Monday, July 30, 2007

Guinea Pigs & Poetry Fest

Editor's Note:

The Cool Justice Report
has been slow to post comments
in recent days because
we weren't very close to any computers.

Thought about hanging up
the 'Gone Fishin' sign,
but didn't get around to it ...

... We were very sorry to miss the Lake Salhany Uplifting Feeling / Sinking Feeling / Let's Do It Again Poetry Festival, among other important events.

Following are some links to the poetry fest:

  • Lake Salhany Music & Poetry Podcast

  • Photos

  • Colin Blog & Comments

  • Guinea Pigs On The Air

  • Let's Do It Again: Colin Column 7-29-07

    Colin McEnroe
    Hartford Courant
    Sunday, July 29, 2007, page a2

    A few weeks ago, I contacted Andy Thibault, private detective, crusading journalist and literary impresario.

    If Elmore Leonard started setting his crime novels in Connecticut, he would have to have a character based largely on Andy, although chances are the Andy character would get bumped off after about 200 pages, another charming-but-dead Mercutio, floating face down in Bantam Lake with a .45 slug in his sternum, to remind us this isn't all fun and games.

    Andy's involvement in the literary life of the Land of Steady Habits has tended to merge and blur with his other life as one of the modern preservers of Damon Runyon's legacy, so that many of the poets he promotes sound like targets of RICO probes and (I suppose) vice versa. I mean, he's probably investigating somebody named Buddy Baudelaire right now.

    "You should come to this reading," he will say on the phone, in a low, husky voice. (Raymond Chandler once described a telephone voice that "wheezed softly, like the voice of a man who had just won a pie-eating contest." Andy sounds more like the only guy who understands the pie-eating contest was fixed.)

    "I've lined up some excellent poets: Jimmy the Shrub, Rhonda Avocado and a giant from Antigua," Andy will say. (I've met the giant. He's 6-foot-4.)

    I go through periods during which I try to avoid Andy because, as I get older and feebler, my constitution is no longer able to handle some of the Fellini-like moments, like getting marooned in a basement bar at 1 a.m. in Litchfield with a group of Calabrian tile-cutters drinking some kind of Calabrian white lightning liqueur more potent than grappa and banging the counter and shouting "Poesia!," not that Andy would be anywhere in sight by that point in the evening. (This didn't exactly happen to me, but to Rand Cooper, another writer frequently snared in Andy's plots.)

    But I contacted Andy on July 9, after I discovered the Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington had canceled the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival. I guess we all have things that make summer seem like summer, and one of those things, for me, was that festival. I even had a (very) small role in starting up the festival years ago, and I've got a dozen or so memories of it stuck in my heart.

    Cool nights, warm nights, a mockingbird talking back to Richard Wilbur, an electric prickling on the back of my neck when Mark Doty wove Laura Nyro's "Gonna Take a Miracle" into a poem about love and death and hope in a time of AIDS: "I've seen the bodies I most adored turned to flame and powder ... " Donald Hall tearing the night apart with his agony-filled poem about losing his wife, Jane Kenyon, and Stanley Kunitz reading "Touch Me," a poem about sex and passion in one's 90s. All of it happened as we sat inside the stone walls of that eight-sided garden, with prim, classical flower beds giving way to wild meadows in the south and even wilder woods beyond.

    My friend Lary Bloom made the whole miracle happen every year, and when Lary left The Courant, The Courant left Sunken Garden, and the whole crazy idea of having 1,000 or more people sit in the darkness listening to crickets and poets started to fade. And now it's not happening at all because of lack of funds and miracles.

    I asked Andy to help me start a poetry festival on the shores of Lake Salhany, the sketchy, manmade body of water in the office park where WTIC-AM and three other radio stations are located.

    Andy showed up the afternoon of July 9 and, from 4 to 4:07 p.m., we stuck our heads in the offices of three decision-makers (including operations manager Steve Salhany, for whom the lake is named) and said, "Can we have a poetry festival on July 25? Please?"

    Everybody said yes. When my immediate boss, Jenneen Lee, came back from vacation and few days later and found out about it, she went to Salhany.

    "Did you tell him he could have a poetry festival?"

    "Not really. I mean, he just stuck his head in my office. I didn't think he was serious," Salhany answered.

    "Don't you understand anything after all these years? That's how he operates! That's how he does EVERYTHING. That's his idea of having a meeting!" she said.

    But everybody was a good sport, and WTIC contributed in-kind help, including the great engineer Kevin Ingles to set up a sound system. Andy (as only he could) talked two fine poets, the spirited Elizabeth Thomas and Jon Andersen (who Andy insisted was 6-foot-6 -- taller than the giant) into reading for free. And I got a Manchester folk-rock duo named the Guinea Pigs to perform beforehand ... for the credibility. (That means not for money.)

    And the day before the festival, Avery's Beverages in New Britain called up, unbidden, and offered us as much free soda as we wanted. And the morning of the festival I woke up and realized there was no lectern for the poets, and by noon I was driving to East Hartford to pick one up (on the house) from Event Resources Inc. Gonna take a miracle. And also that morning, the Hill-Stead let me borrow their green road signs that say "Poetry" with an arrow pointing in the right direction.
    And the reason I am mentioning all this is because the poetry festival had a budget of $0.00.

    Sometimes you just have to let poetry take care of poetry. "Poetry arrived in search of me," wrote Neruda. "I don't know where it came from, from winter or a river." Somehow, the whole thing came together in 16 days with no money. Gonna take a miracle. And poetry brought us a beautiful night. Even Lake Salhany looked kind of pretty, like a homely girl who pulls it together for the prom. About 65 people showed up with chairs and picnic dinners.

    Oh, and Andy called me that morning and told me he had to leave town by 6. I kind of half-expected that. As exits go, it was pure Chandler:

    "The driver looked as if he was half asleep but he passed the fast boys in the convertible sedans as though they were being towed. They turned on all the green lights for him. Some drivers are like that. He never missed one."

    I put out a box with a hole in the top, and people put money in as they left. The Lake Salhany Poetry Festival currently has a surplus of $71, so I guess Andy and I have to do another one. Because poetry says we have to. Even if it's gonna take a miracle.

    You can hear Colin McEnroe's talk show weekdays from 3 to 6 p.m. on WTIC-AM 1080 in the Hartford area.

    For daily commentary, read Colin McEnroe's blog at

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