9/11 - Freedom was on the school bus on
her way to school when she heard word of
the World Trade Center attacks and collapse. Knowing that her mother
would have been among the first officers
to go down to the site, her reaction was as written. -Bill Hayward
I’m on a plane to Denver, and the range of clouds below me appears carved and forested, their sides a sheer plummet of pale slate and their tops crowned in bunched leaves. This is my first year attending AWP, and my trip lands on a list I think of as “Stuff I Figured Out Long After Everyone Else Did.” The screed includes learning to drive stick shift, cooking the perfect hard boiled egg, getting engaged, discovering Pavement and Yo La Tengo, and writing some books.
On Monday, after hearing some good poetry news (tba), I realized – why am I not going to a conference stuffed with folks who love and make literature? Tuesday I borrowed a coat and booked my flight and hotel, Wednesday the super-shuttle at DIA. That’s pretty much how my life happens – late and fast. But if you’re summoned and are compelled to respond, shouldn’t you? I say yes.
we had plums &
of soda bread
more milk a
of twine & we
the carpet onto
& jumped on top
the river was
easy incomplete but it
of the papier mache
you hear your name in
The line is from Selenography, by Joshua Marie Wilkinson, a book I was invited to share on Goodreads and one that I actually wanted to read because I loved the title, since I too study the moon from the modest perch of my balcony. But I was also intrigued because the collection included Polaroids by musician Tim Rutili. Polaroids! Just the word brings to mind some of my favorite things: instant gratification, the 70s, and, of course, the sound and feel of the camera, its kechuckety-clack after hitting the front red button, the shuhzzzzz slide of the photograph entering the world. The SX-70 is the child of the era in which it was invented – garish and oversized and fun.
Anyway, I emailed Joshua, who I do not know, but such is the beauty of online friendship, and he sent me a pdf. Read it. Loved it. Divided into sections with fabulist names such as “My Cautious Lantern” and “Wolf Dust,” the poems are untitled, except the accompanying imagery sort of serves as a title, a kind of diving board used to plunge into fluidity. The writing is dream-like, Merwinesque with its absence of punctuation (and pop culture pillars) and line breaks that keep reinventing meaning. So a reader just sort of floats along the surface of this gentle river of letters, which you can see is deep and filled with oddly shaped rocks and sponges, perhaps striped and diamond-stamped fish, and other sparkling flotsam you feel against your skin but can’t quite identify.
That’s what reading this book is like. The photos are just plain cool, not stylized or deliberately low-fi but more along the lines of "I liked the looks of this." At times the images are blurred or smudged with fingerprints, or furrowed with bluish greens and creases that resemble birds in flight. Other frames include a plastic T-Rex, a rotting armchair, a crow, a ghostly piano. Do you hear your name in the current? As a matter of fact, I do.
Charles Simic, guest editor of The Best American Poetry 1992, with series editor David Lehman in October 1992. The Academy of American Poets hosted a launch reading for the anthology featuring Simic, Lehman, Lynda Hull, Rosanna Warren, and did Agha Shahid Ali read that evening?
Our favorite photographer, the incomparable Bill Hayward, sends along this photo and reminiscence of Ai, who died last week: From my book of portraits of the collaborative self...Bad Behavior (Rizzoli). She had just the morning before won the National Book Award for her book of poems, Vice. Over and over she said, "I suppose I should be using one of my dark lines but I feel so good today."
We returned from London last night, exhausted but exhilarated after David's successful lecture and readings. He started at London's popular Jewish Book Week with a "conversation with musical illustrations" during which he was interviewed by writer and documentary filmmaker Naomi Gryn. Over 550 people packed the house. One highlight of the lecture came early: David's plan was to show film clips featuring songs from his book A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters American Songs. Up first was the lovely Kim Novak singing "My Funny Valentine" from the movie version of Pal Joey, but when the clip rolled, there was no sound! Without missing a beat, David burst into song, and the audience joined him in a magical spontaneous sing along. You can listen to David's Jewish Book Week interview with Jason Solomon of the Guardianhere (his portion begins at 20:00).
Photo left: Rose Landowne; Geralding D'Amico, director of Jewish Book Week; David Lehman; Morton Landowne, director of Nextbook; and Naomi Gryn. Photo right: The Guardian's Jason Solomon with David Lehman.
The Best American Poetry 2009 gala launch reading on Thursday, September 24 featured prize-winning poets (such as John Ashbery, Billy Collins, Mark Doty, and Richard Howard), but it will also be remembered for the record-breaking number of readers, twenty-one poets in all, some traveling from as far as California, Seattle, Cincinnati, and Kalamazoo.
The New School's Tishman Auditorium in New York City was filled to capacity, and the standing-room-only audience responded most appreciatively and with no loss of attention from 7:15 when the proceedings began until it was Matthew Zapruder's turn to read at 8:50.
David Lehman, the anthology’s series editor, hosted the evening, and his introductory remarks surely resonated with writers of all genres. He imparted this advice to aspiring poets: “Don’t postpone writing the poem.” A renowned poet himself, Lehman cited a passage from Nicholson Baker’s new novel The Anthologist culminating in these sentences:
“Put it down, work on it, finish it. If you don't get on it now, somebody else will do something similar, and when you crack open next year's Best American Poetry and see it under somebody else's name you'll hate yourself.”
John Ashbery, the first featured poet, read “They Knew What They Wanted,” a poem comprised of movie titles that were brilliantly ordered, each beginning with "They." The audience guffawed when Ashbery recited, “They met in the dark./ They might be giants” (The Best American Poetry 2009, pp. 1-2)Mark Bibbins also had the audience in stitches as he chronicled the state-by-state oddities of America. “It is the custom in Maryland to honor the stegosaurus on Stegosaurus Day,” for example, and “Mississippi
means gesundheit in esperanto.” Prior to reading his "Freud" sestina, James Cummins brought the house down by explaining that there was something the audience needed to know prior to hearing the poem. That something, Cummins said with perfect poker face, is that Freud was an influential psychologist who lived in Vienna.
In acts of generosity, Philip Levine read Kevin Young’s poem from the anthology and Billy Collins read Bruce Bond’s “Ringtone,” a chilling poem about the shootings at Virginia Tech. Mark Doty's poem concerned a recital of "Ozymandias," and he followed by reading Shelley's great sonnet. Princeton professor James Richardson had to cancel his appearance at the last minute, so Richard Howard read Richardson's poem before reading "Arthur Englander's Back in School," his own poem about a fifth grade class.It’s hard to imagine anyone capturing the voice and sentiment of a fifth grader as astutely as Howard.Martha Silano’s unexpected addendum to her paradoxical poem, “Love,” with its multiple iterations of the word hate, was her tremendous imitation of a seething espresso machine.
It is not possible to characterize all the many poets that graced the stage, but they will surely be remembered for their varied voices and themes ranging from religion and justice to the recent change in government in the United States. Hats off to guest editor David Wagoner and series editor David Lehman for compiling such a rich anthology and organizing a most memorable evening!
-- Liz Howort
Literary agents Glen Hartley and Lynn Chu hosted a post launch cocktail party in their nearby loft. John Roode Catering provided gourmet food and poet Matthew Yeager served as the evening's expert mixologist. Poet Star Black shares these photos:
l to r Mark Strand, John Ashbery, David Schloss (Photo(c)2009 by Star Black)