Monday, September 12, 2005

The Million Poems Show done come and gone. We at SOON were very curious to see what a poetry talk show would look like. It's a brilliant concept: as Jordan said, it adapts a convention from television—the late night talk show—to poetry: a recognizable fixed form like a sonnet or villanelle that provides a certain security as well as room for improvisation to both poet and audience. Here's how it went down: after I introduced Jordan, Ange, and J.J., J.J. began playing the show's theme: "It's the Million Poems, the Million Poems, the Million Poems Show!" Jordan came out looking rather remarkably like Dick Cavett in suit and tie and did his "monologue," which consisted of some remarks about the show, the drive up, and a few of his own poems. He then engaged in brilliantly deadpan host-bandleader banter with J.J. Then it was time for Ange to come up and sit in a chair next to the desk and be interviewed before launching into her reading: the main event. Her selections were all from her extraordinary book Starred Wire, which she revealed in the interview had its origins in the mingled experiences of travel (specifically to Morocco, although there are only hints of that in the text—a reference to the town of Fez, for example) and childhood; they both I suppose offer experiences of pleasurable estrangement. Anyway, the poems are fierce and delicate and funny and lyrical, and I highly recommend them. It was then time for the musical guest; lacking one, we got two songs from J.J.'s upcoming album Uphill to Purgatory, an infectiously wry breakup song and a love song with a little lilt to it. He's a terrific, poppy musician and funny as hell in conversation. The show concluded with a little audience participation, in which we all collaborated on a poem about "something that you want to like you but it's not quite working out." Jordan's example was baseball—perhaps more specifically the Mets?

Jordan's plans for the show are as ambitious as the goal of writing 1,000,000 poems (which he says would require him to write 35 poems per day every day to the age of 100). He'd like to put it on TV, where I think it would be brilliant, blowing anything Bill Moyers has ever done out of the water. There's something about the intermediary of a host facing the audience which he believes has a lot of potential: the host's reaction provides a model for audiences uncertain about how to respond to poetry. It's one of the most innovative and fun ways yet thought of to introduce poetry to people who are shy of it (that is, most people). Even fifteen minutes of TV time once a week would work wonders, even on public access. Are you listening, network producers?

It was far too short a visit but we loved having Jordan, Ange, and Jordan's "band" here: we managed to get them some of the transcendent mac 'n cheese from Willow after the reading, and snuck in a waterfall visit for Jordan before breakfast and their departure Sunday morning. If you ever get a chance to see the Million Poems Show (and New Yorkers have their next opportunity this Wednesday at the Bowery Poetry Club) you must seize it.

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