On Friday, November 15, Flushing Town Hall will present a performance, reading, and conversation based on Five Oceans in a Teaspoon, a memoir in short visual poems written by journalist and poet Dennis J Bernstein, and typographic visualizations by pioneer designer/author Warren Lehrer.
An ensemble of readers, musicians and performers will join this multimedia presentation that includes animation and projection of select pages from the stunning new book. You can reserve your tickets – only $5, or free for members – here.
Warren Lehrer gave us a preview.
What is Five Oceans in a Teaspoon?
Five Oceans in a Teaspoon is a performance/reading based on my and Dennis J Bernstein’s new book of short visual poems that forms a memoir in poetry. It is a funny, moving, musical and visual presentation that spans a lifetime: growing up confused by dyslexia and a parental gambling addiction; graced by pogo sticks, boxing lessons and a mother’s compassion; becoming a frontline witness to war and its aftermaths, to prison, street life, love and loss, open-heart surgery, caring for aging parents and visitations from them after they’re gone.
I selected Dennis’ poems for this project, out of thousands he’d written over the past forty-five years and re-cast them into typographic compositions that give form to the interior, emotional and metaphorical underpinnings of the poems. So, it’s a memoir, it’s poetry, it’s visual art, storytelling, and characters and themes that readers and audiences are really relating to.
Who is Dennis J. Bernstein?
Dennis is a poet, muckraking investigative journalist and award-winning host/producer of Flashpoints, a daily news magazine program syndicated by the Pacifica radio network. He’s the recipient of many awards and honors, including Pulse Media’s Top Global Media Figure, Pillar Award in Broadcast Journalism, Artists Embassy International Literary Cultural Award. When I first met Dennis in the mid-70s he was teaching Special Ed in Far Rockaway and studying poetry with the poet and activist Muriel Rukeyser. He went on to found the Muriel Rukeyser Reading Series in Brooklyn, NY, and eventually split his time between journalism and poetry. His books include Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom, Particles of Light, and three books made in collaboration with me including French Fries (1984, VSW press), considered a cult classic within the worlds of visual literature, artists’ books, and graphic design. Alice Walker, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Color Purple, writes, “Dennis J Bernstein is a hero to me because of his dedicated, unflinching reporting of real news on Flashpoints. But his fearless pursuit of the truth about what is happening in our rapidly transforming world did not prepare me for the beauty, depth, not-one-word-mislaid perception of his poetry… Each line, each thought has a weight, a texture, a surprise all its own. It is that unusual gift literature can be: We are connected to humanity in ways we might never have even considered or imagined before. Above all it is art turned to us through the eyes of love.”
What will audiences experience at your event?
We start by showing one of the animations from Five Oceans in a Teaspoon about the dominance of vowels (a minority) over (the majority) consonants in the alphabet. Then Dennis and I talk about how we met and a little of our history together and begin to share select poems from each of the eight movements with particular focus on the first movement about being a kid and the last movement about growing older. It’s a tour through Dennis’ life through his poetry.
This isn’t just a reading, but much more…
That’s right. Dennis and I are not just up there reading poems, even though we’re both pretty good at that. We’re joined by the actress, playwright and sound artist Judith Sloan who performs some of the poems, and three amazing musicians—Andrew Griffin on viola, soprano Alicia Waller, and Dominic Frigo on piano. Dominic composed music for four of the poems, turning them into song, sung goose-bumpingly by Alicia. And Andrew and Dominic accompany some of the spoken word recitations. Plus, the audience is seeing visuals the whole time, large screen projections of pages from the book, and a good number of animations and animated sequences. So, let’s take a poem about witnessing a father with Alzheimer’s. In the animation, letters struggle to become words, search for memory, thoughts halt, rotate and stretch in a confusion of pleasure, frustration, habit, and empathy. In the animation of the poem Knitting Club, a circle of women spin yarns that unfold into patterns of storytelling, textiles, kitchen table music at once down to earth and of the spheres. Plus Judith Sloan recites all the poems in the animations, which are scored and performed by Andrew Griffin who is taking the night off from his gig as the viola chair in the Broadway play Ain’t Too Proud to be with us at Flushing Town Hall Nov 15th.
Who would an event like this appeal to?
I’m glad you asked that because part of what we’re trying to do with the Five Oceans in a Teaspoon project is to reach people who don’t even think they like poetry. This is a mission I’ve been on for several projects now, with visual poetry in street-level windows in White Plains for the past five years, and a few years ago at CUNY Law School in LIC, and in the 1001 Voices symphony, all done in collaboration with Judith Sloan. For this project, first and foremost, Dennis’ poems are very gutsy, they’re very voice-oriented, like someone just talking to you in a very truthful way, except there isn’t one unnecessary word in there, which saves everyone time, and if you love wordcraft and exceptional writing, you’ll love this work too. We want poetry lovers too, of course, but so many people relate to Dennis’ poetry. It’s not for little kids, because we get into some serious stuff about war and peace and addiction and personal struggles, and there’s a little bit of blue language, so to speak. So I’d say—high school age up through 110 years old. If you love language, stories, laughing and a little bit of crying, if you like visual art, design, typography, music that also has meaning in it, I think you’ll have a good time coming to this, and feel enlarged by it. And then afterward, Dennis and I will be signing books.
What does it mean to you to present at Flushing Town Hall?
We had 160 people at the Manhattan book launch event, with the same performers, and people really enjoyed it. I’m thinking of this as our Queens Launch of the project, which is important to me. I’ve lived in Queens for most of my life. My non-profit arts organization EarSay is in Sunnyside. So many of the projects my wife Judith Sloan and I have been doing over the years is Queens-based, including the Crossing the BLVD book, exhibit (Queens Museum), and performances, the 1001 Voices: Symphony for New America (commissioned by the Queens Symphony Orchestra), my book on Nicky D. from L.I.C., Judith’s Yo Miss and It Can Happen Here plays, and the program we run at the Queens International High School. I grew up in Clearview and then Bayside, and Flushing was a nexus point for many things, including going to see movies at the old RKO Theater on Northern Blvd. In recent years Flushing Town Hall has become such an important arts center, and I’m thrilled to be presenting Five Oceans in a Teaspoon in its gorgeous theater space. Dennis and I first met and lived together in Queens, so this is a full-circle event for us.
Where can people learn more about you?
The Five Oceans in a Teaspoon website: https://fiveoceansinateaspoon.com/
The Warren Lehrer website: https://warrenlehrer.com/