On our recent trip to New York city, my husband and I visited the KGB Bar on the lower east side. The Village Voice—the NY newspaper that gives you the inside scoop on what’s happening in the city, as well as opinions on everything, advertised readings by two illustrious poets, Myra Shapiro and Jennifer Michael Hecht.
When we arrived, the place was still empty. In case you don’t know, KGB is the acronym for the Russian secret police active during the cold war. They were considered to be the bogeyman by both the east and the west. What surprised me in this pseudo-commie looking bar were two portraits of Ukrainian poets, both of whom pre-dated the communist period in Russia. I guess the owners must’ve thought since Ukraine was under Russia’s thumb for so long, these poets were Red as well. Well, they weren’t.
Taras Shevchenko was a political poet, during the Tsarist regime in Russia in the latter half of the 19th century. He illuminated through his poetry the plight of the Ukrainian serfs. He is still celebrated throughout the world for his passion. His poem, Zapovit (meaning Testament) is as famous as the Ukrainian national anthem.
Lesya Ukrainka, another political poet and feminist during the late 19th century, wrote her first poem, “Hope”, at age 8, in reaction to the arrest and exile of an aunt, who took part in a political movement against the Tsarist regime.
Anyway, I digress, only because my parents came from Ukraine, and I heard a lot of stories of how Ukrainians fought to get out from under Russia’s big thumb, or should I say, strong fist. To be labelled a communist was the worst thing.
Not long after our arrival, the KGB Bar filled to standing room only. We were thrilled to hear:
Myra Shapiro, a poet, whose works have appeared in the Harvard Review, The Ohio Review, River Styx, Pearl, Ploughshares, The Poetry Miscellany, Southern Indiana Review, and other journals, and in many anthologies. She was awarded the New School’s Dylan Thomas Poetry Award and is the recipient of two fellowships
from The MacDowell Colony. She serves on the Board of Directors of Poets House in New York City, a library and meeting place for poets. Her latest book is the memoir Four Sublets: Becoming a Poet in New York.
And Jennifer Michael Hecht, the author of three history books, including the bestseller best-seller Doubt: A History, and two volumes of poetry, The Next Ancient World and Funny. Her prose and poetry appear in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Boston Globe, and The Washington Post. Hecht earned her Ph.D. in the History of Science from Columbia University in 1995 and now teaches in the MFA program of Columbia University and the Graduate Writing Program of The New School University.
Hearing these poets’ recite their work with such feeling inspired me to get back to my own work. I’ve written a lot, but I need to publish more. One of my poems, A Tattered Robe, was published in the 23rd issue of the prestigious UK journal, Dreamcatcher, edited by Paul Sutherland.
The poetry evening was memorable and I hope to repeat it in the future. My only regret is not having had enough time to visit the The Poets House, while I was in New York. I didn’t even know such a place existed. Did you?
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