The Portable Pussy
Wherever I go,
I carry a pussy with me. How, you might
ask, but I and the pussy are not one and the same being, so carry it I
must. Asleep or awake, depending on who
else is in the room, the pussy talks.
Quietly of course, so as not to attract attention or disturb the
peace. And honestly, much too honestly,
really. I am so relieved when those who
hear it pretend not to. Or perhaps they
imagine they are only hearing things. On rare occasions the pussy gets carried
away. Then it sings off key or starts
composing poetry. Of course, most don’t
suspect (or so I hope) that it’s the pussy and not I who sings, or how
difficult it is to carry a pussy everywhere I go, much less listen to the running
commentary when all I wish for is silence.
A little relief. I’ve even sought
medical advice, but the doctors insist the pussy is all in the mind. I need only stop thinking about it, and the
pussy will vanish forever. So I have
been thinking about not thinking about the pussy. But I have fears. If the pussy is in my mind, alongside my
thoughts, what if the thoughts leave first?
If I have to pick between a pussy and a brain, which will it be? After
all, who can choose between the player and his flute? The sea below and the sky above? How can I ignore the gullies for the torrents of the rain and the path of the
thunderbolt? And who am I to command the waves thus far and no farther shall you come.
--- Nin Andrews
Come to the Nin Andrews Poetry Forum at the New School (room 510 of 66 West 12 Street), October 19, at 6:30 PM.
And don't miss the gala kickoff reading for The Best American Poetry 2009 at the New School (Tishman Auditorium, ground floor of 66 West 12 Street), Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 7 PM. Among the contributors to BAP 2009 who will take part in the reading are John Ashbery, Mark Bibbins, Billy Collins, Mark Doty, Margaret Gibson, Michael Grabell, Dolores Hayden, Richard Howard, Tina Kelley, Mitch Sisskind, Craig Morgan Teicher, and Matthew Zapruder.
On September 24, 2009. at 7 PM, in the New School's Tishman Auditorium (66 West 12 Street, ground floor), series editor David Lehman will host a gala launch reading for The Best American Poetry 2009, and it's free so we hope everyone will come except for freeloading ill-mannered creeps but there aren't any of those, are there, in the soi-disant poetry "community."
Among the contributors to BAP 2009 who have agreed to take past I mean take art I mean take part (steady, girl) are
Mark Doty, Margaret Gibson, Douglas Goetsch, Michael Grabell, Dolores Hayden, Jennifer Michael Hecht reading the late Sarah Hannah's "The Safe House," Richard Howard, Tina Kelley, Phillis Levin, James Richardson, Mitch Sisskind, Tom Sleigh, Craig Morgan Teicher, Matthew Zapruder.
I'll be there! Look for me.
-- Molly Arden
Today I was thinking that the only time the Beatles sang a Broadway song was when they recorded "Till There Was You" from Meredith Wilson's "The Music Man," and then a few thoughts occurred to me about poetry readings:
As a violinist I can't imagine reading the score alone, though it gives great pleasure, and I associate poetry as a sister art. Most of us think Homer was a singing bard, Sappho had a lyre she discusses, and the poems of the Bible are sung by those like my grandfather, the chazzan (cantor). The good cantor so moving that Cossacks are said to have stopped and not killed that day.
I learned so much from Stevens' exorbitantly slow grey voice. I ended a love affair with Roethke when he grunted drunk at the Y.
It's true I loved to imitate each poet I loved.
If I loved them, I loved their voice.
When Ashbery read 'The Skaters" whole
[When was that, David?]
In 1964. It was amazing, David. Every word was right.
[Where was it?]
In New York. At the end Allen Ginsberg tried to recruit him for some political action and John said "I'm a political exile."
I knew that any Dylan Thomas saxophone in me had died and was reborn. Horowitz admitted he exaggerated for his audience. Do you mind?
I hate poetry readings, they are the worst thing in nature, but they are not in nature. Lowell sd he changed for Ginsberg--well, it was still RL.
Would you like to hear Trakl read or Rilke?
