This past Wednesday, The Poetry Project hosted a "Tony Towle at 70" celebration. Towle, to my mind the New York School's most distinctive lyric poet, was well-served by the procession of poets who saluted him, preceding his own reading. One of my heroes, Ron Padgett (a white popsicle-stick of serious whimsy), and the finely meticulous poet Jo Ann Wasserman each read separate selections from Towle's Memoir 1960-1963. Anne Waldman shook a bit more of the flaky plaster loose from the ceiling, while Bob Hershon worked the crowd (and it was indeed a crowd) like a savvy tummler. Nine poets in all read some of their favorite Towle poems or prose.
After them, Towle himself read, his reedy yet surging voice delivering a superb selection of some of his poetry, the dartingly vivid work of a lifetime spent considering the most precise yet offhand way of describing historical figures, the weather, the seasons, the various skylines of New York, and the conversations of friends, rivals, and those who would bring sadness into the world.
He read "On His Name":
Wandering, shipwrecked on a shoal and running into Robert Lowell
I introduced myself: “Tony Towle,”
I said, “we met briefly some years ago at a party in your home;
we have differences in style and sensibility but a general goal,
to distill from the distraction and trouble of life as a whole
what we think of literary interest, before interment in the loam.”
He replied that that was not his role,
that he preferred not to speak, since it was not his poem,
and the conversation broke off near the knoll’s island foam.
Towle told the audience he once tried to get a copy of this poem to Lowell but wasn't successful. Then with typical modesty, he added, "I don't think he would have enjoyed it, anyway."
It was one of many peaks of pleasure in a vibrant evening. Happy birthday, Mr. Towle.