“Poetry is astounding,” Charles North [pictured at left, interviewed by David Lehman at the New School on 22 February] writes, “if you don’t spend too much time on it.”
At 69, North has spent more than four decades writing, studying and teaching poetry. He established himself as an influential member of the New York School, published ten books and serves as poet-in-residence at Pace University.
He pulled back the curtain on his work at a New School forum last Tuesday night, telling a packed audience how he came to poetry in his twenties, invented a new poetic form and collaborated with the brightest writers of his generation. Many were in attendance, including Tony Towle and Ron Padgett, who cheered North on from the front row. Students filled the seats and sat in the aisles to hear him read a retrospective of work, including poems from Complete Lineups and Cadenza.
North can demystify his process, but the results are no less astounding. Whether he is arranging characters into a baseball lineup or parodying a sappy love song from South Pacific, you get the sense he is constantly inventing (and often playing).
He created the “lineup” poem when a fellow Columbia University student sought help with a dissertation. “Here’s your dissertation,” North cracked, handing over a baseball-style lineup of revered writers.
It became a game, and North eventually cranked out seventy lineups about everything from famous lovers to tall people. You need not understand baseball to appreciate the image of Julia Child on first base and Abraham Lincoln in the outfield. And if you do understand baseball, you get to puzzle and delight over North’s selections. Here’s how our poetic general manager lines up literary terms:
(Click here to hear him read several more.)
North gets a lot of credit for the lineup, but many of his poems drip with invention. He told the audience he wrote a poem called “The Nearness of the Way You Look Tonight” after he and his wife, Paula, parodied the Rodgers and Hammerstein song “Younger Than Springtime.”