By Leah Andelsmith
One poet chased horses across an ocean. Another sought the ghost of the Susquehanna. A third walked bravely into “The Blue Death.” All of them came back to what made them who they are.
Those journeys came to life last Saturday night at “Songs and Stories,” a monthly music and storytelling night hosted by writer Saul Fussiner at Next Door New Haven. Over 60 attendees squeezed in standing-room-only to hear six poets and songwriters tell the origin stories of selected poems and songs before performing the pieces described.
The result was an homage to the way that the places and people we come from makes us who we are today, and an exploration of the odyssey that often connects those two points.
David Brooks began with a guitar riff that wouldn’t leave him alone. As he told it, the name of his hometown popped into his head and became a three note melody. Before he knew it, he was writing about Harrisburg, Pennsylvania—the town to which he swore he’d never return. The song became “Ghost of the Susquehanna,” an ode to the river that flows through the city.
David Brooks: Don’t you wish you’d drunk some of that water?
The water rolls down from the end of the bridge to the power station towers…
Don’t you wish you’d drunk some of that water?…
The ghost of the river rides on and on
At key points in the song, he sang the name of his town quietly, his voice strained with a mix of sadness, pain, and nostalgia. The song ended on a chord filled with tension; it had no real resolution. Memories often don’t.
And then again, sometimes they do. At least, that was the case for writer and arts reporter Karen Ponzio.
“My first memory is of fear,” she said at the start of her performance. “My mom telling me don’t … don’t go near the stairs, you might fall. Don’t go near the road, you might get hit by a car. Don’t, don’t, don’t.”
The biggest “don’t” of all was “don’t go near the water.” Ponzio recalled her mother saying again and again, “Something might happen.” And yet she did, venturing onto the beach as a teenager.
As mother and daughter lived out their lives bounded by fears, “what happened is what always happens,” Ponzio said. “Something happened.” In this case, her father passed away.
And yet, his passing gave her the courage to step beyond her fears—onto the stage as a poet and storyteller.