Day 1: Moorman Symposium, Hattiesburg, MS
Graduate students from the Center for Writers took visiting poets out to lunch before the Q & A. The restaurant, whose giant tomato nobody mentioned, wanted us to fill up on conversation, so they delayed the food for as long as possible, just waiting for silence. It never happened, so eventually they brought the food anyway.
David Kirby got a chicken salad but could not find the chicken. "Where's the chicken?" he asked. "It's chopped up and mixed in," said the waitress. David was skeptical but determined to get to the bottom of things. Billy Collins's chicken came similarly camouflaged. The hunt was on.
For dessert we had stories about Jimi Hendrix, Kirby and Collins both saw him perform (because Collins is older than Cheerios, as was mentioned frequently throughout the day).
Then it was over to the panel discussion and "real" Q & A on New York School poetry, moderated by David Lehman. Here is what things looked like just before:
Lehman began the discussion with comments on the New York School poets' "premium on inventiveness" and inclusiveness. Then brought up a fictional ad man as proof of the New York School's vitality. After Don Draper read Meditations in an Emergency O'Hara's sales "boomed by 1,000 per cent," according to The Independent.
In closing the introduction, David recited even better proof that O'Hara is still a vital presence, "Poem"
His delivery of the poem evidenced the conversational and casual pedestrianism that makes O'Hara poems great. Take a listen - ,David Lehman reads "Poem". Maybe David and Don can have an O'Hara read-off some day?
Next, Angela Ball read her poem "Spring" and described wanting to reach "towards transparency," in the poem, "a voice you can see through." This is captured (if you can say captured about transparency) so well in the final stanza:
I had this feeling once before, when I was walking through rain
And wet leaves in shoes that were red and navy.
Much of me hadn't been tried out, and I liked that.
One of O'Hara's influences, Mayakovsky, spoke up!
I'll be absolutely tender,
not a man, but a cloud in trousers!
It looked as if everyone on the panel might float away, but the microphone and its heavy base were passed to Billy Collins. Structure rematerialized in the present with his reading of "Drinking Alone, after Li Po"
No, the only way this is after you
is in the way they say
it’s just one thing after another,
A casual description of influence, "one thing after another" and general reminder of our mortality.
After all, you had your turn,
and mine will soon be done,
then someone else will sit here after me.
What a bunch of seat warmers we all are! Perfect. The after of Collins for this afternoon was Denise Duhamel. She read O'Hara's "Having a Coke with You" and her poem "Having a Diet Coke with You." After which, we all felt better about love poems, specifically, and life, generally.
O'Hara in his manifesto Personism
one time thinking about his sweetheart realized he
"could use the telephone instead of writing the poem"
and so I think you and I have been talking
our collaborative poems with each Skype encounter
Things went from love to "Viking dudes," "big-dog cock-of-the-walk / "raping and pillaging" when Barbara Hamby took the mic. She talked of encountering Kenneth Koch's expansive titles in New Addresses.
Koch titles like "TO JEWISHNESS, PARIS, AMBITION, TREES, MY HEART, AND DESTINY and "TO KNOWLEDGE, MY SKELETON AND AN AESTHETIC CONCEPT," gave her liberty to create poem titles "Ode to Anglo Saxon, Film Noir, and the Hundred Thousand Anxieties That Plague Me Like Demons in a Medieval Christian Allegory" and "Ode to Airheads, Hairdos, Trains to and from Paris."
But a dog who doesn't like cats or children is not
a dog you'd want to own, even though taking a nip out
of Tabby's hindquarters or Josh or Kimberly's chubby
little leg is very much au naturel for your dog, very much
the very essence of dogginess, you might say.
He followed his reading with Facebook comments on the nature of MFA workshops and the forced subject matter of twigs and fish if you are writing in the Northwest (where, luckily, none of our fine panelists reside).
David Lehman followed Kirby reading "When a Woman Loves a Man", which explained a lot.
When she says tomorrow she means in three or four weeks
When she says, "We're talking about me now,"
he stops talking. [...]
For further explanation, a Q&A started with the audience. Here are some choice answers from the panel:
Angela Ball on the "I" in poetry: I is a fiction, but it's a lovely construct. "Energy is eternal delight" William Blake
David Lehman on the "I" in poetry: You is also a great pronoun!
Billy Collins on voice: It's not in your spleen. It's in the library.
David Kirby on Facebook: The more interesting things are the comments, not the posts. "I just hate all of this foggy, disembodied poetry"
Of course, these are only snippets from a conversation that can't fit into this trouser-wearing cloud of a post!