Sunday, January 28, 2007

Fourth Friday after Four Years

Rose Periwinkle, close-up
Rose periwinkle, close-up. Thanks to Jenn Forman Orth for the ID! Click here for the large view.

The sun had begun to set when I pulled out of the driveway. I would take the county road in a direction other than my usual route, watching for the Citgo station and the one-floor, nondescript building beside it.

"Enjoy a family friendly evening with live music, poetry and story telling," read the newspaper clipping I'd taped above my desk. "The circle is offered at the same time every fourth Friday."

I was to learn that this was the third meeting of this particular group, an offshoot of the Woodview Coffeehouse, a much larger gathering in Citrus County that has gone on for years and will be meeting next Friday night. I've lived in this area for almost four years now. I'd heard of similar events but hadn't gotten the details until now, nor had one occurred so close to home. Having gravitated to open mics in New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, I was about to step into Heaven on Earth....

Mary tells me she keeps having to remind herself that I'm shy, because that isn't how I come across. I have a good stage presence. My father was a professional musician. My mother took her acting background into her teaching. In one way or another, I've followed in both their footsteps. I'd be lying if I said I didn't get stage fright, because sometimes I do; but the thrill of performing more than makes up for the occasional tremor in my knees.

On Friday night, my easy smile and laugh made up for my stumble at the church entrance, when my left sneaker decided it wanted to stay outside instead.

With the exception of The Music Loft in Cambridge, Massachusetts, this was the one gathering I'd attended in which spoken word performers were in the minority. There were two of us among a terrific group of musicians. I'm mainly a spoken word performer, but I live in both camps. At The Music Loft, a bunch of us had come together to jam, and most of the time my instrument was my scat-singing.

Spoken word open mics I've attended have included those at Manhattan's Speakeasy Cafe and Gay Women's Alternative (at about the same time Mary was participating in the GWA in Washington, DC, more than a decade before she and I first met); Hoboken's Beat'N'Path Cafe; Stone Soup Poets (still going strong!) and She's Leaving Home Cafe in Boston; and many others, including some where I've featured. I don't know how many of those gatherings have survived over the years. I'd seen The Music Loft and She's Leaving Home falter, and I learned during my visit to Hoboken in 1996 that the Beat'N'Path is gone. (That cafe, which also hosted music performances, is mentioned in this article about Hoboken by Andrew L. Yarrow, from the November 15, 1985, New York Times. I'd discovered the place during my graduate student days at Stevens Institute of Technology several years earlier.)

This past Friday night, I combined my media for the first time. Performers were allowed 15 minutes or 3 pieces. I opened with extemporaneous, a cappella scatting after saying in a brief intro that I'd started this kind of singing almost 20 years ago, as my way of thanking the forest after a day of hiking (chronicled in "The Unexpected Trails"). Then I read an excerpt from Covenant and ended with "First Things First." That poem is newly-published in the Winter 2007 issue of Harp-Strings Poetry Journal and is also posted here.

After the first round of performances, we jammed. I joined four guitars and a cello and had a blast -- sometimes scatting as a background instrument, sometimes singing in harmony where I knew the lyrics -- though I was choking up at the end of "Where Have All The Flowers Gone?"

After years away from this kind of communion, I felt as though I'd stepped into Pure Magic and Unadulterated Joy.

The next day, over lunch at Stumpknockers on the Square, my friend Marge commented, "You don't seem shy to me, either." So I told her about my differences onstage and offstage.

She asked, "Are you onstage now?"

I thought for a moment, then said, "It's hard for me to tell."

She, her husband Bruce, and I shared a great afternoon in the county seat of Inverness. I usually come into town for Inverness Writers and to pick up the antigen for Mary's allergy shots, but I don't often drive as far as the town center. We browsed through shops I'd never entered and relaxed at a park by the lake into which I hadn't before set foot.

Set foot in the park, that is. A sign cautions people against setting foot in the lake because of the alligators, though not everyone follows that advice.

(I grew up in Brooklyn, but didn't tour the Statue of Liberty until Mary and I visited New York in 1996 and climbed to the top. In similar fashion I became a tourist in Inverness on Saturday.)

Before lunch, I'd found this rose periwinkle (in close-up above) outside a storefront.

Rose Periwinkle
large view

According to, Catharanthus roseus (Family Apocynaceae) is also called Madagascar periwinkle. Native to Madagascar, it "has escaped cultivation and naturalized in most of the tropical world where it often becomes a rampant weed. It is established in several areas in the southern U.S. Madagascar periwinkle is grown commercially for its medicinal uses in Australia, Africa, India and southern Europe."

