In Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke wrote “don’t be confused by surfaces; in the depths everything becomes law.”
Few poets understand this sentiment as poet and longtime lawyer Lawrence Joseph does. Joseph, who teaches at St. John's School of Law, has published five books of poems, and the Rilke quote serves as an epigraph for his book of prose, Lawyerland, which humanizes lawyers – for better or worse – by recreating their intimate conversations.
Joseph spoke at a New School forum last week about his decision to follow the path of poets who earned their living outside the literary world. And he read several poems from his books Into It and Codes, Precepts, and Taboos: Poems 1973-1993.
Imagine Perry Mason reciting verse in lieu of a closing argument and you have an idea of what it’s like to hear Joseph read. He offered an intense and authoritative reading of Some Sort of Chronicler I Am, which describes a panhandler on the 3 train with scant sympathy for the man’s spiel about contracting AIDS.
“Specified ‘underclass’ by the Department of Labor/ —he’s underclass, all right: no class/ if you’re perpetually diseased and poor. … —blessed , indeed; he’s definitely blessed. His wounds open here, on the surface:/ you might say he’s shrieking his stigmata.”
Tidy couplets counterbalance the tough tone of this poem. As in so much of his work, Joseph captures the beauty and brutality of life through an unflinching lens and applies order to it. Everything becomes law.
Chronicler also alludes to famous writers who witnessed life through other professions, including Wallace Stevens, a lawyer, and William Carlos Williams, a physician.
VARIATIONS ON THE THEME OF TIME
in this empty
in the silence
I open the door
and breathe in
you can see
the dim valleys,
its colors –
it can rest
for a while,
it can cuddle
in a cradle
In its sleep
[by Lera Auerbach]
Jennifer Michael Hecht is “a minor famous atheist,” as she puts it. Her bestselling book Doubt: A History made her a cult figure among skeptics and catapulted her into the public speaking circuit.
At a New School poetry forum last week, the popular philosopher, professor and BAP blogger spoke to the home crowd, musing on her career, poetry and soul (more on that later). In addition to life after Doubt, she discussed her latest nonfiction project, Stay, and her most recent book of poems, Funny.
Hecht, the rare poet with a Columbia Ph.D. in the History of Science, read from her first book of poems, The Next Ancient World, which serves as a love letter to future anthropologists.
In “Please Answer All Three Of The Following Essay Questions” she asks: “If someone wanted to make you/ slap them, hard, would it be better for him or/ her to say that your father didn’t like to hear you/ sing, or to say that your mother purposefully pricked/ her finger and bled into the coleslaw she brought/ to the physics-department picnics every year.”
Hecht recited “Villanelle If You Want to Be a Bad-Ass” and “Cannibal Villanelle,” prompting moderator David Lehman to ask why she delights in the form.
“I fall in love with lines,” she said, “and the Villanelle repeats the line.”
To a packed house of aspiring writers and members of the Stonybrook MFA program community in Southampton, David Lehman and Bill Henderson shared stories about their experiences as creators of successful anthologies. Henderson has been at the helm of the Pushcart Prize annual for 35 years, while Lehman began the Best American Poetry series in 22 years ago. Poet Julie Sheehan, who teaches in the Stonybrook MFA program, moderated the discussion. Although the anthologies differ in many particulars, Lehman and Henderson agree that their success is due in large measure to the vitality of the work that is featured in each year's volume. "The writing keeps getting better and better," said Henderson, who relies on nominations made by the editors of little magazines and small book presses. For the Pushcart volume, Henderson picks the prose, while a changing roster of poets picks the poetry. Henderson and Lehman agreed that among the more satisfying features of their work is the discovery of work by writers they haven't heard of, in publications they've never before seen. "That is a happy moment," Lehman said. The audience asked questions about subjects ranging from the fate of high literature in the Internet era to the process of securing permissions for an anthology, Favorite Q & A of the night: "What do you say to the person who corners you at a party and asks, 'why isn't my poetry in your book this year?'" Henderson's answer: "Because you're a lousy poet."
David Lehman with poets Susan Baran (center) and Marc Cohen.
Phillip Lopate (center) speaks with admirers at the New SchoolPhillip Lopate is best known as a master of prose, penning more than a dozen novels, essay collections and anthologies in his 40-year career. He also writes for magazines about his great loves, namely film, architecture, and travel.
