The Breadcrumbs widget will appear here on the published site.
Review: After The Clouds, The Sun: The Alternative New Year’s Deferred Spoken Word/Performance Extravaganza 2021 Anthology
By Alex Carrigan
Now that we’re a few months into 2021, it’s fascinating to see the literature that responds and reacts to the fiery hellscape that was 2020. While trapped in our homes, our artists were forced to adjust and find new ways to create their art. With many performing spaces closed, spoken word poets and other authors had to find other ways to share their work as events around the world were cancelled.
One of these events affected by the COVID-19 pandemic was the Alternative New Year’s Deferred Spoken Word and Performance Extravaganza (ANYDSWPE), a spoken word event that is held in New York City every New Year’s Day. The event, which has been running since 1995, sees over 100 spoken word poets performing their work over several hours. While this year’s event was the first one cancelled since they began, the annual accompanying anthology was still released.
After The Clouds, The Sun is the 2021 edition of the group’s anthology collecting some of the best and notable work from the reading. Published by Rogue Scholar’s Press, this collection features over 120 poets and 1–2 poems each, totaling over 200 poems in the collection. The poems in the collection span a wide range, from some responding to current events, while others tackle broader subjects.
There can be a bit of a disconnect in reading a poem that is intended to be performed. The reader may lose the rhythm, intonation, and tone of the piece as they try to read it and imagine how it would be read live. While it can be challenging, the collection does have a good balance, providing a good mix of prose poems and more lyrical work. Some of the more dense pieces in the collection would be fascinating to hear live, but also work well in the printed format. These include pieces like Stephanie Hart’s “Noise” and David Huberman’s “How I Learned to Like The Eagles’ ‘Hotel California,’” who write anecdotal pieces, while some like CD Johnson’s “From Out of Oblivion,” go for more abstract discussions.
A lot of the poems in the collection go for the anecdotal, with many describing life in New York City during 2020. Randi Hoffman’s “Pandemic Laundry” discusses the changes that came from a typical ritual in the city due to the changes caused by social distancing. Ilka Scobie’s “dear diary” writes about how the city is “never ‘coming back.’”
“That’s not our style
We do not retreat
Always plunge ahead
Yes, with uncertainty
Tarnished about the edges
Leaderless now, but not lost”
Fran Luck’s “BEFORE: A Lower East Side Poem” discusses the effects of gentrification and rising housing prices, discussing how, before:
“an artist or poet or Zen Buddhist or crazy seer
might appear to show me the way
among the ancient tenements
where it seemed like the tears of my grandma from Europe
had hardly dried”
The best poems in this collection are the ones that blend NYC life with responses to major events of 2020. Eve Packer’s two poems are both written as snapshots during the pandemic, such as admiring the spring colors while noting how many people in New York died from the virus by that date. Raymond Nat Turner’s two poems, “Essential work” and “It’s capitalism, baby” respond to Black Lives Matter and COVID-19, respectively with a critical eye. These include lines, such as the following from “Essential work:”
“We’ll always need men rushing pregnant wives to
Hospitals shot for speeding; And fathers of six
Hustling too hard chokehold lynched;
We’ll always need young women who drive and
smoke, stopped and suicided; And mothers wearing
masks wrong wrestled down in subway stations — as
their 4 year-olds watch…”
While a book like After the Clouds, the Sun may be intimidating for its density and the amount of content, there is a well of fascinating and modern poems included within. It encapsulates a variety of poetry from New York City, and while it may have been disappointing that the annual event couldn’t have been held this year, it’s still great to see the work the featured poets produced in a historic year. It’s a collection that screams “perseverance,” and hopefully when things begin to return to pre-COVID days, the authors featured will continue to thrive and create.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.