Unlike most of the reading series I’ve been to, Babylon Salon is not usually filled with people I know. That’s not to say it isn’t well-attended or intimate. In fact, Babylon seems to pack the house just a little bit tighter each quarter, making conversation and the swapping of business cards quite inevitable. Each show spotlights a local writer, a literary journal and one of its contributors, three featured readers, and a special non-reader guest.
ZYZZYVA was the featured journal for Babylon’s recent summer reading, with Editor Laura Cogan introducing Leticia Del Toro. Phil Lang brought some musical accompaniment, and the readings varied from flash fiction to descriptive prose to the new “landscape painter“ poems of D. A. Powell.
Babylon always presents this kind of variety, ensuring that—other than an intimate experience—we don’t know what we’ll get. I’ve never been disappointed at one of their shows; this might be because they have five, alternating curators! Production is always tight, despite a loose and casual atmosphere. So sit back, relax, and enjoy this literary rollercoaster!
From the flash piece entitled, “Assisted Living:”
Her father stares out the window, across the street. The apricot orchard, once an enchanted forest where Joan, in a red cape, rode bareback on magical creatures, is now a big box store that pulls in bargain hunters from neighboring cities. Joan tried to persuade her parents to sell and move into town in assisted living, but her mother refused.
“Thanks for the coffee,” Joan says. She hugs her brittle mother and bends to kiss her father’s cheek. He smells of bay rum. “Bye dad.” His smile is so weary her heart clenches, quick like a fist. She squeezes his shoulder.
Below are excerpts from “Piropo,” something of a compliment or pickup line in Spanish, Del Toro explained in her introduction. Catalina is a day laborer from Mexico. “She dresses in a very particular way when she gets ready for work in the morning because she’s out there on the corner with the men; she’s got her hat on, her flannel shirt, her jeans and work boots, and she has to look like a man to get work.”
With a powerful voice and intense emotion, Phil’s songwriting kind of stole the show. Actually, I think the first set would have been stronger had Babylon decided to end with these two songs; instead, they brought Michael up to close things down. Tough luck for Michael!
Here is an excerpt from This Time Tomorrow, about a single father named Gilbert who’s been dating a woman named Joyce for about a year. “Joyce has been told by the woman who does her nails that once you’ve been with someone for a year you know whether or not you want to marry them.” There’s a conflict. On top of that, Gilbert’s daughter is getting bullied at school. What follows is a big block of text about flowers.
Galleta didn’t know much about flowers, but he knew a good deal when he happened upon it. He reached for his wallet, but Joyce refused to let him pay. They were for Anna, she said, to cheer her up with everything that was going on. The seller took her money, and rolled the flowers in oversized newspaper cones that he secured with lengths of twine. Joyce handed Galleta the long-stemmed roses and folded her change into her pocketbook. “Isn’t this place amazing,” she whispered.
Galleta nodded. It was amazing. … The flowers around him would soon be spread throughout the city. They would soon be at the center of someone’s table, or awarded with trophies or would accompany shining prizes honoring first place.
Reading an excerpt from A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism, about his time as “a hack economist… wildly unqualified,” 22 years old and with “no business doing that,” Mountford was funny and smart. Check out this character description:
Charm was not among Priya’s greater gifts. She was lean and ambitious and had a temperament of hammered iron. Priya was from Bombay and had been in charge of emerging markets equity for the Calloway group for five years. She had studied at Oxford in the 90s and when she had finished there had promptly been launched as a fund manager at Lehman, where her portfolio was the only one to turn a profit during the Asian crisis. A millionaire by 28, she could supposedly intuit peaks and troughs in the market as well as Warren Buffet could. Every day she spent an hour at the gym with her personal trainer, ate a great many vitamins, and drank two liters of green tea. She didn’t touch alcohol or cigarettes.
“I would like to outlive my children,” she’d said to a Financial Times reporter in an interview in 1997.
Clean streets is what I need / Monday is no place for glass at your feet
In a real treat, D. A. read from his forthcoming book, Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys. I could listen to this man read his poetry all day, but I particularly love the final two poems he read: “Tender Mercies” (queu 6:50 min) and an even more recent one, which he prefaces below:
Sometimes things gestate for a long period, and you don’t quite know how they’re going to fall into place. I went to see an organ recital while I was—I spent this past semester in Davidson, NC as a visiting writer there, and there was this marvelous piece by Missal entitled “The Mass for Pentecost,” and in the song cycle there’s one piece entitled “Small Song for Birds and Waters,” and the organist plays with the left hand the sound of gurgling, the sound of water, and in the right hand he plays the sounds of birds, and it’s an amazing piece of music. And I thought, Oh, I wish poetry could do something like that. It’s tough, I mean, we barely have one hand, sometimes.