Mar 102017

Key West Poet Laureate Kirby Congdon (Photo by Richard Watherwax)

by Kirby Congdon…….

Stopping by this nationally known festival on the lawn in back of the Oldest House on Duval Street, I noticed Rosalind Brackenbury’s recent novel, The Third Swimmer. On display with it was her humorous treatment with its political subtext of “chicken liberation,” using a satiric approach that suspends reality as in Cervants, Jonathan Swift, possibly Mark Twain, or the Fantocinni of our generation, or even our own Trinidad Joe’s work here in Key West as a comic interpreation of reality.

Brackenbury shared a table wtih Edgardo Alvarado-Vazquez, whose latest production is Don’t Read This Poetry Book shown with his earlier historical novel, The Funerals of Key West. Another historical novel by Edward W. Ward on the next table was Black Sam Bellemy along with Marauders of the Bermuda Triangle with a pictorial map of Bath, S.C. This is also on Kindle. Ward’s next book, about six hoodlums crossing the United States, The Astoria Hole-in-the- Wall Gang, is already being noticed with a publicity shot of its characters in post- Civil-War dress sedately posed in a studio of that time.

I noticed that these novelists avoided leaning too hard on fiction. They rely on facts of the real world to authorize their reliance on the imaginary one in contrast to contemporary politics where our new leaders rely on the fictional world to authorize their assertions of convenient dictums. The authors want to entertain but not hoodwink. For our politicians, truth is an academic distraction.

Near by were Diane MacDonald’s numerous books for children which she illustrates herself, as does Penne Siewers. Both artists accompany this extra gift with their texts to make the prose easier for children to absorb. Siewers showed me two novels that she has done that are fiction but are based on her own experiences in the world of space technology. Other work from Siewers includes a series for children, the Sailady Books (sic).

I moved on to another table where a friend, Jean Varela, was offering her first collection of poems, Inside the Head of a Conch Woman. Almost all of us are immigrants at one time to the Conch Republic, having sneaked in from that other larger one with all those States, on vacations or as long-term refugees from that cold powder called “snow.” In poems that have both organization and history, Jean’s work documents familiar and trenchant occurrences and experiences she has met with in Key West. Chronologically identified, their subjects are arranged by topics like people and events, philosophy or romance with sensitivity, intelligence and humor. Her insights easily welcome the reader into this particular town, its times, and its lives. She read one of her lively poems. Reading their own work was a feature for those involved in this fair.

Many tables deserved individual attention in a talk or lecture all by itself. The familiar Hanging Loose Press was represented by Dick Lourie’s publications of his own poetry and many others on both paper and compact discs. He and Bob Hershon, in Brooklyn, N.Y. have long been recognized as writers cum publishers in the avant garde for decades in Brooklyn, N.Y. Lourie gave an inspired reading of his poetry.

Kenneth Michaels also gave an excellent rendition of Truman Capote for his reading of a chapter from his The Gay Detective.

Other literary figures at this celebration were the poet and playwright Malcolm Willison, the teacher and editor, Bud Navarro, who has worked with Kim Narankivicius on her newspaper format of Salt productions in which Navarro has a collection of poems. (He told me he is getting a new collection together currently.) The photographer Ralph De Palma, the owner of the Blue Heaven restaurant Richard Hatch III, the event’s organizer, Sheri Lohr, from the local Seastory Press, and the long-time co-host, Nance Boylan, were there. Nance was given a rousing send-off for her much regretted departure from Key West.

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Kirby Congdon
Kirby Congdon found his calling in the time of the Beat Movement, his poems being published by the New York Times, The New York Herald Tribune and the Christian Science Monitor as well as countless small-press outlets. While influenced by the assertive stance of a new generation in literature, he preferred to set aside the spontaneous approach of his friends and use his work as an exploratory tool in establishing the new identity of his times as well as that of his own maturation. This search was incorporated in 300 works which were compiled in a bibliography by a Dean of the English Department at Long Island University in his retirement and made available in hard-back with an extensive addenda by the literary activists of Presa Press through their skills achieved from the University of Michigan and their own experience which commands a movement in itself of contemporary literary action.

Congdon’s work in poetry covers innumerable treatments of countless subjects in single poems, long treatments on a subject, and many collections of both serious thought and imagination through not only the poetry but through essays, plays and ruminations. Named the first poet laureate of Key West, he received a standing ovation for his reading honoring this position and was the featured poet in a festival celebrating Frank O’Hara in the New York region. He was also asked to read his work as well as give a talk on the country’s national poet laureate, Richard Wilbur, at a seminar honoring that man. Currently, Congdon is working on an autobiography and a collection of complete poems.
 March 10, 2017  Posted by at 1:10 am Issue #209, Kirby Congdon  Add comments

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