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BAP 2009: The Gala Launch [by Liz Howort]


The Best American Poetry 2009 gala launch reading on Thursday, September 24 [2009] 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 comprising movie titles that were brilliantly ordered, each line 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)

l-r BAP '09 contributors Tina Kelly, Billy Collins, and Susan Blackwell Ramsey (Photo(c)2009 by Star Black)


BAP series editor David Lehman (second from left) with (l-r) Katie Freeman, Molly Peacock, Rachel Shukert, and Mark Stevens (Photo(c)2009 by Star Black)


L-R Paul Violi, George Green, and David Shapiro (Photo(c)2009 by Star Black)


L-R Jill Alexander Essbaum, BAP '09 contributor Jim Cummins, and Stacey Harwood (Photo (c) 2009 by Star Black)

from the archive; first posted September 29, 2009

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"Lively and affectionate" Publishers Weekly


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

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