Big Red Books Hosts First Poetry Reading

Though Nyack’s Big Red Books may have only opened in September, the indie bookstore is already making big waves in the community. Aside from selling and recommending new reading material to his customers, owner Richard Fulco has prioritized hosting free literary events for all who wish to attend, hoping to enrich the cultural and social lives of local residents. One such event—a reading with local poets Mary Lou Buschi, Rebecca Watkins and Ruth Dannon—took place on Wednesday, November 29, marking the first poetry reading for the shop. From the looks of its remarkably full attendance, it will not be the last.

“When you discuss poetry, ‘about’ is a dangerous word,” Dannon explained when RCT inquired what topics her poems that night would cover. “Poetry doesn’t work in terms of being ‘about’ something. We work through an experience that the reader has, and some concerns that the writer has.”

While the three poets occasionally touched on similar themes, all focused on different concerns in their work. Buschi, a Bronx-based special education teacher and the first of the night’s three readers, read from“Paddock,” her second full length collection of poetry. Self-described as a “play in poems,” the book is elliptical, meaning readers can start anywhere and the story will still make sense. The story’s characters are two girls, some goats, and a chorus, all of whom spawned from her first chapbook. All are on a journey for what could be read as a quest to find a mother, or, Buschi emphasized, a quest to find oneself.

“These characters were actually haunting me for years,” Buschi said. “I just heard their voices and kept listening to them. Finally, I wrote a chapbook…Then I wrote this book, because I realized that that (the characters) were really turning into different people, and they wanted to do different things. So I followed that impulse.”

Rebecca Watkins read next, selecting poems from her poetry chapbook “Field Guide to Forgiveness.” The selections the Nyack-based poet and Clarkstown South High School English teacher chose to read revolved around the titular theme, exploring topics such as family, childhood, social issues and legacy. According to Watkins, the book stemmed from her experiencing her father’s cancer diagnosis and the pandemic concurrently. While her father is currently in remission, the lessons that time brought are ones Watkins aims to keep.

“Those two things happening at the same time really put things into perspective about what’s important,” Watkins said. “(The book) is poems about forgiving others in the past but also forgiving oneself—letting go of the things that have happened to you and moving forward, turning it into strength.”

The last poet of the evening was Ruth Dannon, a Beacon-based private teacher who served as the head of the creative and expository writing programs at NYU for 23 years. Dannon chose to read from her fourth and most recent book of poetry, titled “Turn Up the Heat.” Written soon after she took a trip to Sardinia, the poems revolve around three main characters: St. Anthony of the Desert, 16th century intellectual martyr Giardano Bruno, and a domestic figure who is simply called “The Husband.” Toggling back and forth between Sardinia and the Hudson Valley, the poem explores themes of perception and knowledge–or as Dannon puts it, “the relationship between what we see and what we interpret as we see it.”

When asked how she selected what poems she would read for the audience that night, Dannon described the process as “intuitive.”

“So much of it is improvisational and discovery,” Dannon explained. “I think of putting together a reading as a form of writing a long poem. Everything that’s in it is somehow placed and not random. There are poets who get up, open their book and say, ‘Oh, maybe I’ll read this one’…I don’t like that. I don’t think it’s respectful to the audience. I don’t think it’s true to the nature of performance. You really are giving something to the audience, or making a gift to the audience. It’s not about your own presentation…So that’s how I plan to read.”

From left to right: Dannon, Watkins and Buschi with their books

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