New York bristles with energy, and what makes it continually captivating for me is that this spirit comes so much from the people and acts of creation that can just be stumbled upon in the street. Last week in the East Village, at the corner of First Avenue and 7th Street, I saw an enthusiastic crowd chanting along to what seemed to be a lesson in Italian, but was actually a component of a book party for Annie Rachele Lanzillotto.
Leading what was part an art installation and part poetry reading, the New York-based poet and performance artist stood on a step ladder in front of a projection on what is normally advertising space on the side of a building. Lanzillotto read some poems related to her book L Is for Lion, released this year by SUNY Press. The memoir focuses on growing up in the 1960s as a “Bronx tomboy” in a “brutal but humorous” Italian family, leading to her turbulent life of survival, from “cross-dressing on the streets of Egypt” to the hospital cancer ward to 1980s New York and its gay club scene, all pulled through her personal web of “immigration, gay subculture, cancer treatment, mental illness, gender dynamics, drug addiction, domestic violence, and a vast array of Italian-American characters.”
The crowd huddled around her street reading was a mix of supporters armed with custom tote bags for the occasion, and the curious passersby of any East Village evening, all with an enthusiasm for poems about Lanzillotto’s grandmother’s worn hands or an impromptu lesson in Italian expressions. Projections onto buildings definitely possess a readymade impact for any sort of art, but poetry is one of those creative forms that people don’t often engage with on a collective level. There’s a long discussion in the literary community on the insularity of poetry publishing, yet based on the reactions of the gathered crowd, there’s an interest out there on the streets of New York for stories and words, projected three stories high.
Annie Rachele Lanzillotto’s L Is for Lion: An Italian Bronx Butch Freedom Memoir is available from SUNY Press.