Floridata continues, "Madagascar periwinkle contains a virtual cornucopia of toxic and useful alkaloids. The leaves were sometimes smoked for their narcotic (but dangerous) effects. The plant has been used for centuries to treat diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, constipation and menstrual problems. More recently, extracts from Madagascar periwinkle have been shown to be effective in the treatment of various kinds of leukemia, skin cancer, lymph cancer, breast cancer and Hodgkin's disease. Indeed, Madagascar periwinkle is a modern day success story in the search for naturally occurring anticancer drugs....Madagascar periwinkle is poisonous if ingested or smoked. It has caused poisoning in grazing animals. Even under a doctor's supervision for cancer treatment, products from Madagascar periwinkle produce undesirable side effects."

When I do make it to the town center, I usually visit the relatively new Deco Cafe, where this time I got directions to nearby Wallace Brooks Park.

Lake at Wallace Brooks Park, Inverness, FL

Conduits are flanked by Cypress trees and Spanish Moss. This park is a short walk from the Citrus County courthouse.

Bruce was the first among us to spot this Limpkin, which I'd initially thought was a juvenile ibis. According to my Peterson field guide and Cornell, that's a common mistake.

Limpkin Series
large view

Aramus guarauna, the only species worldwide in the Aramidae Family. "An unusual bird of southern swamps and marshes, the Limpkin reaches the northern limits of its breeding range in Florida," says the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. "There, it feeds almost exclusively on apple snails, which it extracts from their shells with its long bill. Its screaming cry is unmistakable and evocative....Although it resembles herons and ibises in general form, the Limpkin is generally considered to be more closely related to rails and cranes."

In addition to being resident in Florida, the Limpkin ranges throughout the West Indies, on the coasts of Mexico and Central America, and across most of South America.

I was thrilled to learn that my "Swamp Lily" photograph was one of those showcased on Patchwork, broadcast this past week on our local cable TV station WYKE. The photo is shown in close-up in the top shot and at bottom right in the bottom shot.

"Swamp Lily" on TV

It's one of two photographs I've donated to the fund-raiser Savor the Art of Citrus County. Left to right: Sally Graubarth, Savor the Art chairman; Frank DiGiovanni, Inverness city manager; and Neale Brennen, host of Patchwork. Sally and Frank will co-emcee the fund-raiser's live auction.

WYKE owns the show's copyright, so I haven't posted any video. Below is a transcription from a shade over two minutes out of the program:

Frank: I couldn't even imagine not having the culture and the artistry of music or dance or sculpture or painting. You can't even imagine it. It's in our everyday lives and we don't bring that out. That's what this event needs to start to do, and that's what we need to do on a county-wide level, to the entire community. Not that they have to attend all these events. They just have to realize the appreciation level that we all have for culture and art.

Neale: And we have to make it personal, too. It's got to be a personal experience.

Frank: It's got to be a personal experience. And it would be wonderful for everyone eventually to attend several of these events.

Sally: And people will comment that they don't know what's good art. You don't have to know what's good or otherwise. if you love it, then it hits, and it works for you. And it does give you something beautiful to look at every day of your life. And it makes you happy.

Neale: I think the more events like this, whether it's festivals or auctions, I think it makes us more comfortable around art.... It's not something for somebody else. It can actually be something for me. And it is something.

Sally: It's astounding, the economic impact that it has on a community. Astounding.

Frank: Ladies, I've got to ask the help of both of you at some point, to help bring this very cultured outlook in, because that's one thing we need to improve in our entire community, throughout the community. We need a presence of culture in Inverness, and we need a stronger presence in Citrus. You're helping to create that....

Neale: I think sometimes it's so much easier to look at a community and say, "Oh, you need a restaurant, you need a hospital, you need a school."

Frank: You can find that. You can easily find that.

Neale: Yes. But we need to stay on that. What we need are art centers and we need our future --

Sally: And we need to encourage children, and viewers, and parents to let their children experience what art and culture look like.


Blogger Brenda Clews said...

Sounds like you had a great time performing and I'm sure the audience enjoyed you just as totally! Promoting your book this way will be amazing!

12:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A wonderful poem to read to groups of people. I do think I remember the one about the pomegrante from WE moon!

I'm getting more so open mic reading isn't as nerve racking as it used to be for me, but I think that's mostly because we have a nice safe little home game going on.

Thanks for the great update.

9:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi! A friend sent me the link to your webpage because he noticed that you graduated from Stevens! I'm an undergraduate here and we just revived the school's literary magazine, Red Shift. If you'd like more information about the mag or if you knew some way to help us out, we'd really appreciate it!

9:17 PM  

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