Poets on the Corner of 5th and Main

by Alec Silverman

On Thursday, August 27th, at eight- o’clock, The Third Area presents the last poetry reading of the summer at Pharmaka gallery on the corner of 5th and Main.  This is an extraordinary opportunity for readers to get a dose of vital and utterly current poetry read by the top notch poets themselves, in a setting surrounded by the visual arts in one of downtown’s most appealing galleries.  For a cherry on top, wine, beer, bottled water and hors d’oeuvres are provided free of charge, (a five dollar donation is suggested).  Of course, that should be no surprise.  Writers are always talking about the importance of the mantra “know your audience.”  The doors open at seven, when mingling and noshing and perusing books and visual art begins.  We hope to see many downtownsters there.       

 There are always four poets featured.  They are introduced, often beautifully, by other poets.  One fine example of the art of language to be found at these readings at Pharmaka follows below.  Tony Barnstorm, whose résumé of literary awards is so extensive that we can’t list it here, read this poem, along with many others, among his amazingly divergent repertoire.

The 167th Psalm of Elvis
This poem comes from Tony Barnstone’s book, The Golem of Los Angeles, published by Red Hen Press

Blessed are the marble breasts of Venus,
those ancient miracles, for they are upright and milk white
and they point above the heads of the crowd in the casino.
Blessed are the crowds that play, and whose reflections
sway in the polish of her eggshell eyes,
for they circle like birds around the games,
and they are beautiful and helpless.
Bless the fast glances that handle the waitress,
bless her miniskirt toga and the flame-gold scotch,
and bless the gamblers who gaze at the stage.
Remember also the dancer and remember her dance,
her long neck arched like a wild white goose,
the tassels on her nipples that shoot like sparks,
and bless the legs and bless the breasts                          
for they are fruit and honey and they are generous to the eyes.
Have mercy on my wallet, the dollars I punch into the slot,
and grace the wheels swapping clubs and hearts.
Mercy on me too, as I stumble as if in a hashish haze
watching the reels spin away, for I am a blown fuse
and I need someone to bless me before it’s too late.
Honor the chance in a million, the slot machine jolting,
the yellow light flashing, honor the voice that calls jackpot,
and the coins that crush into the brushed steel tray,
for there is a time for winning and a time for losing
and if you cast your bread upon the waters
you will find it again after many days.
Pity the crowd around the blessed winner
all patting his back as if it rubs off,
this juice, this force, this whatever
that might save them from their own cursed luck.
And pity the poor winner whose hand claws back
into his bucket of coins and who cannot walk away,
because he’d do anything for the feeling
he had when the great pattern rose from the chaos
of cherries and lemons and diamonds and stars
and he knew for that moment he was blessed.
 
Tony Barnstone’s collections of poetry include Sad Jazz: Sonnets (Sheep Meadow Press, 2005), and Impure, (University Press of Florida,1999), as well as a chapbook, Naked Magic (2002), which won the Mainstreet Rag Chapbook Contest. His most recent book of poems, The Golem of Los Angeles, won the Benjamin Saltman Award in Poetry in 2006 (Red Hen Press, 2007). He won the John Ciardi Prize in Poetry in 2008 for Tongue of War (forthcoming from BKMK Press).  He is also a distinguished translator of five books of Chinese poetry and prose, including most recently Chinese Erotic Poems (Everyman Press, 2007), He has won fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the California Arts Council, the Pushcart Prize in Poetry, any many more.  He is is the Albert Upton Professor of Creative Writing and English at Whittier College. Tony’s work can be found at: www.barnstone.com <http://www.barnstone.com/>
 
Pharmaka Gallery
101 West 5th Street (Corner of 5th and Main)
Los Angeles, CA 90013  (213) 689-7799

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