Audience members enjoyed Lopate’s reading of “Furnished Room,” which states “you/ have to return to your furnished room/ with the tall ceilings/ which are unusual for their antique molding/ but why does one need such a high ceiling?/ Better to live under the bed than to have that high ceiling!” Later in the poem, he expands this notion by asking, “am I really lost/ for good/ under the furnished stars?”
He also read “Creating a Space,” in which the speaker clears a space for a loved one, be it God or a woman. It reads like a single person’s psalm or Zen meditation.
Lopate explains: “I had been reading [the Indian mystic poet] Kabir and a lot of Sufi poems. There was a lot of Buddhism in the air, and I was interested in that kind of discourse.”
David Lehman, a longtime friend and fellow Columbia alumnus, asked Lopate about his notorious “distrust of metaphors and similes.”
“I like to think I use all 88 keys,” Lopate said.
“That’s a metaphor!” Lehman interjected, getting laughs from the crowd.
Their repartee ignited a discussion about the anti-poetic tradition as a corrective to poetic diction. One student asked how to handle sentimentality in poetry at a time when irony is prized over sincerity, and Lehman and Lopate emphasized the importance of balancing the two impulses.
“I don’t feel there should be a big separation between mind and heart,” Lopate said. “Once you understand they’re integrated, once you understand how close they are, you won’t worry so much about sentimentality.”
“There’s a difference between sentiment and sentimentality,” Lehman noted, adding that a distrust of the latter should not obscure the importance of the former.
Lopate encouraged young writers to take a few years off between undergraduate and graduate school to gain life experiences that will fuel later work. And he shared five tricks he uses to propel his own writing “when the cupboard is bare.”
They’re so good, we’ll share them with you too:
1. Use multiple genres to elevate your writing. For example, write a poem first to establish a rhythmic base, and then turn it into a prose piece.
2. Ask questions about what you just wrote. As Lehman pointed out, Lopate is “always qualifying.”
3. Fuel your creativity with research. Lopate focuses on “what I’m reading now, seeing now, thinking about now. I’ve fallen in love with research.”
4. Indulge in another art. For Lopate, it’s cinema. “I can sit through almost any movie, but I can’t read every book.”
5. Save a new insight for the end of your piece.
-- Stephanie Paterik
When I think of Denise Duhamel, I think of a really funny poet, but after seeing her and hearing her read on Tuesday night, I feel I need to expand my description. Yes, she is funny; she is also extraordinarily enthusiastic, filled with gusto and an infectious smile, and a peek at her process reveals an inventive collaborator with a surrealist methodology. Duhamel read from two collaboratively written books, 237 More Reasons to Have Sex (with Sandy McIntire) and ABBA, with Amy Lemon, who was present and joined her in reading. ABBA was developed according to particular parameters: Duhamel and Lemon wrote eight quatrains in ABBA rhyme; the poets took turns writing lines. Duhamel’s book with McIntire followed a similar methodology. It was an ongoing exchange, and each “reason” (to have sex) is numbered. Some of those reasons included: “#3: Because I was on all fours anyway./ #4: Because of the plums, so delicious, so cold.” “#15: I thought you were somebody else. #16: I thought I was somebody else.” The collection was inspired by a scientific study called “Why Humans Have Sex,” and it is just one example of how research lends itself to Duhamel’s poetry.
Duhamel also writes in forms, such as the sestina, which she redefines by adding an additional restriction — she calls this the “sestina plus one.” Inspired by Maidenform bra ads from the 60s (eg., “I dreamed I went to blazes in my Maidenform bra”), Duhamel wrote “I Dreamed I Wrote a Sestina in my Maidenform Bra,” a poem that details the bra sizes of Tinkerbell (32A), Snow White (36B), Cinderella (38C) and Sleeping Beauty (40D). Duhamel concluded the reading with a poem featured in The Best American Poetry 2009 titled “How It Will End.” Duhamel explained that this poem tells a story indirectly and is, according to a psychologist who heard Garrison Keillor reciting the poem on his radio show, a classic example of projection.
During the Q&A David Lehman asked if Duhamel’s ideas come first or if they surface in the process of composition. Duhamel said she is committed to automatic or free writing, which she does daily for twenty minutes. Of her collaborative exchanges, Duhamel stated, “If someone is waiting for you to come up with a line, you will do it.” Lehman suggested that there is a blend of sensibilities in collaborative writing, and a kind of third person or writer is created. Evidently Lehman and Duhamel have worked together on a play called What Women Want, but it remains unfinished. When asked when she came to consider herself a poet, Duhamel explained that she began writing novels at age ten but didn’t know there were any living poets. She thought poets were like cobblers—extinct! Duhamel is radiant evidence to the contrary, though she may be a rarity at the bowling alley where she composes lines based on the number of pins hit. This eccentric exercise requires a special trip to the lanes. Lace up those shoes, poets!