Those who heard (like Marianne Moore) Meyer Schapiro's lectures were listening to a god's golden sound. When Paul Robeson spoke, when Gielgud read Shakespeare, when Celan reads Todtfugue,we stop breathing. It is bad poems you hate and minor performers, but to hear Shakespeare do the Ghost I would give up the ghost. Forget Allan and what can be comical pathos. Forget the imitators. Get the old Caedmans and listen to that essential science of sound that Keats mentions.
O imagine Donne reading Donne. I would be undone. If a poet bores you, just wake up and look for another voice. Lovers know that the voice is a sexual organ (see Jewish law). If your love's voice doesn't please you, you are already divorced. If an architect's drawings are better than his house, you have made an ontological mistake.
Chekhov on the page, Vanya say, lies inert.
Alive in sound, he is the greatest writer.
My mother said, If you have a good speaking voice, you will have a good singing voice.
Many poems grow from music, the best are already music. Even this topic makes me happy. What is better than Sappho? Catullus? No, Sappho as she once may have been heard.
Pound I can mock, not Anne Porter at 95 reading a poem about her son.
There is a poem that reduces us to tears and wonder without school. Of course, I am one who believes you can speak between poems. Of reading twice, my wife says: Oh no, that poet is horrible enough and now we must hear him twice. But privately, I recite my favorites over and over like a song.
Most poetry readings are bad, but so are most paintings and dances.
-- David Shapiro
Current New School professor, Paul Violi gave a poetry reading and interview at the New School this Tuesday night. Both the reading and the interview that followed were filled by Violi's warmth and humor. There was also a palpable affection for his poems, felt by the mixed crowd of older established poets and MFA students.
Sipping on a "Go Banana's" Snapple, Violi read an
assortment of poems from his most recent collection, Overnight, as well as a number of new poems. Poems read included
"Appeal to the Grammarians," "Finish
These Sentences," "September 13, 2001," "Counterman,"
and "A Podiatrist Crawls Home in the Moonlight," among others. Many
of the poems, such as "Acknowledgments" (which takes the form of an author's
"acknowledgments" section from the back of a book of poetry)
displayed Violi's skill and inventiveness with form.
Violi's poems are often ostensibly humorous, but just as often they encapsulate equal parts cynicism, melancholy, and a fine sense of the absurdity of quotidian life (see "Goddess," a poem about Martha Stewart fluffing her chickens in the morning before setting them out on her lawn). Perhaps one of the most remarkable moments of the evening was the reading of a new ekphrastic poem on Alessandro Magnasco's "The Tame Magpie," a painting in which a group of "...people from the fringes of society have gathered to watch the spectacle of a man trying to teach a magpie to sing—an impossible task."
An extraordinary aspect of the reading was the eclectic coherence of Violi's oeuvre. No two poems seemed alike, except for the undeniable stylistic qualities of their author.
The interview that followed was more of a conversation between David Lehman, Violi and the crowd. Questions focused on Violi's sense of humor, his reading tastes (Samuel Johnson was mentioned) and "urban poetry".
Violi said little about his writing process other than he likes to write in situations that "defy concentration" (an example of this might be found in his poem "Summer Reading, Interrupted by Rain," based Violi's experience reading a paragraph from John Wain's biography of Samuel Johnson during the beginning of a summer rainstorm).
When Violi was
asked about the connection between poetry and architecture, this is what he said:
"I was asked that once on a radio program and I had absolutely nothing to say... it was dead air time. Umm, but you...I think I've said before about the connection between architecture and... There’s a rather narrow view of architecture that didn't exist before there was internal space. Putting up a lot of columns and covering them wasn't architecture, it wasn't, until the invention of the arch, and I think in terms of poetry, you know, consciousness, the human consciousness, the invention of metaphor provided that interiority, that I like to read in poems. So umm, I also think there's a wondrous feeling about the way space can surprise me in terms of form... is one of the things that interests me in poetry. I can take an old form and do something new with it, or I can take a form people are accustomed to and use it... Form always interests me, always has. Not everything I write is in a recognizable form, but I just like using it."
Both Violi's reading and interview were pervaded by the sense that the Promethean continuity, charm and idiosyncrasy of his poems continue to enthrall a wide range of readers.
-- Ben Mirov
Even with all the rain, last night’s event at the New School was standing room-only. Yet again.
