After a warm introduction from moderator David Lehman, Ron
Padgett took the podium on Wednesday night at the New School before a hardy, show-must-go-on crowd that had trekked through sleet and slush to attend.
Padgett is a tall, slim man with a staid presence and wonderfully engaging
voice, both of which enrich the poignant turns and humorous twists his poems
Padgett read mostly from his fantastic new collection of poems How
Long (Coffee House Press), but also offered
a sample of previously uncollected poems that will appear next year in his
collected works (also from Coffee House Press). Here are two excerpts:
From “Walking with Walt”
It’s funny that America did not explode
when Whitman published Leaves of Grass,
explode with amazement and pride, but
America was busy being other
than what he thought it was and I grew up
thinking along his lines and of course now
From “The Japanese Garden”
The house stayed the same, the grass grew
and got mowed, I went to college,
my parents divorced.
Now someone else lives there,
happy among the cherry blossoms that never fall.
Following the reading, Padgett sat down for a discussion with
Lehman and took questions from the audience. Two former students of the great
Kenneth Koch, Padgett and Lehman reminisced about their days at Columbia and
the influence Koch had on them. Padgett, originally from Tulsa, Oklahoma, also
talked about his childhood there, how he started the magazine The White
Dove with Dick Gallup while still in high
school — it published Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg among others—and of the first day he
told his father, a bootlegger, that he wanted to become a poet. The response
was, “All right.” Pause. “Can you make any money at that?” “I
don’t think so.” One of Padgett's prose books centers on his dad: Oklahoma
Tough: My Father, King of the Tulsa Bootleggers (2003).