Proust was in the air Tuesday night (3/ 23/ 10) as the distinguished philosopher and poet John Koethe read from his new collection, Ninety-Fifth Street. The book is defined by “memory poems,” which explore the visceral recollection of people and places, and the overlapping language of such moments, ranging from Plato to Peggy Lee. The book begins with “Chester,” perhaps the only poem ever written that nods to Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore, and a late cat: “Mere being/ Is supposed to be enough, without the intricate/ Evasions of a mystery or offstage tragedy.”
Koethe read “On Happiness,” and noted that while the poem mentions many philosophers, “it doesn’t really matter if you know the references.” Koethe enters the poem to ask his own question after the philosophers take leave, “Why do we feel the need to create ourselves/ Through what we choose, instead of simply sinking without a trace/ Into the slow stream of time?” In “Ninety-Fifth Street,” a long, narrative poem, Koethe ponders his own “stream of time,” including a dinner party in 1966 with John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch and Frank O’Hara. As “the narrative of the night dissolved,” the play they intended to finish remained unfinished, and the progression through time is marked by “new epicenters, with new casts of characters.” As Koethe considers himself in the present, he also contextualizes his mentor: “…now John’s practically become/ A national treasure, and whenever I look up I think I see him/ Floating in the sky like the Cheshire Cat.” Koethe seals his youth and the present with the evanescent sky: “the noise of the rain and memories of rain.”
During the Q&A the moderator, David Lehman, asked Koethe how long it took him to write this poem. Koethe said he worked on it every day for six weeks. He discovered the memory form, a variant of “Proustian recall,” six or seven years ago. “Sally’s Hair,” the title poem of his previous book, was his first memory poem; Koethe considers these poems more concrete than his other more discursive works. Lehman ventured that “On Happiness” is an expository poem, almost like an essay in verse. Lehman and Koethe also discussed the connections between poetry and philosophy, and Koethe commented, “In poetry you have a great freedom to inhabit these [philosophical] ideas. You enter into them and they seize you.” And at times, an idea or memory seizes you without warning: “A delicious pleasure had invaded me…filling me with a precious essence: or rather this essence was not merely inside me, it was me.”
 Proust, Marcel. Swann’s Way. Trans. Lydia Davis. New York: Penguin, 2004: 45
Isn’t this Linda? he asks.
This is the number I was given, he says.
You can detect his humiliation
emitting a high frequency sound
that, frankly, you’re good at hearing—
like you’re the dog of humiliation.
He repeats the number and repeats her name.
Now you’re an incompetent god
listening to a petition,
and unable to do the smallest thing to relieve
And maybe you think you could cooperate for a second
and say, This is Linda,
and then let him figure it out.
Although, face it, the man keeps
repeating the number,
and you say again, Yes,
that is this number,
until he fully realizes
that she’s stiffed him.
And he knows that you know too.
And a needle of pain vibrates
in his breathing.
The phone doesn’t click
as if the man still hopes
you’re Linda playing a trick
and at any moment will say,
in the strange intimacy that phones project,|
you’ll say: Of course it’s Linda—I just can’t resist teasing you.
As a consequence,
you have to be the first to hang up,
but of course he calls againthinking he misdialed earlier,
and he says, Linda?
and you want to tell the man:
You’ve made more than one mistake.
Dear God, stop bothering me.
Oh, but you won’t say that
because you feel like apologizing for Linda,
but that would be idiotic like
apologizing for Eve.
As if you believed in original sin.
guilt caused enough suffering?
And then the man
on the other end of the line
says again, Linda?
in this sad little bleat,
This isn’t Linda,
but what is your name?
And then he hangs up,
a bit terrified of you.