David Lehman presented a lecture on W. H. Auden, giving us in one hour’s time the vital details and contradictions of the poet’s life and work, and addressing such questions as “Can a flawed poem be a great poem?”
By the age of twenty-two, Wystan Hugh Auden was the most prominent poet in England, with a sound more modern than any of the day. For example: “It’s no use raising a shout./No, Honey, you can cut that right out.” And yet, in January of 1939, he left England and moved to New York City. His reason for coming to NYC—not definitively clear: “He’d become accustomed to peregrinating,” David said. Perhaps NYC was the next place on his list. But perhaps, too, Auden desired to be a less-known entity. Or perhaps it was because he fell in love with a young man from Brooklyn named Chester Kallman.
He seems to have been happy in New
York —it certainly was his choice to be here—and yet
he wrote “Refugee Blues” and “The Unknown Citizen,” and he spoke of
loneliness. Perhaps this was a
loneliness that followed him here. David
read a poem that Auden wrote just before his arrival in NY, a poem inspired by
a painting he’d seen in a museum in Brussels. “Pay attention to the adjectives
and adverbs,” David said.
In order of appearance, they are “human, dully, reverently, passionately, miraculous, dreadful, untidy, doggy, innocent, leisurely, forsaken, important, white, expensive, delicate, amazing, calmly.’
The poem is titled “Musee des Beaux Arts” and the painting is Brueghel’s “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus.” Without a title placard for this uncanny painting, it’s unlikely that a viewer would know to search for, and find, the very subject of the painting. No clues can be gotten from the gaze of the personages in the foreground, who leisurely turn away from what’s taking place in the horizon—the disaster, the forsaken cry, the unimportant failure of the fallen Icarus.
Tonight at 6:30 at the New School (in room 510 of 66 West 12 Street) Paul Violi will read his poems and converse with David Lehman.
Read Michael Quattrone on Paul Violi here
In Khlebnikov's Aviary
O you Cacklers, cackle away!
O Cacklers and Cacklettes,
cackle cackle cackle!
Arise, O Ridicules, O righteous Cacklings,
snicker and snigger, cackle and gloat!
Cackleladies and Cacklegents,
O my Cackleeeeers!
Greet the morn, O you Cacklers and Cacklettes!
Welcome to Cackledom!
O you cacklishly contagious Cacklings!
Splattering cachinnations, cackle every which way!
Cease not, O noontide Cacklettes
and Cacklings—cackle away!
Cackle away all ye Cacklers,
O Cacklings and Cacklettes,
-- Paul Violi
David Lehman will lecture on W. H. Auden's poetry this evening at the New School (66 West 12 Street, Room 510) at 6:30 PM. To prepare, read the Auden selections in The Oxford Book of American Poetry. Among the poems Lehman will address are "Musee des Beaux Arts" (below), "September 1, 1939," "In Memory of W. B. Yeats," and "Under Which Lyre."
Musée des Beaux Arts
About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
-- W. H. Auden
"Cocktail Hour with Lee Upton”
At the New School last night, Lee Upton told us that it’s been a lifetime since she was drunk. “I only had maybe a thimbleful of alcohol at the AWP,” she says. Nevertheless, she was sitting in her car one day “when I suddenly remembered what it was like to be drunk at a party.”
From the memory came “Drunk at a Party,” the first of the poems she read to us. The last line: “What keeps a lobster out of a tank?”
The poem “Beer” came next and was (in proper order) followed by “Wine.”
In Russia, a friend of Lee’s learned to alternate bites of sausage with shots of vodka (the sausage absorbs the vodka). “First comes sausage then comes vodka”: so the poem “Shots of Vodka” begins. It ends with a roasted pig on a platter wondering:
“Why do they put an apple in my mouth as if I’m still eating?”
“I like to write about love, writing, failure, and dystopia,” Lee said, and then read “Dyserotica.” This poem, too, ends with a question that is startling, strange, and strangely hurtful:
“I know you don’t love me, but why do you have to brag about it?
The antidote to “Dyserotica” was “The Table” wherein a man has his way with a table.
