My condolences to Paul Violi’s family, friends, colleagues, students, and neighbors.
In 2006, I contacted Paul to see if he would be interested in reading at my local library. This might not seem like a big deal. But it was. I live in Putnam County, the same one in which Paul lived. At the time, this entire county had one struggling independent bookstore (which has since shut its doors), no open mikes, no regular reading series, and very few, if any, literary readings by nationally recognized writers. Indeed, Poets & Writers dubbed our teeny county “one of the most underserved in New York” in terms of literary programming.
Given the circumstances, it took a lot to have Paul read in Cold Spring. First of all, I didn’t know him personally. I had no idea how he would react to my invitation. After looking up his number in the local phone book, I called him out of the blue. My invitation must have seemed like a prank—I could hear the hesitation in Paul’s voice when I invited him to read. I’m sure he was thinking, “Who is this woman? A reading in Putnam County?” I quickly explained that I had been successfully organizing literary events at Cold Spring’s library since 2002 and rattled off names of some previous readers, including Michael Burkard and Malena Mörling. By the end of our conversation, Paul had graciously accepted my invitation.
Second, I had to get approval to use Cold Spring’s library—one of our few community spaces—as a venue. The director and staff were totally on board and later did a great job of promoting the event with flyers, articles, a book display, and so on.
Finally, I had to secure substantial funding. When I initially talked to Paul, he had rather firmly quoted me his usual reading fee. “I can do that,” I told him. So I did. In the fall of 2006, the library director and I successfully applied for funding from the Putnam County Arts Council, which was all too happy to say yes to a rare application for a literary event.
My idea was to pair Paul, a “local” poet, with someone from outside the community. So I also invited Frannie Lindsay, whom I had met in the late 1970s, to read. (If you know their work, you can imagine that it was an unusual but interesting pairing.) For me, their reading was an intimate experience. Frannie, traveling from another state, stayed with me in my office/guest cottage. Since I wanted to have a chance to meet Paul prior to the reading, I asked him to meet us in Cold Spring for dinner. On the evening of the reading, Paul and his wife Ann drove the short distance from their home to a restaurant, Cathryn's Tuscan Grill, on Main Street.
Over dinner, we talked amiably about things that we tentatively had in common: Boston, my studying briefly with Paul’s colleague David Lehman in the late ‘70s, other poets. But what I remember most is swapping wildlife stories with Paul. My best one involved a six-foot-long black snake that climbed up a tree onto my roof; his was about an intrusive raccoon that invaded his kitchen.
The reading itself, which took place in June 2007, went without a hitch. I was pleased that the audience was attentive and engaged, and I was impressed that some people drove a long way to hear Paul and Frannie. It was an occasion that—like the best of readings—gave the listeners a chance to experience poetry’s breadth of style, tone, and craft.
I’m so glad I made that call.