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Jackson Heights Poetry Festival Looking to Expand

JACKSON HEIGHTS — At the begining of her poetry set at Terazza 7 on Tuesday, Honor Molloy walked up to the stage, holding pieces of paper in her hand, and started describing her work. She was born in Dublin, she explained, and her poem was about the band the Dubliners.

But she also shared something in common with mostly everyone else in the room.

"I just moved to Jackson Heights about..." she pauseed to count the time. "Five weeks ago, I think?"

The audience of about 30, many Jackson Heights residents, applauded and cheered. Someone yelled, "Welcome!"

Molloy was just one Jackson Heights resident performing at the opening of the Jackson Heights Poetry Festival's "First Tuesday" series, a monthly literary reading series at Elmhurst's Terazza 7.

Festival organizer Richard Newman, who took over the five-year-old series from founder Marina Yoffe in June, says the event is an exchange of ideas and motivations between experienced and inexperienced poets.

Now, he said, he's aiming to expand the program through funding from the Queens Council on the Arts.

"People from the community come to share their own work in a friendly and welcoming environment," Newman said. "But also to hear the work of established writers, so those two different voices can enrich each other, and enrich the community."

Newman, whose background includes publishing his own book of poetry and coordinating the Creative Writing Project at Nassau Community College, initially ran the festival's quarterly literary salons at the Garden School, at 33-16 79th St. in Jackson Heights.

When Yoffe had a baby, Newman said, she passed the duties of running the festival on to him.

"One of the things that's important for me is that I really like to keep a neighborhood feel to it," Newman said.

Each reading is broken into two parts. First is an open mic session, where novice and even some more experienced poets sign up to read one or two pieces to the crowd. Then after a 10-minute intermission, the night's featured poet reads a selection of his or her own poems.

During Tuesday night's open mic session, a woman named Elizabeth read a poem about the process of selling off her mother's belongings after she died in Minnesota. Another woman named Naomi read her own deceased mother's poetry, to keep her memory alive.

Fernando, whose hands were visibly shaking, got up on stage to read his poetry for the first time, recieving a loud showing of support from the crowd when he was finished.

The night's featured poet, KC Trommer, was making her first festival appearance. Trommer moved from Sunnyside to Jackson Heights just a few months ago, but said she had been to last season's festival, and was enamored.

"I've been in Queens for a number of years, and I'd never seen that there was a community of poetry," Trommer said.

Trommer's readings Tuesday spanned from the heartfelt "Up," about the love she feels for her infant son, to the more lighthearted "Jaws (1975)," about the eponymous film.

"When I tread water, I picture how the shark would see me: the legs waving, 'hello!'" that poem reads, and ends with the question, "How do we look from below?"

After Trommer's reading the local crowd gave a predictably supportive round of applause. Trommer says that support and the promotion of art in the community is part of the neighborhood's charm.

"There's lots of writers and artists of all stripes," Trommer said.  "So much about the neighborhood has been surprising and warm and open."

The next First Tuesday event is on October 2 at 7 p.m. at Terazza 7, and the events will continue on the first Tuesday of every month through June. A complete schedule can be found online at the festival's website.