The New School’s 500-seat Tishman Hall was packed last Thursday as poetry lovers turned out for the launch reading of The Best American Poetry 2013. Sixteen of the 75 contributors, some local and others from as far away as California and Illinois, took the stage for what has become an annual tradition that contributor Lawrence Joseph remarked “is now a part of the season.” Series editor David Lehman presided as host with his trademark aplomb and warmly introduced Denise Duhamel, this year’s guest editor who traveled from Florida to take part in the celebration.
When Major Jackson took the podium to read “Why I Write Poetry,” he remarked to Denise that “this volume has your personality written all over it. Funny, witty, and serious.”
For the rest of the evening, I kept hearing the poems through that lens, each serious and passionate, some laugh-out-loud funny, and all “very much alive,” as Duhamel hoped we would find them.
This year’s volume includes a notable first: Amy Lawless and Angela Veronica Wong’s “It Can Feel Amazing to Be Targeted by a Narcissist” is the first collaboration to be included in a volume of BAP. And since they wrote the poem together, that’s how they read it, their voices weaving in and out as they traded off the microphone.
Sally Wen Mao, in a bright flowered dress with her short dark hair tied up in an aqua headscarf, remarked that “being in an enclosed space with all these wonderful poets is like being on Celebrity Poet Apprentice, but David and Denise are much better than Donald Trump.” She read her poem “XX” with its heart stopping opening line “the night my sex returned, I shut the door/ barricaded it with a rattan chair.”
Anthony Madrid, tall behind the podium in an electric blue shirt, read, “Once Upon a Time,” which he explained had been “written” during his daily commute. It’s a rhyming poem that manages to include a rubber duck with a doctorate and one of the better Prince references I’ve heard in verse, veering from the familiar lines “maybe I’m just like my mother/she’s never satisfied” to “Maybe I’m just like my father:/Always a bridesmaid, never a bride” and “Maybe I’m just like my cat:/ Licking invisible balls.”
By way of introducing “Trailing Clouds of Glory, ”Vijay Seshadri remarked that it is “about the immigration debate but is not a political poem," while Lawrence Joseph read “Syria,” which addresses that tragically bedraggled country. Anna Maria Hong’s delicate “Parable” seemed an allegory for a distant political system where “messy as we/ were, we were treated like royals,/ Class E.”
Garnering the biggest belly laughs of the evening was Mitch Sisskind’s narrative poem, “Joe Adamczyk,” with the name “Grandma Fogerty” in a running throughline that cannot be decoded here.,
Other illustrious poets appearing were Kim Addonizio, John Hennessy, Noelle Kocot, Dorothea Lasky, and Amy Lemmon, and there are seventy-five poets in total included in the volume. To purchase The Best American Poetry 2013, please click here.
Nora Robertson's poetry and nonfiction have been published in Alimentum, Redactions, Monkeybicycle, Plazm Magazine, and elsewhere. She hosted and produced a public conversation series in Portland, Oregon, The New Oregon Interview Series, and a radio show, Neon Frontier. She is an MFA candidate in poetry at the New School.