OK. I'll admit it. Not only am I incredibly blog-shy, I'm a blog virgin. This is my first time. And of course, of course, it would be with all of you, who suddenly seem so adroit and ahead of me, like that best friend of mine who snuck off to kiss the hay-blond boy in the middle of an ice-skating party on a frozen slough when we were twelve--and I suddenly felt abandoned. And jealous. Not even so much of the fact that she'd gone off with this particuar guy, but of the fact that she'd gone off to some experience I also longed for and would have to wait to have for many--well, but that's another story.
But seriously, this is like coming to a party with a blindfold on. I have no idea who is out there, who might be reading this. Or not. Oddly, this is never a problem for me when I'm writing a poem, or even when it's published. Maybe it's a comfort.
Meanwhile, some of you are removing your blindfolds. Are we all blindfolded? Is that where it starts?
I imagine that as soon as you speak, you become one step less blind. But maybe this is an exhibition of a basic confusion, like that childhood illusion that if you close your eyes, no one can see you.
"That said" . . . here's a little celebration: last week I headed north, with poet pals Stephany Prodromides and Holaday Mason, to join about thirty other poets at the annual Erotic Poetry Reading at the Artist's Union Gallery in Ventura--it's a fundraiser, and good and warm and wacky fun--warm, even, literally, not because California is warm in the winter (it's not--at least not right now), but because it's an SRO crowd, so we're packed in tight, and in addition to the art everywhere, poets in gowns and velvet coats are buying wine and chocolate from young women wearing lavender wigs and striped stockings, and just about half of the people there will read--one poem of their own, and one of someone else's. This night, there are two "silent auction" items: The Best American Erotic Poems: 1800 to the Present, and a kama sutra box--filled, we hear, with everything that anyone might need to become a better lover.
The night, it turns out, is very much in the spirit of the anthology, though this is all a matter of chance. One thing, inevitably, leads to another, the poems cartwheeling from reverent to wildly/weirdly funny, from wit and rhyme to prose poems, from the absurd to the transcendent (sometimes in the same reading or even in the same poem), from tiny to long; the poets reading probably range in age from the mid-twenties to about 80, and we're surrounded, appropriately, by sculptures and paintings from an exhibit called The Human Form Divine.
I've decided to combine the pleasures of the night with an exposure of the anthology, and so in addition to my own poem, "My Lavenderdom" (why is it that these body parts that give us so much pleasure never have to seem quite the right names?--this poem attempts to get closer), a second poem is almost impossible to choose. I finally narrow it, for the moment, to Edson, Alcosser, Gregg, Kinnell and Essbaum--and in the end, it's a Kinnell moment and "Last Gods" soars out--and what I'm feeling is an incredible energy embrace with the audience, one of the strongest I've ever felt.
Meanwhile, Friday, our MC in the backless dress and the dry sense of humor, keeps making pitch-perfect two-cigarette-night cracks, and our radiant hosts--Phil Taggart and Marsha de la O--are nothing if not exemplary as walking poems, in the Emily Dickinson sense--to be around Marsha, and especially once she speaks into the microphone--is to have the top of one's head, yes, blown off, and so her welcoming remarks and final benediction feel like delicious blessings. She quotes Rexroth: "I like to think of you naked / I put your naked body / Between myself alone and death" and marvels at the way those last five words have the power to change everything.
And so, on the pinpoint of duende, we hear some gorgeously nuanced readings of Sappho, of Roethke; Lorca (the green wind poem), as Glenna Luschei reads him, in Spanish and then in English; Cummings. The poets read work by Duhamel and Laux and Addonizio and Ed Field and Jack Gilbert and Jane Kenyon and even Dorothy Parker and finally, in a curious bit of serendipity--Jackson Wheeler closes, after his own funny, two-line poem, with Cavafy, and I think it's the very same poem David Lehman does an imitation of at the end of his intro to BAEP. And then Jackson reaches into his ample pockets and tosses, in throw after throw after throw, small gifts wrapped in squares of plastic. And they are not even candy. You could put them in your pocket or your wallet or your purse. You probably do.
At the end of the night, the book has sold. The kama sutra box has not.
After a night and a day full of rain:
Looking at these guest postings, as soon as I saw the phrase "erotic ghetto," I thought, in that strange way that one word suddenly conjures another before we've even absorbed the first: erotic grotto. That's what the anthology is like. And that's what this reading was like: a grotto--
that is to say (care of WordNet and the Online Etymology Dictionary)
"from It. grotta circa 1617, ult. from L. crypta "vault, cavern," from Gk. krypte "hidden place":
"a small cave (usually with attractive features)."
And I am swimming in it.
-- Sarah Maclay