Poetry: 'Tis for thee

The play "Dear Elizabeth" is about poets Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop.
The play "Dear Elizabeth" is about poets Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop. (TORI HARVEY)
Posted: March 29, 2014

Try it. You'll like it.

That's more than an old Alka-Seltzer catch-phrase. It's good advice about how to like poetry. Go to a reading; find out what strikes you. Believe me, even the poets at these things (especially them!) don't like everything. The more you try poetry on, the better it'll fit.

Starting this weekend, roaring on through April (Poetry Month), and all year, Philadelphia becomes Poetdelphia (we stole the name from Kelly McQuain, Dawn Manning, and Valerie Fox's great poetry blog), with plenty of activities.

There are readings and readings, single poets, many poets, slams, and Philly Poetry Day, April 12, on which anything is scheduled to happen.

But the poetry doings in the near future also take on unexpectedly delightful shapes.

Sing out

Friday and Sunday, the Lyric Fest concert series presents " 'Dear March - Come In - ': American Women Poets in Song." Poems by U.S. women are set to great music, some classics, as in Aaron Copland's setting of Emily Dickinson's "Dear March - Come In," and some commissioned, as in James Primosch's setting of Susan Scott Thompson's lovely sestina "Waltzing the Spheres."

Celebrated soprano Kiera Duffy, who sings several pieces on the program, e-mails that Dickinson's poems seem "innately musical, which is probably why they have been set so often to music. . . . I feel a particular affinity for her poems and a responsibility to deliver the text in as thoughtful and honest a way as I can."

Primosch says of the Thompson setting: "I want my music to serve the poem, but also to have its own life so that the meanings of the poem and the meanings of the music compound."


Lyric Fest presents " 'Dear March - Come In - ': American Women Poets in Song," 7:30 p.m. Friday, Goodhart Hall, Bryn Mawr College, 101 N. Merion Ave., Bryn Mawr. Also 3 p.m. Sunday, Academy of Vocal Arts, 1920 Spruce St. Tickets: $20 advance; $25 door; $5 students. 215-438-1702, lyricfest.org

On the boards

Why not poetry as theater? Or, rather, poets: The play Dear Elizabeth by Sarah Ruhl takes the stage at People's Light & Theater Wednesday to April 27. It concerns one of the 20th century's great relationships, between poets Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop. Both U.S. poets laureate, both Pulitzer and National Book Award winners, they kept up a searching, emotional correspondence for most of their adult lives. They were very different, Ruhl says: "His ebullience, her restraint, almost a mole-hedgehog relationship, in a way . . . " She says she hopes playgoers will "identify in a human way" with Elizabeth and Robert.


"Dear Elizabeth" by Sarah Ruhl. Directed by Lisa Rothe. Starring Ellen McLaughlin and Rinde Eckert. April 2 to 27 at People's Light & Theatre Company, 39 Conestoga Way, Malvern. Tickets: $26-$65. 610-644-3500, peopleslight.org.

Three Latina poets

Las Gallas (Spanish for something like "the she-roosters") is a cross-disciplinary band of three Latinas: Julia Lopez, Michelle Ortíz, and Magda Martinez. They do poetry, fiction, painting, drama, dance, and other arts. Las Gallas has been invited to the 17th International Festival of Poetry in Havana. Workshops! Hip-hop poets and artists! A cultural tour!

 Las Gallas will present "Ghetto Bolero: An Evening of Song, Poetry & Drama" at the University of Pennsylvania on Thursday night.


"Ghetto Bolero: An Evening of Song, Poetry & Drama" at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, at ARCH (Arts and Research Cultural House), 3601 Locust St., at the University of Pennsylvania. www.facebook.com/LasGallas. The free show is sponsored by the Center for Hispanic Excellence: La Casa Latina and the Latino Coalition.

Readings everywhere

It is said, with reason, that you can find a poetry reading 365 days a year in Philadelphia. Here's a big one: Gregory Djanikian and Tom Devaney read at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Penn Book Center, 130 S. 34th St. Djanikian is a Penn professor and a humane, warm poet. Devaney is one of the polychrome pillars of Philadelphia poetry. The reading is free. (215-222-7600, pennbookcenter.com.)

How about poetry in, like, nature? On April 12 at 1 p.m., the Fox Chase Reading Series presents Poets at Pennypack, seven local stars such as Peter Krok, J.C. Todd, and Diane Sahms-Guarnieri reading at the Amphitheater/Camp Fire area of the Pennypack Environmental Center, 8600 Verree Rd.

At 3:15 p.m. April 6 and 7 p.m. April 23, the Manayunk-Roxborough Art Center, 419 Green Lane, hosts Alzheimer's-themed readings by poets Jeanne Murray Walker ( The Geography of Memory) and Anna M. Evans ( The Stolen From). (215-482-3363, mrartcenter.org.)

Want big? As in blowout? April 6, starting at noon, the Moonstone Arts Center hosts the 18th Annual Poetry Ink: 100 Poets Reading at the Gershman Y, 401 S. Broad St. Poetry Ink is an annual published by Larry Robin of Moonstone. Many of the poets will queue up, 3 minutes each, alphabetical order, and read - for a full day! (215-735-9600, www.moonstoneartscenter.org.)

We'd be mad not to mention the Mad Poets, who host great poetry events throughout the area. Now comes their Philadelphia Poetry Festival, starting at 11 a.m. April 26 at the Free Library. It's a great chance to get a snootful of local poetry. Keynoters his year, chosen by eminent Philly poet Leonard Gontarek, will be Katie Ford and Michelle Taransky. For information, e-mail madpoets@comcast.net or call 215-808-9507.

The august Painted Bride Quarterly presents its monthly reading series at 7:30 April 8 at the Black Sheep Pub, 247 S. 17th St. 215-545-9473, pbq.drexel.edu/events/news. PBQ also does its great monthly poetry slam, Slam, Bam, Thank You Ma'am!, at 7:30 p.m. April 24 at the Pen & Pencil Club, 1522 Latimer St. 215-731-9909, pbq.drexel.edu/events/news.

. . . and there's so much else! Dip your toe. Take a taste. Try it. You'll like it.


jt@phillynews.com

215-854-4406 @jtimpane

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