Reading With Jehanne Dubrow & Richard Blanco

On March 29, I had the opportunity to take in some contemporary poetry from two exceptional poets, Jehanne Dubrow and Richard Blanco, at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Md. Part of the draw for me was to put a face, poetry, and personality of Jehanne Dubrow to the emails we exchanged as part of her 32 Poems Blog interview.

Sunil Freeman, The Writer’s Center’s Assistant Director, introduced the poet, and shed light on Jehanne Dubrow’s well-traveled life and her studies regarding the Holocaust.

Jehanne Dubrow read first and read from her latest book, The Hardship Point, which I picked up at the reading and Jehanne graciously signed for me.

The first section of The Hardship Point explains her personal myth, a retelling of what it means to be Jewish. The poems read from this section included “The Diplomat’s Daughter,” “In Vincenza,” and “Bargaining With the Wolf.” (I assume if I get the titles wrong, someone will tell me–LOL) “The Diplomat’s Daughter” goes over the good and bad of being a diplomat brat as Jehanne calls it. “In Vincenza” described a feeling of homelessness and always feeling like a visitor. “Bargaining with the Wolf” revisits childhood fears.

The second portion of the book examines Poland from a post-Holocaust point of view. Jehanne discussed how she is obsessed with sonnets, and some of them are in a Hackeresque style. “Isaac’s Synagogue” provides readers with a different view of Auschwitz as an adult compared to her childhood view of the infamous location. The most poignant of the poems in this section for me was “Souvenier,” which describes these figurines sold in Poland and how they depict the worst stereotypes of Jews, like weighing gold on a scale.

The final portion of her book deals with reconciling her views of Poland, and she attempted to write about her time in Nebraska, only to discover the poem was actually about Poland.

Finally, she read some of her latest poems from her forthcoming third book, Stateside, which examines what it means to be a military wife. Some of these poems have the best titles: “Nonessential Equipment,” “Against War Movies,” “Swimtest,” and “Navy Housing.”

Richard Blanco, who for a long time denied his Cuban heritage, renaming himself Richard, discussed his poems and his efforts to reconcile the ethnic disconnect he felt between his heritage and his American life. Sprinkled with humor throughout his explanations of each poem, audience members surely could see the nuggets of truth behind his quips about that struggle. Blanco is well published and some of his work appears in the Bread Loaf Anthology. He read from his first book, City of One Hundred Fires, and described himself as a reluctant Cuban. I picked up this book at the reading as well, and had Blanco sign it for me.

The first poem he read talked about his need to change his name to Richard, and one of my favorite lines was about how he wanted to wear a pinky ring like Richard Dawson and become all-American. “Mango 61” explored the Cuban equivalent to numerology, while “Mother Picking Produce” highlighted his epiphany as a youngster that his mother was human and made mistakes, but did the best she could.

I only have one word to describe “Shaving”: WOW. A fantastic poem from a son to a father. “Havanasis” is an interesting retelling of the creation story in Genesis where God creates Cuba out of chaos and the conga beat begins in the background.

The next book Blanco read from begins with a variety of travel poems and narrators looking for home. Other poems in this book examine the links between memories and places. His poems provide a great look at the struggles of immigrants entering the United States and reconciling their cultural heritage with their new culture.

I wish I had “live” pictures to show you of Jehanne Dubrow and Richard Blanco reading, but the battery on the camera died and it just didn’t happen. My hubby did get the nifty shot of the podium and of Sunil Freeman introducing Jehanne, but none of the poets reading.

The hubby did get a chance to take one shot with my camera phone of the old typewriters in the room, so I thought I would share that with you as well.