Frank Beltrano will read at Mykonos on Sept 4th, 2013, for the kick-off to London Open Mic Poetry Night's second season. The event begins with live music by The Light of East Ensemble at 6:15pm, and Frank will take the stage at 7:00pm.
I had the privilege of sitting down with Frank yesterday to talk about his work, his writing process, and his advice for up and coming poets.
Dawna Perry: You’ve told us that you began by writing prose — newspaper articles and short stories — and only really began to focus on poetry about eight years ago. What led you to poetry?
Frank Beltrano: When I moved to London, I was without friends, acquaintances and associates here, just starting a new job, and I happened to notice a Poetry London notice, so I attended Poetry London for the first time in the fall of the first year that we moved to London, and I was really impressed. I pushed myself to write a poem to bring to the table that evening. I had written a little bit of poetry prior to that, but it just seemed to click here. It just seemed to be the right community to join at the right time.
DP: One of the poems you sent us is “Before I Write,” which explores the writing process. What can you tell me about that poem? (See poem #6.)
FB: It came out of a writing workshop in the States. It was written in response to a prompt. The prompt was inspired by a number of poems that had in them the word “dump,” and the instructor talked to us about watching for ideas of the profane and the sacred in poetry. Obviously, “dump” is kind of profane, so our poems had to have the word “dump” in them, to start with at least. It could be edited out later. We were also given a whole list of subordinate conjunctions. What I did was I took all those subordinate conjunctions and put them in a row down the left side of the page. I tried to weave a line through those words.
In a later version, I edited out the “dump” and entered in “After the lighting of a beeswax candle / held aloft by the cast iron mouse,” which is part of my writing ritual sometimes. I have a little cast iron mouse that holds up in his paws a little dish and I put a beeswax candle in it. I sit next to this as I do my early morning writing. When I write, I try to stay stuck to my seat and not get up with distractions and wander. I don’t want to desert a lit candle, so it sort of binds me there. That’s where the idea came from.
DP: So what comes first for you – the form or the words? For example, with “Terza Rima Sunset,” did you set out to write a terza rima sonnet, or did you just write a poem about a sunset that somehow turned into a terza rima sonnet? (See Poem #3)
FB: With that one, I set out to do it. It was written in response to a prompt as well. A group of us [London poets] went to Bayfield for a week. Each day, one of us would give a prompt. One day, the prompt was to write about a sunset. I knew that everyone would be writing about a sunset, and I wanted mine to be different. So I thought that if I wrote in a rigid form, mine would be different, if only because of that. I had taught the form a few months beforehand and I had another terza rima poem with me to compare it to. So in that case, it was my intention; I was writing to write a terza rima sonnet.
DP: Clearly the London community of poets have had a big influence on you. Is there anyone else, maybe someone more famous, or maybe someone who isn’t even a poet, who has influenced your writing?
FB: Yes, I’ve rubbed shoulders with Dorianne Laux, co-author of The Poet’s Companion. She’s a professor in Raleigh, North Carolina and quite a successful and accomplished poet. I’ve studied with her a couple times, so she’s been very influential.
In terms of who I read, part of me feels like I never studied poetry. I never took a full course in poetry at university, but I look back at some papers I had from elementary school and high school and there’s Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson and Ginsberg and Blake. They profoundly affected me — they left an impression at that time, and they still do. I find comfort in some of the formal writing that isn’t as fashionable now as it’s been.
Some of my own poems are form-inspired, or they’re a reaction to form, like I’ll just feel, enough with straitjacketing myself into a sonnet form, it’s time to riff off it. On the night of the reading, I’m planning to read “Terza Rima Sunset” and “Exact Sentences,” two form poems, but the main poem I’m going to read, a longer poem, is much more free verse.
DP: Do you consider yourself a free verse poet, primarily, or a formal poet?
FB: I don’t want to wear either hat. I wear them both.
DP: So what does the future hold? Tell me about this poster project with Al Sugerman.
FB: Al does a lot of black and white, dramatic photos. He’s taken a picture of a river that I love and we’ve superimposed my poem, “Like a River Might,” on the photo. The poem meanders down the page just as the river does, so they work together very well. The posters should be for sale on Sept. 4th for $10.
DP: One last question: you’re relatively new to the poetry scene, but you’ve already accomplished quite a bit — you’ve been published and won contests, etc. What advice would you give to someone who’s also new to the poetry scene?
FB: Be patient with it. Enjoy it. Make sure that it’s fun. Read other people. Stretch yourself. And don’t write off things immediately. It’s so easy to read obscure or obtuse poetry and say, “I don’t want to have anything to do with that.” But open yourself to it, read it out loud, listen to it. It may not hit you today; it may hit you tomorrow. It may not be you, and that’s okay, too. But give it a shot. Keep experimenting.
Wise words from Frank Beltrano. Be sure to join us at Mykonos on Sept. 4th! ~Dawna
WHERE: All of our reading events except the April one are held in the Mykonos Restaurant at 572 Adelaide St. North, London, Ontario. The restaurant has a large, covered terrace just behind the main restaurant, which comfortably holds 60 poetry lovers. Mediterranean food and drinks are available. The terrace is open to the parking lot behind. Overflow parking is available across the side street and in the large lot one block north, in front of Trad’s Furniture.
WHEN: September 4th. Music begins at 6:15, poetry at 7:00.
LIVE MUSIC: The Light Of East Ensemble, a group of up to seven internationally-inspired musicians, will open the event at 6:15. The group will also play during the intermission and at the end of the event. The Light Of East Ensemble, a London-based instrumental group, performs music from the Near and Middle East, including traditional, folk, classical Arabic, Greek Rembetika, and modern urban music of the 20th century from regions such as Armenia, Greece (Asia Minor - Smyrni, and Konstantinoupoli), Turkey, and other Middle Eastern countries such as Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria.
The Light of East Ensemble is the winner of the 2013 Jack Richardson Music Award, and the 2013 London Music Award in the category of World Music, also the winner of the 2011 Jack Richardson Music Award in the category of World Music and a London Music Award in both 2011 and 2008. The group’s music may not be what Western listeners grew up hearing, but the rhythms and melodies are instantly captivating and listeners are quickly drawn into the intensity of the music.
For many audio and video samplings
From a Greek folk song
From a traditional Arabic song
THE FEATURED POET, Frank Beltrano, opens the poetry portion of the event with a reading that begins at 7:00, followed by a Q&A.
OPEN MIC: Following the featured poet, there is about 1.5 hours of open mic, ending about 9:00 pm. Each poet has five minutes (which is about two good pages of poetry, but it should be timed at home). Names are selected at random, so there is no need to come especially early just to get on the list of readers.
RAFFLE PRIZES: Anyone who donates to London Open Mic Poetry Night receives a ticket for a raffle prize, three of which will be picked after the intermission. The prizes consist of poetry books donated by Brick Books and The Ontario Poetry Society. Donations are our only source of income. We still haven't paid off our initial debt.