“Do you get a lot of wrong numbers?” Lee asked us. “And does the caller get angry at you because you’re not the right person?” This happened to her recently, and a few weeks ago she wrote “All the Wrong Numbers,” which begins:
“Are you Linda?”
At the end of the poem, the speaker effectively neutralizes (or absorbs, as sausage does vodka) the acute humiliation of the caller by assuming craziness:
“‘What’s your name?’” she asks him. And then: “He hangs up a bit terrified of you.”
Lee was once sent home from school for employing the vocabulary she’d picked up listening to her father as he cursed at the T.V. “My father was a kind man,” she said, “who didn’t vent his rage at his family, but only at the T.V.” Two shows triggered his rage: Bonanza and professional wrestling.
The Adam character in Bonanza was a bastard for thinking he was too good for the ranch, and professional wrestlers were bastards and sons-of bitches that had it coming to them. “I learned that there was a vast range of ‘bastards’ and a vast range of ‘sons-of-bitches,’” Lee said. In the poem “Vocabulary” she writes about her father:
“He was a saint, but nobody gets to be an amateur.”
In “The Blouse” the speaker becomes suddenly visible, and therefore, ironically, unrecognizable, on the day she wears a new blouse. By way of complimenting her, two men tell her: “I didn’t recognize you!” At one point the speaker asks (another stinging question): “How could I wear the blouse forever?”
Seeing a screen and a slide projector set up in Room 510 is unusual for Poetry Forum gatherings at The New School, but we had artist Trevor Winkfield to visit Tuesday night, and of course, seeing the work is its best introduction. John Ashbery says, paraphrasing Walter Pater, “If all art aspires toward the condition of music as Pater wrote, Trevor Winkfield must be counted among the most successful artists of all time.” (Check out Trevor’s website here. )
An attitude of
precise methodical whimsy pervades his work, and it was especially illuminating
to listen to a painter who is also a writer who has collaborated with
poets. In his introduction, New School poetry coordinator David
Lehman (above, right, with Winkfield, left) explained that he and colleagues believe in the inter-dependency of the
arts, and that if you’re looking for inspiration, “It makes as much sense to
expose yourself to painting as to poetry.”
Trevor Winkfield has collaborated with Ashbery, John Yau and Ron Padgett among others. Exact Change Books recently re-published the Winkfield's translation of Raymond Roussel’s How I Wrote Certain of My Works. Winkfield has collected his writings in In the Scissors’ Courtyard and his art in Pageant.
At the beginning of his talk, Trevor tackled exactly that: How to begin. The problem -- “Where to
place the first mark on a canvas, and what it should represent” – is a problem for poets as well. The speaker also noted the special blessing (which doubles as a challenge) for artists and poets – unlike ballerinas, they have or can have life-long careers. That’s the blessing. The challenge is how to keep developing and coming up with fresh ideas. He made the comparison to Scheherazade, who, in the Arabian Nights, is constantly in mortal danger if her powers of invention fail her. Winkfield warned against what he called the Marc Chagall effect -- the endless repetition of motifs from the start of one’s career. The room tittered at that -- it’s always fun to poke fun at one of the "big names."
510 at The New School rumbled and danced on Wednesday evening with the Silver Age of Russian Poetry as presented by Andrey
Gritsman, poet in both Russian and English, translator and eloquent
ambassador of the greats of 20th-century Russian poetry, such as Innokenty
Annensky; Alexander Blok; Vladislav Khodasevich; Anna Akhmatova; Osip
Mandelstam. (Variant spellings abound.)
I wish I could convey the sound of the poems as declaimed by Andrey. He started reading them in the original Russian and moved seamlessly into his English translations.
Even better we had a visit from the David Lehman/Andrey Gritsman Traveling Mayakovsky Road Show!! After Andrey treated us to a selection of his own poetry, including one from his new book Pisces, he conspiratorially retreated to the back of the room while David read his own translation of Vladimir Mayakovsky's "Brooklyn Bridge" (from Lehman's book When a Woman Loves a Man). Then, clad in a black tee-shirt and startling yellow overshirt (the better to scandalize bourgeois taste), Mayakovsky (looking quite fit for a man who's been dead some 78 years) strode to the front of the room and brought 1925 alive.
