HIGHLAND PARK – Highland Park Poetry celebrated the end of National Poetry Month with tea sipping sonneteers spouting words poetic at Madame Zuzu’s Teahouse. The April 30 event featured guest poet Joanna Kurowska, Ph.D., and an array of open-mic participants who shared their poems and short stories.
Kurowska has written seven volumes of poetry; five in the United States, and two from her native Poland. She began writing poetry when she was an adolescent.
“I feel poetry gives me enough space and freedom to think about life without the constrictions and restrictions of any system of thought or ideology,” she said. “Once I realized I can write poetry in English, it became obvious to me that poetry, and writing at large, was what I wanted to do.”
Kurowska said that since five of her books have been published within the last four years, she decided to read poems from each around the following themes: places, dreams, contemporary life or life in general, and some philosophical themes that may be overlapping.
She shared poems that described her life in Poland, The Cemetery and A Dream as well as a love poem to her husband called We.
Kurowska also read her poignant poem from The Butterfly’s Choice:
The Day I Became An American by Joanna Kurowska
Hello passengers streaming
onto the CTA train
The Latino construction workers
The East European Maids
Hello the young, texting one another,
the shy, the uncertain ones
Hello those who’ve made a mistake
and those madly in love
Hello farmers selling their produce
at the market place
Hello poets sipping afternoon tea
at their kitchen tables
Hello scholars searching for truth
in schemes’ quagmires
Hello mothers of sick children
without health insurance
Today I am telling you
I am one of you
In addition to The Butterfly’s Choice, Broadstone Books, 2015,Kurowska has authored Stained Glass, eLectio Publishing, 2016, Intricacies, Finishing Line Press, 2016, Inclusions, Cervena Barva Press, 2014, The Wall and Beyond, eLectio Publishing, 2013, and two books in Poland.
“I’m a spiritual person, but I’m also a scholar,” said Kurowska.
She taught at Indiana University, Bloomington, and the University of Chicago. Kurowska currently lives in Evanston with her husband and son.
Kurowska said Jennifer Dotson, the founder of Highland Park Poetry, invited her to read at The Art Center Highland Park in September of 2014. She also served as one of the judges in the 2015 Poetry Pentathlon. “Highland Park Poetry seems impressively active and I do look forward to becoming more involved,” she said.
After Kurowska’s reading, there was a short break where poets and fans indulged in Madame Zuzu’s global teas, coffee and vegan pastries. The Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan owns this Ravinia hangout, which features board games on the tables, cases of vinyl records, and nostalgic turntables. The Highland Park Poetry group has been performing there for over a year.
Later, emcee/poet Bill Yarrow introduced the open-mic participants. Yarrow, a professor of English at Joliet Junior College, has published many poems in print and online journals. He read a few selections later in the evening.
Highland Park resident Marjorie Rissman rediscovered her love of poetry almost five years ago when she read about Highland Park Poetry online after her sister died.
“I needed an outlet to vent my emotions,” she said. “I hadn’t written poetry since 1968, and I fell in love with Jennifer.” Rissman remembers being nervous at her first open-mic night, but she came prepared with poems in hand the following month.
Rissman belongs to several poetry groups and describe writing poetry as “more than a hobby. In the last few years I’ve really blossomed in my own words,” she said. “I believe that poetry is not personal, it’s public. I like the feedback, and it’s given me a great outlook.”
Rissman said Dotson gives the poets great prompts and presents challenging contests. Rissman received first place in the 2016 April Poetry Challenge for a poem about Shakespeare and modern technology, entitled, To Bill, and has written other poems in East On Central, a Journal of Art and Letters From Highland Park, Illinois.
Her open-mic selections included Grateful Grandma and Book Bin. The latter was chosen by the Illinois State Poetry Society as one of the poems to be displayed at Highland Park Library, and other North Shore libraries. In addition, Book Bin was one of the poems selected to become a bookmark for distribution at the libraries throughout April for National Poetry Month.
First-time open-mic participant Sandy Steiner read a poem and a short story about her experience with cancer. She was diagnosed four years ago, and she found inspiration while scuba diving with her family in the Cayman Islands in her poem entitled, Going Deep, No Fear.
Though her short story was about loss, afterward she reflected on how much she’s gained. “I wrote in treatment, and a crisis can make you sour or deeper,” said Steiner.
Next, Jennifer Dotson read a selection from The Poetry Challenge Sonnet Contest, and an Etheree poem from the Shakespeare Contest. She explained that an Etheree is a multi-syllabic poem where line one is one syllable, line two is two syllables and so on until you get to line 10 for a total of 55 syllables.
Bill The Bard An Etheree by Jennifer Dotson
Husband of Anne
Lord Chamberlain’s Man
In London he did span
the Globe with his many plays
400 years since we’re amazed
at his skill in illuminating
with art the motives of the human heart
Dotson, the founder of Highland Park Poetry, wrote Clever Gretel, which was published in 2013 by Chicago Poetry Press.
Dotson said she looks forward to the 2016 Poetry Pentathlon North Shore Edition on Friday, June 10 at The Art Center of Highland Park. She said the third Pentathlon will feature five events, including an “on the spot prompt leading up to the final round of the evening.”
Highland Park Poetry is looking for competitors, and the registration deadline for participants is May 27. For more information, visit Highlandparkpoetry.org.