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Poets and Poetry Lovers Gathered April 30 to Explore “The American Dream”

Rich Kelley
May 8, 2013

[caption id=“attachment_17181” align=“aligncenter” width=“300”]Poets and organizers of Raynes Poetry Contest April 30, 2013 Actors' Temple NYC From left: Esther Cohen, Cathleen Cohen, Sarah Stern, Quinetta Perle, Janlori Goldman, Michael Carman, Sandra Tarlin, Susan Comninos, Lawrence Bush, Heather Altfeld, Leslie Gerber, Tammy Kaiser, Joe Krausman, Gretchen Primack[/caption]

“What does it mean to be American? What does it mean to dream? Is there a way to dream in a uniquely American way? Is there a way to be an American in a uniquely Jewish way?” --Gretchen Primack, editor, from her introductory Words to The American Dream

Gretchen Primack introducingOn April 30, 2013 some one hundred poetry enthusiasts filled The Actors’ Temple in New York City to listen to and appreciate readings by eleven of the 250 poets who submitted poems on the theme of “The American Dream” to the first annual Alexander and Dora Raynes Poetry Competition. The readers’ poems were among the forty selected for inclusion in The American Dream, a new book just published by Blue Thread, the book imprint of Jewish Currents.

The festive gathering included a beautiful rendition of a Yiddish folk song by the Temple’s Rabbi Jill Hausman, expertly accompanied on the piano by James Besser.

Gerald Stern, the contest’s judge, awarded prizes to three poems and all three of the prize-winning poets (from left, below, Janlori Goldman, first prizewinner; and the two second prizewinners, Heather Altfeld and Cathleen Cohen) attended the event, coming from upstate New York, Pennsylvania, and California, respectively.

Janlori Heather Catherine 3

By coincidence, the first-prize winner lives in the town that’s home to Jewish Currents: Accord, New York. In introducing “At the Cubbyhole Bar,” Janlori Goldman reading tighterJanlori Goldman shared the story of what happened the last time she read the poem in public. It was the first poem she read at a bar in Brooklyn and immediately after she finished, a man took a hard fall off a bar stool, 911 had to be called, and the man rushed to the hospital. Janlori resumed her reading, close to an hour later, by saying, “Well, I’m never reading that poem again.”

Heather Altfeld and her family came all the way from California for the event. Instead of reading “American Taxidermy,” Heather Altfeld reading tighterher second-prize winning poem, Heather chose to read “American Matryoshka,” a wonderfully playful poem (also included in the collection) about “the world’s first six-year-old girl to be pregnant with a communist.”

The third winner, Cathleen Cohen, traveled from Philadelphia with other members of the staff of ArtWell, Catherine A Cohen reading tighterwhere she is the education director. She explained that her winning poem “Equations” draws on her experiences developing the writing of those underserved and “from different cultures, backgrounds, and faiths.”

Two poets scheduled to read, Judith Kerman and Peter Waldor, were unable to attend. But eight other poets, all contributors to the new collection, alternately moved and ticked the audience with their readings.

Tammy Kaiser readingTammy Kaiser opened with a spirited reading of her short, acerbic “New World,” demonstrating why her own collection is entitled, Memorials: Poetry for Performance.

Judith Kerman reading Michael Carman's poemThe cadences of Michael Carman’s poem were familiar to many in the audience. “The Casket the Government Built” is a thrillingly angry reinvention of “Chad Gadya.”

Sarah Stern then followed with “Red,” Sarah Stern readingher loving ode to immigrant parents trying to adjust to life in New York.

Leslie Gerber readingLeslie Gerber kindly read “Small-town Patriot,” a miniaturist portrait by the absent Judith Kerman, before reading his rollicking reimagination of John D. Rockefeller, “The Emperor of Capital.”

Imprisoned at Bedford Hills for the past thirty-two years, Judith Alice Clark could not be present to read “For the days when” so poet Rachel Simon read it for her.

Quinetta Perle readingQuinetta Perle engaged the fantastical with her whimsical tale of wish fulfillment, “Fish Wife.”

Susan Comninos readingSusan Comninos deemed “Chiroptera” “X-rated” and unsuitable for the PG audience, and so read another of her poems, “Commitment,” (not in the collection) instead.

Sandra Tarlin readingSandra H. Tarlin merged the Torah and the MTA with her account of an epic encounter, “I Meet Elijah on the #1 Train”

Joe Krausman readingJoe Krausman closed the evening, bringing together rivalries in pasta sauces and baseball in “Unanswered Prayers.”

Unless otherwise noted above, all of the poems read at this event are among the forty remarkable creations in this just published collection. Copies of The American Dream are available for sale for just $13.95 in the Marketplace.