Last night, Vincent Katz, the poet, translator, art critic,
and curator, brought the Black Mountain School of Poetry to The New
School. He read poems by Ed Dorn, John
Wiener, Charles Olsen, and Robert Creeley.
The Black Mountain poets, Vincent reminded us, were a huge influence on the Language writers, and the Language writers continue to influence poetry today.
From his own work, he read the poems, “Joy Street” “Window,” “The Hard Way,” and “Fecundity,” a recent poem written for the painter Alexander Twombly, in which the speaker says that he keeps all of what is given to him by his children, but of his own possessions, he keeps less and less.
Vincent also read a poem that he’d written for Robert Creeley, “Raleigh Night: to Bob.”
“Creeley was huge for me,” Vincent said. “Even now — he never ceases to amaze me. As great artists do, he changes — he doesn’t stick with what he has done before. He writes about elemental experience: anger, fear, birth, death, suffering.”
Vincent said that, early on, he was as much attracted to Creeley’s poetry as he was to Creeley’s personae. He cited Jonathan William’s 1955 photograph of Creeley, “Portrait of Creeley as a Spanish assassin,” and said, “There was something dangerous, and Rock & Roll about him.” And yet, Creeley liked to write in exclusion, in silence, whereas Frank O’Hara could write poetry at a cocktail party.
Speaking of the New York School of Poets, David Lehman said that the New York School poets wanted to charm whereas The Black Mountain poets didn’t care about being charming. Or very funny.
“The Black Mountain Poets were a bit aggressive,” Vincent said, “and more likely to be adversarial, politically minded. They weren’t interested in description and simile and traditional forms, such as the sonnet.”
David said: “I think that today we can be influenced by both the Black Mountain Poets and the Language writers, and still feel O.K. about writing a sonnet. Battles have been fought and won, and now we’re free to write the kind of poetry we want to write. Look at Ted Berrigan. Even if he didn’t always follow a strict sonnet form, he still used the sonnet.”
“I agree with you,” Vincent said. “But, again, I think of Robert Creeley. He’s a powerful example of someone who stuck to his principles. When you read his work, he makes you think twice about returning to the sonnet.”
David (who has probably written at least one poem at a cocktail party) said as a kind of non-concession, concession: “Well, I guess the New York Poets were more interested in traditional forms.”
And then Vincent and David moved on to the subject of Creeley’s celebrated line breaks, and Vincent offered this, by Clark Coolidge:
“In a quiet moment I hear Bob pause when I never would have expected it. Such resolve. Such heart. And an ear to reckon with. No truly further American poem without his.”
-- Angela Patrinos
Having only just elected a new President of the United States nineteen or so hours earlier, Ed Ochester reminded us of what it is to be "thoroughly American." As the editor of the Pitt Poetry Series and its anthology American Poetry Now, Ochester knows the American attitude and certainly embodies it in his own work.
Ochester's rough Queens accent took form as our night's post-election professor at The New School Poetry Forum, moderated by David Lehman. There is a lot we can learn from an East Coaster with a hearty laugh and a deep presence of character. In response to a question from Lehman, Ochester said that his "default landscape" to which his mind reverts is not New York City exclusively but also Pittsburgh, and rural Western Pennsylvania, where he lives and which he equated to James Wright's Eastern Ohio, calling it "really America." In his poem, "Working at the Wholesale Curtain Showroom" from his newest book Unreconstructed: Poems Selected and New, we learned that "the great secret of living" is just to "be nice." We could hear the satire in his voice as he acted the part of the not-so-intelligent store manager: "you don't have to know nothin / about curtains, just be nice when people / come through the door…What we need is a nice / educated kid, like you, you'll do fine."
Ochester revealed, in "Fred Astaire," that "[t]he secret of his popularity was / that he looked like a bus driver / who could dance." By the end of the poem, Fred Astaire's seemingly ordinary talent is likened to the Astaire-admiring "Aunt Carrie," who, "like most Americans, / lived on dreams." There was a recognizing nod among the crowd at this point—as Americans, I think we like being told that our dreams are a source of cheap fuel for the proficiency of getting through a day. We are experts on being busy, expecting our dreams to pull us along like a leash. From a man who has both lived the rigorous city life and stopped a moment to rest in the more sparse areas of Pennsylvania, the crowd responded positively to Ochester's humor-laced truths.
