Poets Live – Rosarita Cuccoli, Bonny Finberg and George Vance
By Yann Rousselot
The Poets Live experience was, for me, characteristic: I got there about 30 minutes late. After finding the bar and getting a drink, I headed down into the vaulted underground chamber to find people sitting in rows, like pews, listening intently. The silence was religious, the wooden chairs church-like, and my floor-scraping entrance reminded me of showing up to class late and trying to become invisible.
In the end my invisibility cloak was not even necessary, as everyone was too focused on the person on stage to notice me. Rosarita Cuccoli is an Italian-born writer and poet living in Paris since 1999. As I sat down she was reading her poem about a whale in languorous tones, about its giant beating heart and slow rhythmic breathing. Obviously comfortable on stage, Rosarita broke the ice joking about how she was trying not to appear pretentious, which is difficult as one discusses multiculturalism. Interesting little snippet: feelings have their language. Rosarita explained that she writes in English almost exclusively because she feels in English.
She segued into a short poem about love: “I want to be your freedom. / I want to be your home. / You are my biggest freedom. / You are my biggest home.” And another about a character who could be described as an emotional predator; in her own words, the very definition of a “loser,” in capable of giving: “[…] his urge to take, / compelled to penetrate.” Though easy-going in tone, the work still carried a sense of gravity, of deep truths.
Native New-Yorker Bonny Finburg read an excerpt from her novel Kali’s Day, which was, to say the least, a mystical experience. The extract chronicled a Western woman’s journey to India, the experience of culture shock, adaptation and the clash of spiritual frameworks, all told with a touch of humour that made her narrator warmly relatable. “I thought I could do without the altitude pills I got in Delhi,” was how it started.
Bonny made me smile with her candid references to the joys of adapting gut bacteria to local fare, her description of the warm, monsoon rain and its psychologically cleansing power, and of the symbolic power of small things, like token her protagonist carried around her neck, a crude Durga medallion she would touch for good luck. It was a moving story that effectively translated that feeling of solemnity one experiences when visiting a foreign, but ultimately welcoming spiritual world.
George Vance surprised me with his unusual found poems. A 30-year resident of France, between Reims and Paris, I remember his work from the Bastille Magazine V.2: storyboard for a slideshow poem jotted in a notebook on the backgarden table & photographed line by line. The Bastille piece involved a number of birds and, interestingly, the poem read at Poets Live involved a number of insects. George revealed that his Bug Poem was, in a manner of speaking, written by ants as they crawled down the page of a NYTRB article by Susan Sontag discussing Simone Weil. The bugs picked out the lines of the poem, leaping and creepy-crawling as bugs do, and George explained that it would have been most unprofessional of a poet to try and influence a bug in any way. A truly Oulipian methodology.
His next piece was the result of flipping upside-down a random paragraph from another NYT article (this time about Sontag, rather than written by her). Only the readable upside-down letters were included: the O’s, the capital H’s, the P’s that became d’s, q’s that became b’s, the m’s that became w’s… The resulting experiment was full of interjections, plosives and onomatopoeia, comical and cryptic and, one of my favourite traits in a piece of writing, playful.
Allowing for poetic license, the evening could have been described as a religious experience: quiet, composed, with murmurs and suppressed coughs and echoing voices—a recitation, in the traditional sense. Once the speakers had left the stage, however, a buzz crept through the audience fostering an intimate and easy-going atmosphere as everyone began discussing the work, the variety in style, content, delivery… This warm, social aspect is what makes any poetry reading so different from the solo reading experience. And like the people who help to keep it alive, poetry truly does come in all colours, shapes and sizes.
Rosarita Cuccoli was born in Bologna, Italy, in 1967 and has lived in Paris since 1999. She writes both poetry and fiction and publishes in English, Italian and French. Her first collection of poetry, L’Amore Più Profondo was published in 1998. Poems from this collection were showcased at an exhibition in the streets of Camogli, on Italy’s Ligurian coast. In 1999, two of her poems in Italian were nominated for the Italian literary prize, Premio Miramare. Her second poetry collection, The Love of a Woman, prefaced by poet/critic Andrew Parkin, was first presented in 2011 at the Cambridge Society of Paris. Her novel, La Logica della Solitudine was published in 2004. Rosarita is a graduate from the universities of Cambridge (Magdalene College), where she took an M.Phil in International Relations, and Bologna, where she graduated with honours in Political Science, specializing in Development Cooperation. She has worked for banks, international organizations and non-profit associations in different countries. She teaches in France and writes for various publications.
Bonny Finberg, a native New Yorker, has lived in Europe, India and Nepal. Her work has been translated into French, Japanese and Hungarian. Her poetry, fiction and reviews have appeared in numerous publications and e-zines, including Le Purple Journal, Upstairs at Duroc, Outlaw Bible of American Poetry, The Brooklyn Rail, Evergreen Review, Ping Pong, Neighborhood, Best American Erotica, most recently the Unbearable Big Book of Sex as well as Lost and Found: New York Stories from Mr. Beller’s. Her article on the Three Kings of Klezmer is included in Jews: A People’s History of the Lower East Side, vol.2. Her chapbook of short stories, How the Discovery of Sugar Produced the Romantic Era (2006) is featured in the video 5 Guys Read Finberg. Déjà Vu, a poetry and photocollage chapbook, appeared in 2011. Her photography has been exhibited as well as published in print and online art journals. Her novel, Kali’s Day, is forthcoming and she is working on her second novel.
Born in Ohio, George Vance dictated his first poem to his mother at 5. Following a long hiatus of prosaic teaching gigs sprinkled with bardly syncopations, he turned full-time to poetry after tiring of translating verses posted in Metro cars by the RATP in Paris, where he has lived off and on for the last 30 years. He has also resided in Vienna, Aachen, Brussels and the French overseas possession New Caledonia (Kanaky), and now lives in Reims. He has read at numerous Paris venues and his work has been published in Upstairs at Duroc, Pharos, the on-line magazines Ekleksopgraphia, Nth position and Retort, and is a regular contributor to the poetry blog Rewords. His hybrid poetry volume A Short Circuit (including the poem series Bent Time) and a chapbook, Xmas Collage, were both published by corrupt press. Vance continues to work on text/image fusion and street art experiments.