A YOUNG BLACK woman and a Hispanic man pose shyly together for the photographer before the Moveable Muse poetry reading at the Lansburgh Cultural Center. They will read their work separately, of course, and their styles are quite different. But one thing they do have in common: their anger.
"I've been crying nuclear tears as I watch my people . . . ," reads Bea McWhirter, a former graduate student at Howard whose work is best known in San Francisco and Oakland. ". . . We are tragic, different . . . And it is a shame . . . That mankind forgot to give us . . . A decent scary name."
About 20 people sit intently on battered wooden folding chairs in the lobby where crowds of shoppers once swirled. Workmen pass back and forth beyond the black curtain that has been set up as a backdrop, and laughter intrudes upon the silences. From time to time more people drift over and join the audience.
The Moveable Muse, a downtown extension of the Midday Muse poetry program, continues today at the Phillips Collection and Feb. 4 back at the Lansburgh center.
"Play on your harp, little David, in the kingdom of the Lord," McWhirter reads. "Each generation gets wiser but weaker, each generation has this killer . . . Hold on." The poem is "Hold On, Grandma," written for her grandmother when she took sick at 90.
The poet accents her words with taps of her foot and lets her voice stretch and swoop expressively.
"Do you know who I am?" she chants. "A ghetto girl movin' up . . ."
Now it is Pablo Medina's turn. He has come down from New Jersey, and several friends greet him warmly when he shows up in sweater and jeans. He knows Washington from the time he appeared here in an antinuclear protest rally. He has a copy of his book, "Pork Rind and Cuban Songs."
His work is more melodic, less direct than McWhirter's. "Ask for the meaning of fish when they die," he says in "Fulton Fish Market," a quiet reflection on the unnoted death of captured fish. He uses more images: "pebbles smooth like the elbows of God"; "At the end of the road the wind gathers gray as a thousand Novembers."
A translation of a Lorca poem turns into a Medina poem: "I don't want to see Ignacio's blood on the sand . . . His eyes didn't close when he saw the horns approach. . . ."
Later, the poet comments, "We poets in America are so obsessed with message that we don't have a message. The trip there is better than the destination." He too speaks in many voices, some soft and keening, some loud with protest, and all of them reverberate with anger or sorrow at the human condition.
Poetry, by the way, is booming in Washington these days. A bimonthly eight-page booklet, "Poetry Clearing House," is issued free and can be obtained through the Folger Library public programs office. And for the events of the week, one can call 783-POET, the Washington-Baltimore poetry hot-line.