Poem for Basho
If I am timorous and
hesitant to intrude
on your privacy,
forgive me, for though
every poet in New York
has written a poem to you
it is different here
where one farm does not wish
to violate another
farm's solitude, but
if after 300 years you
were in this valley
perhaps you would write
about the mouse who
every night travels out
to eat at the dog's dish.
And I think you would like
the wind stunted spruce
and the way the drip, drip
of the sink gathers
the night around it.
Basho, here is my yellow glass.
I am alone, but happy because
I do not have to be alone.
You understood that, surely?
How one of the pleasures
of silence is finally
returning to your friends.
Even though, no doubt, they thought
you slightly peculiar.
What are the colors of flowers
at night? And Basho, will you
have another glass of rice wine
or whiskey? Basho, may
I show you a poem I've just written?
Basho, what are 300 years?
-- Ed Ochester
From Unreconstructed: Poems Selected and New by Ed Ochester (Pittsburgh: Autumn House Press, 2007)
Ed Ochester will be the guest at this evening's poetry forum at the New School (room 510 of 66 West 12 Street in NYC) at 6:30 PM. He will read poems and take questions.
The Strange Worlds of Dara and James
Guest poets James Tate and Dara Wier arrived early Monday for the forum at The New School and so David Lehman and I sat in an office with them before the event began. We talked about poems that feature apes, and Dara told us how to remove a rooster from a fence. About lemurs, James said, "I still love them, though I no longer dwell on them day and night." James and Dara told us that when they were visiting family in DC last year, they paid for a $300-dollar-a-night room at a posh hotel near the White House but were mysteriously (and no doubt mistakenly) upgraded to the $5000-a-night Vice Presidential Suite. Describing the suite, James sounded like the narrator in one of his poems:
"The paintings were real paintings. The table sat eighteen. You climbed three steps to get in the bed."
The poets, who are married to one another, have published between them twenty-seven books of poetry, and ten minutes before the event began, the room was packed. (David Lehman knows how to pick 'em!)
The List of Famous Hats
Napoleon's hat is an obvious choice I guess to list as a famous hat, but that's not the hat I have in mind. That was his hat for show. I am thinking of his private bathing cap, which in all hon- esty wasn't much different than the one any jerk might buy at a corner drugstore now, except for two minor eccentricities. The first one isn't even funny: Simply it was a white rubber bathing cap, but too small. Napoleon led such a hectic life ever since his childhood, even farther back than that, that he never had a chance to buy a new bathing cap and still as a grown-up--well, he didn't really grow that much, but his head did: He was a pin- head at birth, and he used, until his death really, the same little tiny bathing cap that he was born in, and this meant that later it was very painful to him and gave him many headaches, as if he needed more. So, he had to vaseline his skull like crazy to even get the thing on. The second eccentricity was that it was a tricorn bathing cap. Scholars like to make a lot out of this, and it would be easy to do. My theory is simple-minded to be sure: that be- neath his public head there was another head and it was a pyra- mid or something.
-- James Tate
James Tate and Dara Wier will read at the New School this evening (Monday, October 27, 2008) at 6:30 pm in room 510 of 66 West 12 Street.
Yesterday afternoon David Lehman presented “Wild Nights! The Poetry of Eros” in the New School’s Lang Auditorium. The event was the first of the “Fridays at One” series hosted by the IRP, the Institute of Retired Persons. But there weren’t a lot of people who appeared to be in a retired state of mind. Or body. The woman at the reception table had sleek hair and a full, brilliant smile, and while I was giving her my name, a tall, fit man cruised into the auditorium wearing black Lycra leggings and bicycle cleats.
“Wild Nights!” was a perfect title for an afternoon talk because as everyone knows, you can have a wilder night at one in the afternoon than you might have at one at night.
Click here for the rest of Charles Bernstein's statement.
