When the editors of Great Weather for Media were putting together their 2015 anthology Before Passing, we decided to invite our readers and writers to submit a cover design that would help reflect the Bob Hart poem which gave it its title and whose text would appear alongside it. The evocative image we selected was a photo taken by our friend ANTHONY POLICANO, who had appeared in our previous anthology, I Let Go of the Stars in My Hand, as a poet. David Lawton sat down with Tony to discuss his work and the genesis of this memorable image.
Brooklyn born, Queens raised and long time resident of Oyster Bay, Anthony Policano is a freelance photographer and award-winning poet who enjoys reading at local and Manhattan venues. His poetry has appeared in many print and online journals, most currently: I Let Go Of The Stars In My Hand, great weather for MEDIA (2014) and Poetry Bay 25th Anniversary Edition (2015). Anthony is a board member and managing editor with the Long Island Poetry Collective. He was a Walt Whitman Birthplace Association guest editor for the poetry and recipe anthology A Taste of Poetry (2015).
DL: Tony, most of us at Great Weather are familiar of you as a poet in the Long Island poetry community. Tell us a little about your background in photography.
AP: Well, before I realized photography was an art form, I was in love with those dog-eared family photos collected in shoe boxes. Awkward poses, say-cheese smiles, Christmases unwrapped, vacations in the Catskills, my sister's chicken legs, Howe Caverns, Frontier Town with shoot'em up fake train robberies. My first camera was a Kodak Instamatic with a box-cube flash that revolved a quarter turn after each shot. These were as ubiquitous back then as the camera-phone today.
I took some photography courses in college that changed my life. I discovered b&w film and the alchemy of the darkroom. Back then the definition of instantaneous was shooting, developing and printing contact sheets all in the same day. Like the rest of the world I've completely switched to digital which has its own magic and challenges too. Still I shoot sparingly like I've only got 2 or 3 rolls of Ilford in my pocket. I really enjoy street photography. With camera in hand I can disappear in a city and make myself invisible. I try and shoot unobserved if the shot warrants it but I'm very conscious not to invade anyone's private space. Often I'll make eye-contact with a subject, try and get a silent agreement – it's an intuitive thing but sometimes I get it wrong.
DL: Your cover image for Before Passing is beautifully striking. It captures the mood of Bob Hart's title poem perfectly. Where and when did you come to capture it?
AP: Thanks, David. That photo was taken in the summer of 2013 in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. I was on a community service/ vacation with my wife, daughter and some friends. I was out on my own shooting that afternoon and lost track of the time. I was running late to meet everyone at the hotel for dinner plans and I remember telling myself "Enough shots! Put the camera away". I rushed past this scene but half a block later something stopped me in my tracks. It could have been the once-upon-a-time strangeness of this ticket-window, abandoned and washed in a late afternoon light that drew me back. The workday was ending; people on the street were rushing home. This place was like a shrine that no one even noticed.
Armenia was a republic of the Soviet Union from 1920 to 1991. I'm guessing that this theater ticket-window (if that's what it is) is a remnant from that era. It has an amusement park arcade feel to it. The pace of urban development in most cities these days is ruthless. I'd be worried that I'd find the entrance to some gray office building if I were to go back today. There is melancholy infused in this photo and I think that's why it works for the cover of Before Passing. Bob Hart's poem is hauntingly beautiful. I am honored to have had my picture chosen by GWFM.
DL: The Long Island poetry community is so supportive and dynamic. Tell our readers about the events and venues that you are excited about.
AP: That's a great description. It really is both supportive and dynamic. What I love about the LI poetry community is how it seamlessly bridges generations, groups and poetry styles. I could easily start to gush about how it all feels like family. There are so many talented poets and new ones are entering the scene all the time. Experienced or not, I think we're all looking to find and develop our poetic voice. These readings and writing workshops, almost all free, are such a great way to be heard.
There are so many great LI venues. I'll name some favorites that come to mind; Green’s Revolution at Cornelia Street Café, The Muse Exchange, Sip This in Valley Stream, the Walking with Whitman Series at the WW Birthplace, Kelly Powell's B.J. Spoke Gallery readings. There are many fine library readings; Lorraine Conlin hosts a nice one in Bellmore. The longest running LI poetry reading is The Poetry Barn in Huntington - this historic, old wooden barn seems made for poetry and George Wallace keeps these monthly readings vibrant with national and international features.
DL: You played in the Jack Kerouac Memorial softball game with me this past August. I really hope that more poets and writers come out to Long Island to take on the Long Island team in the future. Give us your game highlights, please.
AP: I remember the game being close, at least for the first few innings anyway. I was on the All Borough Beats and we got clobbered by the Northport Zen Tigers. My game highlight is this: it was late in the game and my team was way behind – we may have had bases loaded and someone on my team hit a ball out of the park over the head of Matt Pasca in left field. Now instead of this being a grand slam and the turning point of the game, the ball ricocheted off a tree and dropped back onto the field of play and fell directly into Matt's open glove for the third out. That was the end of what could have been a great comeback. Tell me, how can you not love this game?
DL: What new projects are in the future for Tony Policano?
AP: As managing editor of the Long Island Poetry Collective anthology called Xanadu, I’m creating the cover design and working on the production of our next issue along with my LIPC co-editors.
I’m one of nine photographers with works currently on exhibit in a show entitled Dreamscape Photography at P&M Gallery at Paint & Main in Farmingdale. The Dreamscape Photography concept was created by a friend and a terrific photographer, Allison Rufrano. It explores emotional and physical responses to your environment based upon specific photographic exercises and techniques. Take a look here.
DL: That's sounds well worth checking out, Tony. But I look forward to hearing your poetry again too. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me!