Tuesday night was reserved for a double-header at the Cazenovia Counterpoint Festival. Poet Jerry Mirskin and author Sonja Livingston joined forces, each reading from their newest books, and kept the audience enthralled.
First up was Sonja, reading from her memoir, Ghostbread. Each chapter is very short, and reflects a particular memory or moment, and the chapters she chose this evening were from her early childhood. One of seven children with a single mom, the book speaks to her experiences growing up in poverty. What struck me the most as I sat and listened was the universality of the emotions and childish observations of herself and her place in the family and society. With or without direct experience in such desperate living conditions, it is easy to relate to the feelings expressed in her writing. I found myself nodding in empathy and understanding as she described her presence as an outcast on the Tonawanda Reservation. It was not the event that I shared, but the emotion that struck such a chord in me.
Up next was Jerry Mirskin, reading from his newest collection, In Flagrante Delicto. He, too, had some childhood memories in his works – a candy necklace, Pez – and some warm and loving words for his wife as well. Jerry’s work is wonderful, “goofy” at times (his choice of description, I assure you!), but warm and resonating. It was a wonderful complement to Sonja’s memoir, as his poetry is quite personal, and Jerry took the time to put each work into context before he read it to us, giving us additional insight. For example, Saw Palmetto takes on a subtly different meaning when you realize the event described is an attempt to cheer up a friend’s injured mother by bringing her something “real” (as in, not from the hospital gift shop) . . . and realizing that you’ve cut a plant that is on the endangered list. Oops.
Both Jerry and Sonja were gracious and personable, staying to chat with audience members and sign their books afterward – books that are well worth owning, by the way!