Tonight’s Best American Poetry Gala Launch Reading was a rare treat for those who appreciate both outstanding poetry and a tinge of pathetic fallacy. The blustery winds and cold gray skies outside did nothing to deter the numerous listeners who packed the New School’s Tishman Auditorium to hear John Ashbery, Charles Bernstein, Ciaran Berry, Laura Cronk, Richard Howard, D. Nurkse, Meghan O'Rourke, Lee Upton, and Best American Poetry’s series editor, David Lehman, who served as master of ceremonies. Lehman set the tone by noting the inclement weather as well as the economic storm America is weathering. In an aside, he mentioned the ill-fated bank whose name he shares, and then moved from black humor to gravitas by reading the beginning of Robert Hass’s remarkable poem about the world’s brutality and grace “I Am Your Waiter Tonight and My Name Is Dmitri” (The Best American Poetry 2008) as well as sharing his own poem “On Humility,” an homage to departed mentors such as Kenneth Koch.
This redemptive mixture of passion, generosity, and illumination was a river through the evening as the featured poets read various combinations of their own poems from The Best American Poetry 2008, new work, and poems by their colleagues. It is impossible to dwell on each reader long enough to do them justice, so a highlights reel will have to suffice. Charles Bernstein racheted up the political dimension by calling for a Poetry Bailout to “save us from subprime poems” (no worries about that this evening!). Lee Upton garnered as many laughs (and as probably as many votes for her cause) by reading “Diserotica,” a new poem lamenting erotic writing that fails to achieve its stated goal. Ciaran Berry and D. Nurkse took us time-traveling to Coney Island in 1903 for Berry’s “Electrocuting an Elephant” and the Crusades with Nurkse’s “The Gate of Abraham.” Laura Cronk followed her sparse lovely “Entering” with W. S. Merwin’s “A Letter to Su Tung P’o,” a poem that reminds us how present the past remains since, as Merwin puts it, “Almost a thousand years later / I am asking the same questions / you did...” Richard Howard’s instruction in “The Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus by Castor and Pollux” to “Look again, look closer” at the painting, performed a pas a deux with Meghan O’Rourke’s “The Window at Arles,” elegantly illustrating how often we misconstrue the story or fail to see the interior landscape of the painter. Perhaps the last word on the Gala Reading should be left to John Ashbery who, as is so often the case, says it best, though of course he was referencing another evening, “Tonight we have tension and oneness, / arcane, arousing.” (“Pavane pour Helen Twelvetrees”). The night ended far too early.
-- Kate Angus
If you want to pack the house, invite Lydia Davis. The prose poets claim her, the fictionists claim her, and the translators show up to give her a cold, admiring eye. Indeed, 150 people crowded into Room 510 last night for the New School’s first poetry forum of the fall 2008 season: Lydia Davis, moderated by David Lehman
David Lehman and Lydia Davis have known one another since
Lydia (who looked lovely in a pale blue scarf and librarian glasses) didn’t read anything from her most recent collection Varieties of Disturbance, a book that was nominated for the 2007 National Book Award. She read from works in progress, saying, “Maybe this will inspire you to write, because you’ll think ‘this isn’t so great, I can do better.’”
She read sections from something called “The Dreadful Mucomma” (I’m afraid I didn’t catch the word) about a family’s troubles in a foreign country. Afterward, she told us that she didn’t yet know what sequence to put the sections in. “The end could be the beginning and the beginning could be the end.” Later still, in conversation with David and in reference to a novel that she wants to write in form of a grammar book, she said, “I just have to think up a plot.”
This is what I mean by generous. Because, often enough, a student writer will hear an established writer say, “Oh, I always know how to start and end a piece, and I pretty much know what’s going to happen in between” and so for a MacArthur Fellow to tell us that for her it’s all fluid, and that ‘all it needs is a plot,’ truly is inspiring.
She read sections from a piece called “Cows” that comes from
her close observations of the variety of behaviors of the three cows that live
in the field across from where she lives in Upstate New York.
She read a piece wherein the narrator, suffering from a dislike of George Friedrich Handel, a composer that her husband and her friends adore, seeks help from a Handel therapist.
During the question and answer period between David and
I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark
from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman
THE RULE OF THUMB
Ringfinger was nervous
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.