I think it might be better to begin by telling you how Monday’s KGB reading [December 1, 2008] ended: It ended with an encore, which to my knowledge, happens a lot at rock shows and not so much at readings. And a very humble response from the readers: Star Black wouldn’t continue unless Daniel Nester joined her, and Daniel Nester proclaimed, “I’m really glad to be piggybacking on Star Black’s encore.” Bam: everyone goes home happy.
I’ve been reading Nester’s The History of My World Tonight and his poems can seem simultaneously fictitious and deeply personal (-neurotic). Experimental, ‘exaggerated self-portraits.’ While others might feel dulled or enervated by pop culture, Nester dives in gleefully and reminds us how references to Vince Lombardi, Mad magazine, Cindy Crawford, and Paul McCartney can make us feel less lonely. That when you read the title out loud, The History of My World Tonight, you’re actually describing your night, or at least a night that may have overlapped on the subway with his. Briefly. And I’m pretty sure you exchanged knowing looks.
Nester had a few things to tell us:
“I’d like to thank everyone for coming. I’m nervous because there are so many sestina masters here tonight — [Florence Cassen Mayers, Laura Cronk, Star Black, David Lehman]. I’m going to read mostly poems from The History of My World Tonight and maybe one or two new ones.”
“The first poem is from a suggested title. What I do is ask friends for titles for poems I’ve not yet written. This title, ‘Horses: Why I like/dislike them,’ comes from my Midwestern friend, the Deep Image Poet Christopher Connelly, who knows I’ve never ridden a horse.”
“That was not a sestina.”
“I had Mickey Rourke in mind when I wrote the next poem. He’s been having a bit of a comeback lately with the new movie The Wrestler coming out.”
“This is inspired by Eugenio Montale. I’d call this an ars poetica. Which, of course, means “arty poetry” in Latin.”
“Another pop culture-inspired poem, ‘Poem for The Evil Twin Episode in Knight Rider.’ For those who need reminding, David Hasselhoff stars in this show from the late 70s. His partner is a sentient, intelligent car.”
“I always like to point out that the middle passage of that poem uses the phrasings from Prince’s ‘Let’s Get Crazy.’”
“This is an excerpt from a larger piece called ‘Queries.’ Raise your hand if you’re a creative writing teacher. I get to save my comments on my students’ papers and then lift them for this project.”
“The next set of queries draws from a student’s sestina that centers on elves.”
“I’m also working on homophonic, fake translations of Erasmus’s ‘Adagia.’ But I’m not telling people that — I’m just calling it ‘Adagia.’”
Star Black does not need much of an introduction. She was one of the founders of the reading series in 1996 and if you missed her reading, you can still make it to the reception of her art show: "Ripped and Torn" at the 532 Gallery Thomas Jaeckel (532 W 25th St), December 6, 2008-December 22, 2008. Reception: December 6, 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm.
Black read selected poems from her recent series of sonnets:
“I just want to show you the book of poems and collages I collaborated on with Bill Knott (Stigmata Errata Etcetera, Saturnalia 2005). Saturnalia has this series where poets pick artists to work with to make a multi-media book.”
“I don’t know about you, but I thought the last election was un-ending.”
“There is a controversy brewing in Poetryland. This is my response to Geoffrey O’Brien (Editor-in-Chief of the Library of America)."
“Does everyone know who Aphra Behn is? I just love her name. She was a spy and an English writer. Virginia Wolff also loved her because she really was the first professional woman writer."
“I grew up in Hawai’i and whenever it gets cold in the fall I become depressed. I just want to be warm all year. Is that too much to ask? I also hate daylight savings. I want it to be light all the time. Is that too much to ask?”
“This poem describes the whole reason for my existence. It’s about being a photographer for 30 years in New York.”
“Do you ever think about dying? And who would come to your funeral? This poem’s called “Ghosting.’”
“Here’s a happy poem for you. I was reading the business section and it mentioned the phrase Red Button Issues, which seemed like a good title.”
“This one’s about watching the Academy Awards at a friend’s house. Do you remember the year all of the beautiful dresses were brown?”
-- Julia Cohen