Berkshire Fine Arts Presents on April 10

An Evening of Jazz and Poetry at Spectrum Playhouse

By: - Mar 12, 2015


Berkshire Fine Arts Presents
An Evening of Jazz and Poetry
Featuring Richard Vinette Quintet
Elevator Poems Awards Ceremony
Friday, April 10
7:30 to 10:30 PM
Spectrum Playhouse
20 Franklin Street
Lee, MA
Admission: $10 adults, $5 students with valid ID

During the dead of winter  Berkshire Fine Arts sponsored a contest to write poems responding to the theme of elevators. It was inspired by an e mail exchange in which photographer Jonas Dovydenas notified publisher/ editor Charles Giuliano that it was not possible to compose a poem about an elevator.

In an email blast Giuliano took up the gauntlet while informing readers of the prohibition from Dovydenas. Within a matter of minutes the first related poem, by Arnie Reisman, the poet laureate of Martha’s Vineyard was submitted. In all 26 poets posted 33 Elevator poems.

This has inspired a special event that will be held at Spectrum Playhouse in Lee, Mass. On Friday, April 10 from 7:30 to 10:30 PM. Berkshire Fine Arts Presents an Evening of Jazz and Poetry. There will be a music charge of $10 for adults and $5 for students with a valid ID. Complimentary wine, soft drinks and snacks will be served. All are invited to attend what should be a lively and fun evening.

Performing in the former church with super acoustics will be the Richard Vinette Jazz Quintet. The group which is well known to Berkshire music audiences includes Josh Kleederman, Guitar; Ted Murray, Sax; Jack DiNicola, Drums; Stan Pyrzanowski, Bass; Rich Vinette, Piano, vocals.

The awards ceremony will be hosted by Charles Giuliano. All of the Elevator Poets who attend the event will be invited to recite their pieces. As the instigator of the contest Jonas Dovydenas will make remarks and present his original Elevator photographs to the winners of the contest.

First prize is awarded for “The Rules of the Elevator,” by Gail Burns. Second prize is earned for “Paternoster,” by Astrid Hiemer (in English and German), and Third prize for “Stops,” by Stephen Rifkin.

The difficult job of reading all of the poems and deciding on the contest winners was graciously undertaken by Professor Mark Miller of the English Department of Mass. College of Liberal Arts in North Adams.

Professor Miller has provided an overview of the Elevator Poems Project.

Judging The Elevator Poems proved to be a rather difficult task. There is much to like in them: “Otist” used as a verb; “Like Iowa in summer / No place for hipsters” (a good ending); “Advil in the eggnog” (another good ending); “. . . the floors / like / layer / cake”; and so on. It is great that such a seemingly unpromising subject should occasion so many memories, so much mirth, and not a little outrage. The poems are richly varied in tone and style, with allusions ranging from Dante to Georges Rouault to Howard Stern (and one poem a whole catalog of such allusions). Everyone should be congratulated on their creative verve and willingness to be a part of the fun.

In the end, though, the three most complete and satisfying poems were (in descending order) “The Rules of the Elevator,” by Gail Burns, “Paternoster,” by Astrid Hiemer, and “Stops,” by Stephen Rifkin. “Stops” is in some ways the most finished poem, but it is not actually about an elevator. Rather, it uses the elevator as a major trope, beginning in the fifth stanza. The simile in stanza seven is splendid, and the “dark” haunting the last stanzas strangely undercuts the apparent superiority of the view from the top. It is an intriguing poem.

“Paternoster” is fascinating because it simply hands us that one-word metaphor like a rosary and lets us worry and pray over it ourselves. The speaker is more concerned with all the fond, frightening, and finally transformative memories. The imagery is rich and evocative, and the wonder of the whole set of experiences comes through in a simple, understated manner (“. . . probably quite a number / Of accidents happened!” and “A photo exists and I must find it again!”). In some ways, this poem is that photo (though it is more like a film): a moving evocation of a vanished world.

“The Rules of the Elevator,” the best of these poems, functions in some of the same ways as “Paternoster,” but it adds a subtle touch towards the end. The first three stanzas are objective and impersonal. The poem then becomes a bit more personal, though it also becomes objective again, moving from “I” statements to purely objective statements to “we” statements and then back to “you” statements that, by now, include us, too—at least in imagination. The end seems anticlimactic at first, but then we realize that it takes us (“you”) from the height of “The whole building, fourteen floors from top to bottom,” singing “Adeste Fideles” in Latin, to the ground-level, pedestrian conclusion “On east 83rd street / And then you stopped.” It is something of a let-down, like that sinking feeling in the gut when the elevator comes to rest on the ground floor, even though it is ostensibly a liberating moment: freedom, during Christmas vacation, from the rules of the elevator and of the school. The final effect is subtle, complex, paradoxical.