By Sarah Williams, Staff Reporter
Poets Wesley McNair and Stuart Kestenbaum provided a spellbinding evening of entertainment on Thursday, September 22nd at the Emery Community Art Center.
Kestenbaum’s introduction to the event began with a joke that the poets had planned to spend about two hours each reading poetry, which brought on more than a few laughs from the already captivated audience.
Kestenbaum began his readings with a story about one time when he was asked to read a poem for the legislature as opposed to the usual prayer. The entire legislature stood to hear his poem called, “Essence,” which is about making maple syrup. He felt it fitting that he said, “Amen,” at the end, he explained, bringing more laughter from the audience, which was comprised of both UMF and Farmington community members. Kestenbaum had an easy energy and was funny in a quiet way, often taking the audience by surprise.
“Sometimes it’s where you’re born, and what you know,” Kestenbaum said precluding his poem about starting his Subaru at five below, and how he keeps replacing Subarus with more Subaru’s due to his love for the car. Most of his poetry was written as such, focusing on real people and simple events in their lives. Often while reading he would look up to catch the audience’s eyes. He explained that poems are often like prayers, a run-on sentence with breathless fluidity.
An audience member asked Kestenbaum when he knew he was a poet. He told a story about being on a trip as a child and driving down the Garden State Parkway with his dad in a 1959 Buick Electra. “The air smells like vaseline,” he commented to his dad. In response, his dad said, “You should write it down, that’s what poets do.”
Kestenbaum introduced Wesley McNair as, “one who writes love poems.” Both poets were tall, though McNair was the taller of the two. They dressed similarly with button down shirts and dress pants. There was an air of elegance about the poets who both have served as Maine Poet Laureates, McNair being the former, and Kestenbaum being the current.
McNair opened with a poem titled, “The Rules of the New Car,” which explored his earlier years when he and his wife were raising their four children. He was just twenty-one when he got married. He explained this was a long ”poem-less” period. Keeping this new car neat was a goal of his at the time, but the poem showed that one by one the rules of the new car were broken, and revealed what was more important to his life, his family. The poem ended with the line, “I opened the door to my life.”
As with Kestenbaum, McNair’s poems were often about small towns and the people who lived there, often including excerpts from his own life. In a soft-spoken yet clear, strong voice, McNair read to a charmed audience poetry about his honeymoon, and his love of dogs. His particularly poignant poem about The Rhubarb Route brought tears to many eyes as he described his experience delivering rhubarb to the local people, the details of his journey, and how the people aged and changed over the years. McNair’s poetry was both subdued and dramatic, often bringing tears with it’s heart-rending observations of life.
McNair showed that he had a quite a sense of humor as well, as he shared his poem about an affair he once had with his gps, a british voice he aptly named, Serena. Half-way through the poem McNair interrupted himself to say, “This is the truth,” much to the audience’s delight.
He talked about how jealous his wife got over his adoration of this thing. In the end he turned it off and got lost all over again with his wife, in yet another sweet ending.
McNair said that he and Kestenbaum shared a vision together that reflected in their poetry. Together they joked about their “matching” outfits. Bragging modestly about each other, Kestenbaum said that he had heard McNair read a poem once and it, “knocked him out.”
“Stu has a way of opening up the process of poetry,” said McNair, explaining that his counterpart had a broad understanding of it.
Janet Mills, an audience member and current Attorney General of Maine, had a question for the poets about how they decide to end their poems, “what is the cincher?”
Kestenbaum replied, “You don’t know until you get there.” He also quipped, “You have to be in it and the ending is earned.”
McNair joined in with his answer, “It has to get back to the beginning but give it new direction.”
Ideas about writing often come to McNair while he is traveling. “I shouldn’t admit this,” he said, explaining he keeps a tablet in the glove compartment of his car which he can easily reach to jot down a persistent idea while on the road. Both writers fondly mentioned Robert Frost as they conversed. Like Frost, these poets words stay with us long after we have heard them.