But that’s all right:
he won’t call again,
and he’s not thinking about Linda;
he’s thinking there’s something
wrong with you,
-- Lee Upton
David Lehman was the first poet of the 2010 Poetry Forum
season on Tuesday night. He read from
his new collection, Yeshiva Boys, and
was introduced by the poet Mark Bibbins. By way of an introduction Bibbins imitated one
of Lehman’s forms (“
In Yeshiva Boys, Lehman embeds homage to the likes of Henri Michaux and George Steiner, along with vibrant personal memories. “The Trip Not Taken” is truly best read aloud for such astounding rhymes as “Nothing could be finer/ than to be in her vagina/ after listening to George Steiner.” Lehman was met by laughter when reading “Existentialism,” which includes such marvelous lines as “If you wore sunglasses in the subway and listened to Miles Davis, you were probably existential.” The second half of the poem includes a list of great existential moments in history, which will surely be circulated in Philosophy classes this spring. Lehman also read “God: A Sestina,” which also borders on the philosophic and the hilarious. He declares, “Call off the hoax,/ he said. You can’t copyright God,” and “The consensus is his absence/ will go on.”
During the question and answer period Bibbins asked about Lehman’s use of form, the sestina and haiku in particular. Lehman has been writing sestinas for decades and explained, “I’ve always liked the sestina…the [end] words guide you along as you go.” The Q & A progressed much like Lehman’s poems—a question was considered by an oblique, nuanced answer. Fortunately for the audience, this resulted in Lehman’s consideration of the illusory and the real, and references to both Wallace Stevens and Shakespeare. Lehman joked, “This is just to show you it’s possible to speak and sound erudite and completely avoid the question.”
But Lehman did speak candidly about the origin of Yeshiva Boys, indicating that the title poem was twenty years in the making. Interestingly enough, it began with a journal entry in which Lehman tried to remember the names of the boys in his class in grade school. In 2005 he returned to this poem to revise it. Lehman explained that he had not written directly about his experience in Jewish day school, or his parents’ experience surviving the holocaust, but he accessed this material by fusing memoir, fantasy, history and philosophy. Lehman advocated using fictional devices when writing non-fiction, a technique he used in his book, A Fine Romance, and the reverse—using research to inform a poem. The only trouble, Lehman warned, is if you find yourself on the radio and the host asks about your uncle, Harold Arlen, who is only your uncle figuratively. How might Lehman respond? “By inventing things!
In a narcissistic slight of hand actor Michael O’Keefe interviews himself about his poems, Christmas and other matters significant to him and him alone.
Q.: Michael, nice to have you here.
A.: Pleasure to be had and here.
Q.: You’ve published a book of poems recently.
A.: You’re quite right about that.
Q.: But enough about poetry tell me about the meaning of life.
A.: Hey, let’s get back to poetry, Interlocutor. Unemployed actors know very little about the meaning of life. They can’t even hold a job in the real world. That’s why they became actors in the first place.
Q.: How did you become an actor?
A.: I was dropped as a child.
Q: And why publish a book of poems?
A.: I thought you’d never ask.
Q.: Oh, I wouldn’t leave you hanging.
A.: No, but you sure can’t interrupt a guy who’s trying his best to say something about poetry.
Q.: Sorry. I’m all ears. Tell us about your poems.
A.: The book is called “Swimming From Under My Father,” and…
Q.: Why not just “Swimming Under,” or “Swimming From?” Why “Swimming From Under…?”
A.: Oh for Christ’s sake. Can’t you keep quiet?
Q.: I hardly think using Christ’s name in vain on Christmas Eve is an appropriate way to celebrate the holiday.
A.: And I don’t badgering me with interruptions is the way to interview me about my writing.
Q.: I’ll be the judge of that. Your first blog for BAP was about Christmas and Barbara Stanwyck. Do you think the reason you’re single at your advanced age has anything to do with an inability to connect with someone in the real world? And isn’t that why you hold Ms. Stanwyck in such high esteem? She is, after all, only an illusory presence for you.
A.: Advanced age? Have you ever been knocked cold by an interviewee? Because, Brother, I am about to sock you in the jaw.
Q.: Whatsa matter? Did that hit close to the bone?
A significant pause ensues as Mr. O’Keefe waits for Mr. O’Keefe to collect his thoughts and regain his composure.
A.: William Carlos Williams once said that while it is difficult to get the news from poetry men die miserable deaths every day from lack of what is found in its pages.
Q.: (In an Irish brogue) Did he now?
A.: When you did become Irish?
Q.: (Continuing the Irish brogue through out the rest) Ach, get away. Sure, I’ve been this way all along.
A.: Look, I only have so much time. Can we please just settle into a conversation about my poems?
