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[caption id="attachment_17181" align="aligncenter" width="300"] 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
On 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.
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 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,” her 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, where 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.
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.
Susan Comninos deemed “Chiroptera” "X-rated" and unsuitable for the PG audience, and so read another of her poems, “Commitment,” (not in the collection) instead.
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.