This post originally appeared in Bryant Park Blog
On June 24, 2014, the Bryant Park Reading Room hosted a truly unique performance: a tribute to its own Paul Romero. One of his many duties as Director of Tourism & Visitor Services is to serve as the organizer of the Word for Word series. He has been at the helm since its inception in 2003, and in those eleven years has gotten to know many poets around the city. In certain circles, he has earned himself the title of Poetry Man. This evening, a heaping handful of poets- along with his regular staff- showed up to sing his praises.
Our charismatic M.C. was Michael Broder, a regular at the Reading Room who was sitting in for his husband Jason Schneiderman.While Schneiderman couldn’t appear in person due to strep, he wrote a heartwarming letter which Broder read. He also read one of Schneiderman’s poems, a wittyThe night began with the staff gathering around the mic to do a group reading of an original rhyming introduction. Then jazz singer Natalie Douglas and guitarist
Chris Biesterfeldt played a rendition of the 1974 hit “Poetry Man”, perhaps the source of Romero’s nickname. While the conventionally flirty verses didn’t all suit Paul, the cheery refrain did; he has a natural gift for making everyone feel welcome. In the process of facilitating these readings, he has created a small community around himself, a fact celebrated by various speakers throughout the evening.
Our charismatic M.C. was Michael Broder, a regular at the Reading Room who was sitting in for his husband Jason Schneiderman.While Schneiderman couldn’t appear in person due to strep, he wrote a heartwarming letter which Broder read. He also read one of Schneiderman’s poems, a witty and refreshing take on evolution’s hiccups.
Then Broder read his own original translation of the Roman poet Catullus. The poem (known only by number due to its ancient provenance) was the poet’s apology to his boyfriend Juventius for stealing a kiss. Broder’s translation read smoothly in spite of his stream-of-consciousness confession that he’d edited it just for this reading. The audience, Romero included, seemed very pleased.
Next up was Saeed Jones reading a dark and wistful poem taking place across multiple lifetimes. The speaker’s “post-apocalyptic heartbeat” kept pulsing across each scene as they fragmented into different times and places. Jones’ oracular piece made the atmosphere heavier, and the crowd was mostly quiet as AngeloNikolopoulos stepped up to the mic.
Nikolopoulos echoed an appreciation for Romero, who had helped him feel less like “a nobody” when he first came to the Reading Room. Then he stepped into a poem based on Elizabeth Bishop’s famous “In The Waiting Room”. Like Bishop, Nikolopoulos took us from “benign beginnings” to something much more surreal, ending up in a natural “strobe light”.
PatriciaSpears Jones, who had just put on a Bryant Park reading the previous Thursday, re-appeared to read from her book Painkiller at Romero’s request. Her first poem was a very clever follow-up to Broder’s Catullus, again referencing the Roman poet in order to tell us “what the first cities were all about”. Then she moved into the world of a Cuban Bolero dance in sensual gyrations of language leading up to an “accidental lovemaking”.
“Intelligence seems less popular,” Michael Klein seemed to respond in the next poem. “There’s no money in it.” His “Harmonium” was a very funny queer list poem railing against the idea of “queer”, and against lists, and finally against itself. The whimsical turns of his uniquely brash speaking voice were like cold water in the face after Jones’ reverie.
Mark Doty was next to read; he was effusive about Romero, Bryant Park, and New York in general. Echoing Ginsberg by way of Klein, he began by noting that resources like the Reading Room “are here because somebody puts their shoulder to the wheel. And Paul is doing that.” His first poem, “Spent”, was a meditation on the boundary between indoors and out focused on a scattered bunch of hydrangeas. His next poem elaborated on how simple routines- in this case, getting a haircut- keep New Yorkers grounded amidst the chaos of the city.
Broder finished out the reading with some brief missives from
absentee poets, namely Molly Peacock and Jim Nason. Apparently Romero once gave his handkerchief to the latter, a visiting Canadian poet. And of course, when one shows kindness to poets, it often winds up getting published. Nason’s was a short, tender piece about his reading in Bryant Park. While the physical handkerchief is gone, the poem was a heartfelt gift in return.
“The warmth you’ve shown in giving me a temperatureAfter a reprise of “Poetry Man” by Douglas and Biesterfeldt and a few more words from the staff, Romero himself closed the evening. Rather than speaking his own thanks, Romero pulled out a copy of Kenneth Koch’s long poem “Bel Canto”. He felt that the last stanza summed up all he wanted to say in that moment. In that spirit, perhaps I can do no better than to quote it here:
That I can live with, and the strength you’ve shared with me
In arms and legs—and for your part in literature,
What can I say? It is as if life stared at me
And kissed my lips and left it as a signature.
Thank you for that, and thank you for preparing me
For love itself, and friendship, its co-agent.
Thank you for being this, and for its inspiration.”