Current New School professor, Paul Violi gave a poetry reading and interview at the New School this Tuesday night. Both the reading and the interview that followed were filled by Violi's warmth and humor. There was also a palpable affection for his poems, felt by the mixed crowd of older established poets and MFA students.
Sipping on a "Go Banana's" Snapple, Violi read an
assortment of poems from his most recent collection, Overnight, as well as a number of new poems. Poems read included
"Appeal to the Grammarians," "Finish
These Sentences," "September 13, 2001," "Counterman,"
and "A Podiatrist Crawls Home in the Moonlight," among others. Many
of the poems, such as "Acknowledgments" (which takes the form of an author's
"acknowledgments" section from the back of a book of poetry)
displayed Violi's skill and inventiveness with form.
Violi's poems are often ostensibly humorous, but just as often they encapsulate equal parts cynicism, melancholy, and a fine sense of the absurdity of quotidian life (see "Goddess," a poem about Martha Stewart fluffing her chickens in the morning before setting them out on her lawn). Perhaps one of the most remarkable moments of the evening was the reading of a new ekphrastic poem on Alessandro Magnasco's "The Tame Magpie," a painting in which a group of "...people from the fringes of society have gathered to watch the spectacle of a man trying to teach a magpie to sing—an impossible task."
An extraordinary aspect of the reading was the eclectic coherence of Violi's oeuvre. No two poems seemed alike, except for the undeniable stylistic qualities of their author.
The interview that followed was more of a conversation between David Lehman, Violi and the crowd. Questions focused on Violi's sense of humor, his reading tastes (Samuel Johnson was mentioned) and "urban poetry".
Violi said little about his writing process other than he likes to write in situations that "defy concentration" (an example of this might be found in his poem "Summer Reading, Interrupted by Rain," based Violi's experience reading a paragraph from John Wain's biography of Samuel Johnson during the beginning of a summer rainstorm).
When Violi was
asked about the connection between poetry and architecture, this is what he said:
"I was asked that once on a radio program and I had absolutely nothing to say... it was dead air time. Umm, but you...I think I've said before about the connection between architecture and... There’s a rather narrow view of architecture that didn't exist before there was internal space. Putting up a lot of columns and covering them wasn't architecture, it wasn't, until the invention of the arch, and I think in terms of poetry, you know, consciousness, the human consciousness, the invention of metaphor provided that interiority, that I like to read in poems. So umm, I also think there's a wondrous feeling about the way space can surprise me in terms of form... is one of the things that interests me in poetry. I can take an old form and do something new with it, or I can take a form people are accustomed to and use it... Form always interests me, always has. Not everything I write is in a recognizable form, but I just like using it."
Both Violi's reading and interview were pervaded by the sense that the Promethean continuity, charm and idiosyncrasy of his poems continue to enthrall a wide range of readers.
-- Ben Mirov