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Reading at Grolier Poetry: Four Poets and Their Stories of Resilience

Jennifer Franklin, Jennifer Jean, Dzvinia Orlowsky, and Anne Elizabeth Pluto at the Grolier Poetry Reading.
Jennifer Franklin, Jennifer Jean, Dzvinia Orlowsky, and Anne Elizabeth Pluto at the Grolier Poetry Reading. By Courtesy of Grolier Poetry
By Maria F. Cifuentes, Contributing Writer

On Wednesday, April 13 at 7 p.m., avid readers and family members filled the Grolier Poetry Book Shop to listen to four poets — Jennifer Franklin, Jennifer Jean, Dzvinia Orlowsky, and Anne Elizabeth Pluto. Beyond poets, these four women are also editors, teachers, and translators. Although their creations differ in style and deliverance, a common message lies within each of their poetry collections. Each poet grapples with loss, pain, and the inheritance of suffering.

A sense of determination and the assertion that poetry can save the world vibrated through the air as speaker Fred Marchant introduced each poet individually. He read excerpts from the four poets’ works that he loved, weaving together a powerful narrative of resilience before the reading even began.

Jennifer Franklin, a New York-based poet and the Program Director at the Hudson Valley Writers’ Center, opened the night with a reading from her new poetry collection, “If Some God Shakes Your House.” Franklin read several prose poems and sonnets that radiated courage and human connection as the speaker tried to find truth in the midst of tragedy. She read a series of poems titled “As Antigone” after Sophocles’ character Antigone, whose human predicament and fervent defense of the truth is paralleled in Franklin’s collection. With a soft voice and a slow rhythm, Franklin delivered eight poems that explored themes of death, love, motherhood, and her experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Second to speak was Jennifer Jean, who currently lives in Massachusetts but grew up in California’s San Fernando Valley. She is the founder of Free2Write, a series of poetry workshops for those suffering from trauma inclduing sexual abuse, exploitation, and human trafficking. Jean’s collection “Voz” is a work of ekphrastic poetry — a literary and vivid description of a work of art that is so expressive the reader can imagine it in detail. Instead of using visual art, Jean puts music at the center of her poems to create an immersive audio experience, drawing inspiration from the Eagles rock band, an album cover of Bob Seger’s and the Silver Bullet Band “Against The Wind”, and the song “We Will Rock You” by Queen.

“The kinds of poems in this book act not as a playlist, but a soundtrack for my life,” Jean said.

She wants each of her poems to feel as though life is occurring with a soundtrack going in the background.

In between poems, Jean took a moment to thank the Grolier family and the audience for allowing her to share her voice, a sentiment shared by the four poets.

“What happens when you open up your voices? You’re vulnerable. But what’s interesting, being here in this room — and I believe what was called in the beginning a sacred space — it just feels okay,” she said, smiling.

Jean’s poems touch upon themes of courage, family, and the awareness of what humanity chooses to create. She delivered her free verse poems in a strong and powerful voice, contrasting the quiet yet hopeful atmosphere Franklin had previously created. At moments, the audience erupted in laughter at her repeated, sarcastic use of the phrase “fuck you.”

As the night progressed, the last two poets — Dzvinia Orlowsky and Anne Elizabeth Pluto — spoke about the history of war in Ukraine. A sense of melancholy overtook the shop as it became increasingly clear that the suffering experienced in the past still exists today, wreaking havoc on people’s lives. Before Orlowsky began her reading, she reminisced on her first book signing in 1994 in the Grolier Poetry Book Shop, three years after Ukraine had declared their independence.

“So fast forward. My son obviously is older and is moving to Boston by the end of the summer. And my daughter is here in the audience and I don’t have her on my hip. And Ukraine is still fighting for its independence,” Orlwosky said.

Marchant pointed out the necessity of Orlowsky and Pluto’s writing, which highlights the hope that lies within darkness.

“What characterizes Dzvinia Orlowsky's poetry is her willingness, her artistic willingness, to stay with that image or narrative long enough until the heart is touched,” Marchant said. “Anne Pluto’s poetry is a conjuring of the dead, a conjuring of them to life.”

Orlowsky and Pluto’s unique poetic styles exposed political injustices and addressed Putin’s damaging effect on society. With a similar emotional delivery, both poets conveyed the struggle of dealing with the intergenerational transmission of trauma.

After Pluto finished her last poem, a work from her collection “The Deepest Part of Dark,” the audience applauded. Within a single hour, the four poets’ inspiring reflections seemed to leave the audience with a willingness to find their own voices, and the assurance that their words could one day touch others.

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