Q.: I’ll not be badgered by ye, ye unemployed actor with yer high falutin’ book a poems. Poems is it? What’s next? Philosophy? From an actor yet. Bollocks!
A.: God, you’re a nuisance. What does “Bollocks” mean anyway? I hear Irish and English people use it frequently but no one’s ever made clear what it means.
Q.: It means, “testicles” ya ignorant git.
A.: Gross. How the hell did that ever make it into the lexicon of modern speech?
Q.: Oh no ya don’t. I’ll be asking the questions around here, Mr. Fancypants.
A.: These are jeans.
Q.: And I’ll wager ya spent hundreds of dollars on them.
A.: What if I did?
Q.: Yer not a real poet. Real poets suffer fer their art. You wouldn’t find Jane Hirshfield or Henri Cole in a pair of jeans that cost hundreds of dollars.
A.: Perhaps you’re right about that.
Q.: A course I’m right. And that’s all the time and space we have.
A.: I thought space-time was unlimited. Kind of like a fourth dimension. I’ve heard string theorists go on about it.
Q.: Brilliant! Next time I’ll interview one a dem. Tune in next time for, “String Theory. Math or Religion? You decide.”
A.: Oh, bollocks.
Monday night’s reading marked the concluding Poetry Forum of the semester, and though ordinarily preoccupied with finals, MFA students were strong in number. Mark Doty was no disappointment. His most recent book, Fire to Fire, won the National Book Award in 2008; he has received numerous awards both nationally and abroad. Doty began the evening with poems he considered fitting for writers. One poem surveyed the inevitable interaction between reader and text: in this instance, a previously owned version of Song of Myself, complete with marginal notations. Whitman offers, “What is the grass?” And Doty ponders the question noted by a student: “Isn’t it grass?” In another poem for writers, titled “Pipistrelle” Doty recounts his experience spotting a bat in
Doty’s poem can be found here:
Click here for Bennett’s poem.
Doty discussed his “Theories and Apparitions” from Fire to Fire, confiding in the audience: “I made a theory and a couple of days later I thought, well, that seems incomplete.” He read one such “Theory of Beauty,” in which he invented names for bird cries. Consider these examples of the grackle: “Fire crackers with a break report” and “Imperious impure singing.” Doty’s “Apparitions” are inspired by moments when “poets of the past intrude into the present.” “Apparition (Favorite Poem),” published in The Best American Poetry 2009, is based on a young man’s recitation of a Shelley poem. For the living poet, these lines are chilling: “He makes the poem his own/ even as he becomes a vessel/ for its reluctance to disappear.” This poem inherently questions the value of poetry, moving the reader (listener) to go home and commit her favorite poem to memory. Other apparitions include the likes of John Berryman, Homer, and Darwin.
Doty is inspired not only by other writers, but also by images and found text. One such poem began with a photo in “National Geographic” of a frozen baby mammoth, the first-ever poem from this perspective: “I am still one month old and forty thousand years without my mother.” Magazines are a mine for Doty, and he shared a found poem from “The Iris Catalog,” featuring a menacing flower called the “Anvil of Darkness.” Doty inquired, “Can you imagine growing something called the “Anvil of Darkness?”
Following the reading was an engaging Q & A, which began with ruminations on Wordsworth and Whitman. David Lehman, the moderator and Poetry Coordinator of The New School MFA program, asked if Doty was aligned with Whitman. Doty responded, “Whitman is a tutelary spirit,” and explained the appeal of Whitman’s “warmth of embrace,” as opposed to Wordsworth’s analytical approach, which often forgoes a direct address. In considering the traditions of these great mentors, Doty reflected on his own work: “I want things to be located in particular relationships and periods of time.”
The moderator asked how the word “theory” fit into Doty’s practice. Was it a synonym for poetry? Doty connects theories to observation: “one looks at experience and comes to understanding based on a study of the evidence the world provides.” Comparing theories to apparitions, Doty noted, “We as a species are theory-makers… What is it that contradicts us but an apparition? An apparition confounds a theory.” Doty also considered the haunting moments when an admired poet enters your life: “When you know someone’s work it becomes a lens through which you see your experience — for example, I’m in a John Ashbery poem!”
When asked how he jumpstarts his imagination, Doty discussed his reading preferences: “I read stimulating texts that are not poems, such as art history. I am reading Tiepolo Pink by Roberto Colasso. It just makes me want to sit down and start scribbling a poem. Music can do that. Gardening can do that.” Doty touched upon the different ways in which he approaches prose and poetry, explaining that his poems have a longer life span, or remain in the works for a good deal of time, whereas prose requires his committed concentration. When writing prose Doty does not write poems, but works diligently to complete a draft.
