Tuesday, March 01, 2005

The reading yesterday was instructive (if poorly attended). The first poet, Tim Fitzmaurice, seems like a nice guy. He stood up there, did a "I don't know the first thing about love but I still love it" kind of shtick, and read anecdotal poems (he's a Tony Hoagland fan). Then Ilya Kaminsky, a towering scruffy Russian with a gentle face, stood up and it was like his feet were a plug and the floor was the socket: he energized the room, he has us at "hello"—in a word, he rocked. What really set the tone was an action of, I thought, remarkable and unexpected courtesy: apologizing for his heavy Russian accent, he distributed copies of his book to everyone in the room so that they could follow along. I have mixed feelings about reading and listening at the same time: it certainly does clarify what the poet's actually saying, and of course it restores the visual dimension of spacing and linebreaks (when these go unvoiced, as they mostly do). But it distracts you from taking in the poet's person: and poetry readings are really more about the poet than they are about the poetry. This is the fatal flaw built into readings: the warmth of personality, the glamor of the person, their self-deprecations or aggrandizements, tend to overwhelm the poetry, at least in one's memory. Because I see poetry as a means of making contact, I'm interested in hearing poets read, though not as interested as I am in contact with the actual writing. If I attend a reading, though, I want to see and hear the poet. Still, it's hard to resist a proffered text (though in fact I had brought my own copy, purchased at the Bookery a few hours earlier) and so I read along, and it was interesting to see how completely transformed the language was by his actual voice. Ilya roars and murmurs, with an impeccable sense of pacing; he commits his entire body to the page in a way that would seem melodramatic if he were more polished in his self-presentation. His accent and partial deafness put strange emphases on the words that really enfleshed them for me and put to rest my reservations about a diction that can at times seem a little flat on the page. He pronounces every "-ed" in words like captured and raveled. He sings the words, high and low. And he is unembarrassedly moved by his own poetry, which I find to be a remarkable and in itself moving quality (when the poetry is good). My friends, I have seen a bard. They still exist.

If you want to see Ilya yourself, or me, we'll be doing our thing on Thursday and Wednesday respectively at the New School tomorrow. Here are the details:
Two evenings of ten outstanding emerging poets each

Wednesday, March 2nd 7:30pm
Eric Baus
Mark Bibbins
Sherwin Bitsui
Oni Buchanan
Dan Chiasson
Joshua Corey
Thomas Sayers Ellis
Miranda Field
and National Chapbook Fellows:
K.E. Allen
Joshua Poteat

Thursday, March 3rd 7:30pm
Cathy Park Hong
Ilya Kaminsky
Adrian Matejka
Chelsey Minnis
Srikanth Reddy
Spencer Reece
Dorothea Tanning
Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon
and New York Chapbook Fellows:
Justin Goldberg
Andrea Baker

$10 for both nights / $7 PSA Members and Students
$7 for one night / $5 PSA Members and Students.

Tishman Auditorium, The New School
66 West 12th Street, NYC
And let's not forget that I sent my chapter off to my committee for their consideration today. It's a week for celebrations! If only I weren't so tired....

See you tomorrow!

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