Poet Laureate Al Young Displays Power In Grand Style
By Steve Fjeldsted
April 27, 2007 was indeed a very special day in South Pasadena. A welcoming reception was held in the Library Community Room for Poet laureate Al Young at 4:00 p.m. City Councilman Mike Ten presented the Proclamation declaring ‘Al Young Day,’ Scott Feldmann, the Executive Director of the South Pasadena Chamber of Commerce offered a certificate of recognition, and the Friends of the South Pasadena Public Library supplied refreshments. Mr. Young’s address outlined the backdrop to his appointment by Governor Schwarzenegger in 2005, and included tidbits about the nomination and approval processes. He also described some of his duties traveling as a literary ambassador around the Golden State.
Mary Fitzpatrick, an adult Pasadena-based poet, shared her recent award-winning poem “The Awakening” that first appeared in the Fall/Winter issue of Atlanta Review. The poem recalls Mary’s encounters with Viola B. Sirolos, a South Pasadena Public Library Children’s Librarian who inspired her as a youthful Summer Reading Program participant.
The Library and the Friends presented an Author Night with Mr. Young at 7:00 p.m. Also showcased was the Suezenne Fordham Chamber Jazz ensemble which provided expert backing to Mr. Young’s readings. The full house of more than 150 enthusiastically cheered, clapped, and sang along to the improvisational performance. Suezenne, an empathetic and spontaneous pianist, was ably supported by Noah Garabedian on bass, Don Littleton on drums, and Akemi Uchiyama on congas. Their fluid backing added florid backdrops to the lyrical poems.
Wearing a necktie emblazoned with illustrations of phonograph records given to him by the Library, Mr. Young read many selections from his latest book Coastal Nights and Inland Afternoons (Angel City Press, 2006), his first collection since his appointment as Poet Laureate. One of them, “Hot October,” about a wildfire, was dedicated to Suezenne who had rushed from her house in Sunland to play for the concert while a blaze spread within a quarter of a mile from her home.
The band played such classic tunes as Miles Davis’s “So What” and “All Blues” and “Five” by Bill Evans as backing to Al’s readings. The Poet Laurate’s vocal talents were in full evidence as he sang “All the Things You Are.” The performers even collaborated for “Blue Moon.,” a lighthearted Doo Wop tune.
Mr. Young also shared a few selections from a few of his older books which number more than 20 titles. Interspersed were several warm, humorous explanatory tales, including an unforgettable story about the very few English language words that rhyme with “love.” Throughout the event, Al gracefully hit one literary home run after another, stunning round-trippers that delighted the crowd.
Photographers from the South Pasadena Review and LA Jazz maneuvered amongst the lively audience, as did Naomi Okayama, a film documentarist from Japan. Ben McBain, a talk show host from Time Warner, also interviewed Mr. Young before the event for a segment to be aired around Southern California.
Special thanks for the highly successful event are due to Angel City Press, Artists’ Inn, Poets & Writers, Inc. with financial support from the James Irvine Foundation, Pasadena Weekly, South Pasadena Review, the South Pasadena Chamber of Commerce, Time Warner Cable, and Vroman’s Bookstore.