Yesterday I had the great pleasure of reading with a few Los Angeles writers at Villa Nelle, the home of my friend Nelly Williams. You might remember in the recent blog titled “Grouping in L.A….” I told you about my friend, Nelly. She’s a poet in her own right, but is always more concerned with celebrating the work of her friends than her own beautiful poems.
When she heard I would be house-sitting in Orange County and then coming to L.A., she immediately suggested a reading. She had been so excited about the work I was creating from Viet Nam and England, and wanted to showcase it, along with the incredible work of area writers. A Merry-go-Round of Poetry & Prose sprang to life.
Nelly worked hard to prepare her home in Culver City for the event. Already having invested 20 years of hard labor stripping to the original hardwood finish and furnishing with her beautiful taste, the end result is a home she lovingly calls Villa Nelle. I remember when Nelly wrote her first villanelle. I was just moving away from Los Angeles and Nelly was pushing through the languages of English and Poetry to learn a new form.
She’s fearless, and it was easy to see by the eclectic and talented group of individuals gathered at her home that others can easily see that energy she gives to both her creativity and her peers. Having been away so long, I was excited to see friends from the writing groups I belonged to in the past. Nicole Criona from L.A. Writers Group came to support me. I saw several of my friends from Green Poets: Gloria, Marvin, Helen, and Esther.
Also from Green Poets was Janet Cameron Hoult.She was part of the open mic but needed to leave early, so she read first, from her award-winning book, Body Parts. Then the featured readers began.
Nelly put me first on the line-up, since I was coming from so far away. After reading a piece by my late friend, Dottie Grossman and a response piece to it, I shared several pieces from Viet Nam and England.
Gedda Ilves took the stage next, reading from both her published and unpublished work. Many pieces carried a strong placed-based and historical narrative, which was carried well by her direct and no-nonsense delivery. This was the first I met Gedda, although I already knew and enjoyed her work. Her friendly and encouraging personality made me like her immediately.
I was on the edge of my seat waiting for the next poet. I already knew the work of Barbara Maloutas. Long promoted by our mutual friend, Nelly, I had the opportunity to read Barbara’s poetry through books Nelly owned. I soon bought my own and, after this evening, intend to purchase all her work. I have only recently gotten to know her a little more. She’s one of those confident and strong women I always aspire to become and love to be near. Barbara read pieces from Greece and wowed the audience with her beautiful cinquains. She’s incredibly sharp, using clever imagery and language to resonate with the audience.
David Slavin was slightly known to me. I knew his name because he facilitates the poetry series at LMU, but I didn’t know his work. You can imagine, then, that I really felt like a d*bag when he referenced my own propensity for making up words (a note from my website) as he led the audience into his own work via his word “indeciduous.” In fact, he definitely had me at “indeciduous” and its corresponding double-portrait poem. He is masterful. His hilarious pieces twist and turn the language, keeping the audience laughing and clapping well before the poem is finished, all while delivering a unique slice-of-life in each piece.
Katherine Czerwinski was completely new to me. I only knew that she was a Chicago transplant who had joined the Beyond Baroque group sometime after I left. She transfixed the room. Her work was modern and fast-paced, her passionate writing matched by her presence. She takes her poetry into the realm of performance artistry by working from rote and incorporating dance into some pieces. I actually jaw-dropped when she took inspiration from a Langston Hughes poem and incorporated her own salsa dancing magnetism.
Last of the featured readers was Beyond Baroque’s Steven Miller. I’ve had the fortune to be critiqued by Steve a few years ago when I attended the Wednesday evening groups. He’s insightful and targeted, addressing quickly where my poetry needed work. His own work assures that he’s as hard-working at his own craft. He read from his chapbook, 80 Grit, a moving collection of blue collar toughness with the exposed underbelly of a poet. A winning combination.
We had a break to enjoy the amazing food prepared by Nelly’s family. Her husband, daughter and son-in-law worked hard the entire event making sure there were plenty of refreshments and food, constantly preparing, taking photos and video and cleaning behind the scenes.
After eating the delicious sushi and kabobs, dips and fruit to our fill, we went back to enjoy the open mic participants, (including my friend, Ida Lee!) after which everyone relaxed and networked, or simply danced. Nelly’s homemade flan disappeared almost as quickly as it was set out.
I ran through my mind how many times I thanked Nelly during the event, and realized it was not enough, because there aren’t enough points of gratitude for a woman who places the artistry of others above her own. I left inspired by each of the featured readers and inspired by our hostess. Each make me want to work harder, write better, do more for the community that gives me so much energy to create.
Thank you, Gedda, Barbara, David, Katherine and Steve. Thank you, thank you, Nelly, my dear friend, my beautiful, dancing flower. I love you for every kindness and generosity, for your Petra and your taciturn father, your flowers and your stairs, and even your hammock.
Until I return to Los Angeles, goodbye for now.