In the limelight

At the podium, Vivian Lopez, an AP literature teacher, read both her own poems as well as a translation of a Cuban love poem. Pictured from left: Jonathan Alexandratos, Deborah Fried-Rubin and Peter Vandenberg. Photo by Evelyn Cheng

R&B and rap music played above 10 aspiring poets illuminated by glowing theater lights at Queens College’s “A Night of Poetry” on Monday, June 13. As part of the second-annual CUNY Summer Performing Arts Festival, the poets, mostly students or graduates of Queens College, read several pieces of their own poetry.

A white-haired man in his 60s seemed the most established poet among the group, but rather than being an English scholar, Mark Miksic is a professor of physics and astronomy at Queens College.

This is not to say that poetry and science cannot go together. On the contrary, Miksic finds that they are quite similar.

“Science is a way of describing reality, inventing words like ‘energy’ and ‘chlorophyll’ — creating a language to describe reality,” Miksic said. “[It’s] not too different from a person describing their emotional reaction between themselves and what they see.”

Although Miksic has been writing poetry for several decades, this poetry reading marked the first time his works had been performed in public.

“It’s a new thing for me,” he said. “You express much more freely in poetry, becoming freer and freer. I can’t really fully describe it.”

Poetry is just one form of artistic expression featured throughout the festival. The showcase of arts events from June 13 to July 3, hosted by the Department of Drama, Theatre and Dance at Queens College, also features musical theater, radio drama and dance.

“[I’m] trying to have the festival cross genres,” festival director Ralph Carhart said. “There is at least one show for everyone.”

As production manager for the department, Carhart drew from interested student performing arts clubs to found the Summer Performing Arts Festival last year.

“We emphasize creativity over spectacle,” Carhart said. “We want NYC to realize that CUNY is a wonderful resource for the arts.”

All performances are free to the public, as Queens College hopes to show its appreciation to the Flushing community for its support.

Many of the performers themselves hail from Queens.

Ann Podracky lives in Forest Hills and is a graduate of Queens College’s Master of Fine Arts program. Her poem “Paper” expresses frustration with office bureaucracy. Podracky hoped her poetry could be a means of “connecting people with their own feelings and emotions and experience.”

Reading poetry aloud intensified this emotional connection. With voices ranging from monotonic to melodramatic, the poets read their original works to an audience of about 30 people. In the ambient silence following the opening R&B and rap background music, the spoken lines of blank verse poetry linked contemporary pop culture with the enigmatic world of poetry.

The poets demonstrated that poetry does not deal only with the abstruse, as their poems emphasized the poet’s goal of connecting emotions with reality.

MFA student Deborah Fried-Rubin’s poems compared piano restoration with a tooth cleaning at the dentist’s. This perspective helped the audience better understand the workings of a piano.

Other poems, like Jay Giacomazzo’s series on the Rapture, brought out a darker side of society by expressing irritation and anger toward subway preachers. In a flair of personal expression, Giacomazzo said he had composed his last poem on his way to the event.

Peter Vandenberg’s poems on his relationship with his deceased father struck an empathetic chord with his listeners.

“I loved [Pete’s] work very much and I could really feel that he was trying to recreate that relationship with his father,” said Miksic.

Each poet chose a unique color to flood the background screen while he or she read. For some, the colors they selected corresponded with the content or mood of their poetry. Vandenberg’s selection of dark turquoise represented the ocean he played in with his father.

To an indigo background, recent MFA graduate Jonathan Alexandratos acted out a monologue as a distraught, love-stricken 7-11 employee. With a red 7-11 shirt and clip-on sunglasses to match, Alexandratos launched into a lively, conversational piece expressing his frustrations with his job and love life.

As a comic playwright, Alexandratos said he explores poetry and its correlation to playwrighting. He praised the plays of Sarah Ruhl, who he said “proves… there’s a way to improve playwrighting so that it becomes infinitely poetic.”

Alexandratos will direct a selection of his play “Chain Reaction” and perform radio pieces in upcoming festival events.

Parents should exercise caution, as some poems and performance pieces include strong language and discuss adult issues.

Other planned events include performances of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure” and Neil Simon’s “The Star-Spangled Girl.”

The festival will run until July 3. For more information, call the department at 718-997-3075, or log on to www.qc.cuny.edu.

Reach reporter Evelyn Cheng by phone at 718-260-4524.

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