Instead of leaving the audience with an assignment or writing exercise Doty encouraged students to read as artists: “look for what you can appropriate.” The dexterous student might practice such appropriation by turning to the pages of Fire to Fire.
QUESTION: ...Contrary to public opinion, good poetry seems to be constructed, rather than spontaneously created. This obviously takes a lot of time. Therefore, how would you suggest a serious student of poetry manage or even afford to have this time? Should he just Wallace Stevens it?
PAUL MULDOON: It’s certainly true that it takes more work than most people might consider. That’s largely because all the work goes into making the poem look as if no work whatsoever has gone into it. And reading, both of other poems and the poem that’s even now coming into the world, is vital. But it’s still not like getting ready to run a marathon in Kenya. The exercise analogy doesn’t quite work. No amount of physical practice or mental preparedness will ensure that one will be able to run the marathon of the poem.
QUESTION: How does one get started as a poet? Clearly, trying to get published in The New Yorker off the bat is a long shot.
PAUL MULDOON: One gets started by having a lot of nerve but a nerve tempered by nervousness. Hubris tempered by humility. The chances of getting published in The New Yorker are slim in the sense that we publish only a hundred poems a year. But the chances of being published here are nonetheless real if you manage to write a really stunning poem. Nobody ever knows when, or how, that might happen. Soon, I hope.
Here's to stamina and "soon" for anyone flummoxed by their own stubborn drafts. Read the whole transcript here.
The writer Frank McCourt wrote of his favorite graduate professor, Morton Irving Seiden, “He insisted we should know the literature the way a doctor knows the body.” Andrews seems expert on the combination of literature and the body. She explained the origin of her collection The Book of Orgasms by recalling another professor who told her not to write about sex. As if spurred by the prohibition, Andrews began writing poems such as “Defining the Orgasm” and “The Quest,” which exemplify the repressive society in which her curiosity blossomed: “We must live godly lives. God never had orgasms. Neither should I. I did my best to remain orgasmless, but curiosity got the better of me.” In her poem after Henri Michaux, entitled “The Portable Pussy,” Andrews brazenly asks, “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?” Andrews weaves humor into the questions she raises whether about sex or politics, the atter of which she examines in Midlife Crisis with Dick and Jane.
recently published chapbook, Dear
Professor Do You Live in a Vacuum? contains humorous questions and answers composed
by college students: “Dear Professor,/ You gave us that problem/ about driving
down the freeway at 60 MPH/ in a VW bug and hitting a truck/ that was driving
at 75 MPH,/ and you wanted to know what happened next…/ I figured the answer
was simple./ Drive a truck from now on.”
When asked whether people can develop or acquire a comic gift, Andrews
suggested that humor can be learned and that reading absurd work may be a good
first step. Humor can coexist with suffering. Part of you, Andrews said, may watch
yourself suffer, and that part can see the humor in suffering.
with his two most famous poems,
"Agape" and "Peidra Negra Sobre Una Peidra Blanca."
It's that quality of longing that poets have
way too much of,
and their terrible loneliness
that would like to say
as Vallejo does:
"I would come to my door,
I would shout to everyone,
if you are missing anything,
here it is!"
And I'd love to.
Yes, I'd love to go to his door
and make love to him,
perhaps on a Thursday in Paris
on a day of heavy showers . . .
I'd keep everyone from beating him,
those whom he has done nothing to,
(Why does the world want to beat our famous poets?)
my Vallejo, my own Vallejo
who lives deep inside me now
where he is safe at last,
though, of course,
he knows nothing about this . . .
-- Nin Andrews
(from The Best American Erotic Poems: from 1800 to the Present)
Nin Andrews's books include The Book of Orgasms, Spontaneous Breasts, Why They Grow Wings, Midlife Crisis with Dick and Jane, Sleeping with Houdini, and Southern Comfort. She also edited Someone Wants to Steal My Name, a book of translations of the French poet, Henri Michaux.
Nin Andrews will be the featured poet at the New School poetry forum this evening at 6:30 PM in room 510 of 66 West 12 Street in New York City. She will read poems for thirty minutes, then field questions from moderator and audience for an equal amount of time.
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. 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.
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
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
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.
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:
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.
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.