainy night at a local dive bar,” Messina said via email. “Her signed book by her, ‘The Ghosts of Jersey City & Other Poems’ was presented as part of the hip decor (along with vintage board games) for the phone-fiddling young hipsters drinking overpriced microbrews. I opened to a random page, and the words grabbed me by the proverbial collar:
At first I thought it was the moon
gliding down with one
shining arm outstretched
carrying something dark.
Then I realized
it was the Statue of Liberty
arcing slowly through the sky
with a baseball glove on her
uplifted hand. She was saying,
‘Umpire, you blind burglar,
You can’t throw me out of the game.’
“The rhythm of her work immediately caught my attention – an elastic blend of jazz and bebop,” Messina said. “It’s hard to know whether Morrison knew that her poem of hers, ‘From the Block Island Boat,’ was consciously written to the rhythm of rhumba. Her work by Ella is fascinating because it works over blues, rap and rock ‘n roll, a form or pre-rap, along with a rich experiential balance of masculine and feminine, sort of tomboyish and ballsy. All this from a shy librarian born in 1917 (in Jersey City to parents who were Russian immigrants).”
Morrison grew up in the Jersey City Heights. Her poetry by her was written in a time when first- and second-generation Polish and Russian enclaves checked Jersey City and Downtown was shown in films as a wasteland in the shadows of the Statue of Liberty and Pulaski Skyway, Messina said.
“Yet, (that) work is as accessible and celebratory as any urban work can be, akin to Sonia Sanchez’s urban meditations in ‘Under a Soprano Sky,’ or Gil Scott-Heron’s ‘Small Talk on 125th and Lenox’; and Lady Day and John Coltrane. But Morrison predates Sanchez and Gil Scott-Heron. She was writing odes to Billie Holliday long before Gil Scott-Heron, and she pre-dates rock ‘n’ roll. As a history buff, that’s interesting. Because, after reading Morrison, you have to wonder whether Bob Dylan stumbled upon Lillian Morrison’s work on her as a young man in Greenwich Village. His early songs by him seem derivative if not inspired by the poetic images painted by Morrison 20 years prior.
Messina said he’s sure many young people attending Sunday’s reading are unfamiliar with Morrison.
“I, myself, was unaware of Morrison’s work until I found her book on a dusty shelf that one rainy night. I asked the owner if I can take it with me. ‘Sure,’ he said. ‘No one will notice it’s gone.’ Weeks later, I read the work to a group of actor friends, the small crowd grew silent, as if I was reciting psalms or small prayers; prayers of history, of our city, some funny, some forbidden prayers capturing men in their follies. She clearly admired athletes and musicians alike, and she watched them closely, they’re movements captured in verse.
In order to see ourselves, Messina said, we must do it through poetry — an art form that gives people a closer look at the foibles of people whatever age they may live in.
“After reading Morrison’s sports poetry, I felt a bit guilty for the recognition my NY Mets baseball poetry received over the years,” Messina said. “(Morrison) was writing about baseball long before the Mets existed. And she wrote about the Mets long before I ever did. In that sense, she’s an unsung hero, and for that reason, I want to share her work by her, her story by her, her courage by her.
The Hoboken Historical Museum (www.hobokenmuseum.org) is located at 1301 Hudson Street in Hoboken. “Something New (Jersey)” part five takes place Sunday from 4 to 5:30 pm Learn more about Sood including more events for the tour of “My Body Lives Like a Threat” at meghasworldsite.wordpress.com/category/events and more about Messina at ww.frankmessina.com.