Monday, March 10, 2008

Best American Erotic Poems Reading, KGB, March 10, 2008 (part 2)

This is a continuation from this post here.

After Laura Cronk finished, there was an intermission during which I took the time to get books signed. I did have nice talks with Marc Cohen, who introduced me to his mother, Arlene. When inscribed one of my books, he noted the date as the twentieth anniversary of his mother being cancer-free. I congratulated her on the milestone.

During the intermission I had all but two of the poets reading sign the anthology and some additional books and journals that I brought along. What was nice about the venue was the casual nature of the event. I had a much nicer time talking with the poets than I normally do at readings, with the more relaxing bar setting fostering a bit more casual conversation. Maybe it was me that was more at ease. Perhaps the smaller venue meant I was one of the few people there, other than the readers, having books signed.

I had an especially nice chat with Star Black, who I had never met before. I learned that she had gone to high school in Hawai’i. She had attended Punahou School, the unofficial rival school of my own alma mater Iolani School. Punahou has entered the national media spotlight as the high school of Barack Obama. We chatted about Hawai’i, Obama, and Eliot Spitzer, among other things.

After intermission, David Lehman led things off with a poem from the anthology by Charles Bukowski called “Hunk of Rock”. It was typical Bukowskian raunch, but it was from one of my favorite works of his, The Last Night of the Earth Poems, and the man knew how to write an entertaining dirty erotic poem.

The first reader of the second half was Rachel Shukert, who introduced herself as having the last poem in the book because she is the youngest. The anthology was ordered based on the poets’ years of birth. Ms. Shukert, born in 1980, was witty and engaging. She read her entry, a fantastic sestina entitled “Subterranean Gnomesick Blues; or, the Gnome Who Whet My Fleshy Tent”.

She followed with reading Tennessee Williams’ entry in the book, “Life Story”. When I first read this in the anthology, I thought it was brilliant, and was thinking of posting it on BillyBlog. Take a moment and read it here”.

The choice of Williams seemed appropriate for Ms. Shukert, as she is also a playwright who also writes poetry.

She finished with a reading from a 1956 novel by Pamela Moore, Chocolates for Breakfast, which was one of five great “trashy reads” as identified by Janet Fitch in back in 2000:

Fifteen-year-old Courtney Farrell has been raised by her actress mother to make a good martini and understand how to get around in the adult world of Hollywood's famed Garden of Allah, where her mother lives. She returns from boarding school in the East -- a touchstone of the best girl trash -- takes her first lover (a homosexual actor!), drinks a lot and becomes very jaded and sophisticated. A book to treasure forever".

Shukert read the passage with abandon, savoring the prose, which was more significant knowing that she had identified the book as one that she had discovered as a teen, absorbed, and that “the demurely written love scenes…are some of the hottest things [she has] ever read."

Ms. Shukert also offered up, in the course of her reading, one of the more memorable quotes of the evening: “Anytime you trust anyone, it turns out you have chlamydia”.

Cate Marvin followed Shukert with an intense reading. She started with her anthologized poem, “Me and Men”.

Ms. Marvin then prefaced the next poem by talking a little about Sylvia Plath. The great Plath’s archives are held in the Lilly Library at Indiana University and Marvin clearly holds her legacy in high esteem. She spoke of recently visiting the collection and actually getting to touch a lock of her hair housed in the archives: (folder 5: Hair Includes one lock, 1932; one lock, 1938; one lock, July 30, 1941; a tress, Aug. 1942; braids, Aug. 22, 1945; and one lock, Fall 1949.)

She spoke of Plath’s great appetite for food and segued into her anthologized poem “The Beekeeper’s Daughter”.

She ended with “Poem That Wears Your Scarf”. With Ms. Marvin’s permission, I have posted the video I took of her recitation of this longer poem. It runs about 4 minutes, and it is very dark. However, the audio is clear and the poet’s face occasionally appears illuminated by the reading light to create quite an ethereal effect.

Next was Noah Michelson.
He read “Valentine” from the anthology. Between poems, he noted, “When I write love poems, someone usually ends up in pieces”. He then read Adrienne Rich’s(The Floating Poem, Unnumbered)”.

He finished with a poem called “You Want Magic,” dedicated to his father who had passed away one year earlier on the same day.

Maggie Wells followed, offering “Exhibit A,” which was her poem, “Sonnet from the Groin” from the book. Interesting to note, my notes from the evening indicate that I originally misheard and scribbled down the title as “Sonnet from the Brine”. “Exhibit B,” she continued, was an excerpt from Bob Flanagan’sSlave Sonnets” .
Maggie stated that her favorite erotic poem is, as noted earlier, Jennifer L. Knox’sHot Ass Poem”. However, she chose not to read that, but read Knox’s “Life as a Bedspread” instead.

The reading concluded with Michael Quattrone, who is co-curator of the KGB Poetry Series. He ended the evening with the poem “February”.

Usually, when I’ve attended readings with strings of poets reading, there is always a lull, or dead point in the evening, when I look at the time, lose interest, drift off into a poetry-induced reverie. This evening, that didn’t happen. I enjoyed every reader’s turn, thanks in part, I’m sure, to the unifying theme.

Post-reading, I got signatures from Maggie Wells (we talked a little Jennifer Knox, Southern California, and Charles Bukowski) and Cate Marvin. Cate gave her blessing to my posting her video on YouTube (and subsequently, BillyBlog). In addition to the BAEP anthology (she was the eleventh signature of the evening in my hardcover copy), she also inscribed her poem "Monsterful" which itself could have represented her in the BAEP anthology, from the Spring 2007 issue of Ploughshares.

I sat down next to Ms. Marvin at a table with Laura Cronk, explaining my BAP collection and how it had taken on a life of its own and instilled in me an obsession for poetry anthologies. Ms. Marvin inscribed at the end of her poem in Ploughshares: “For Bill--/Obsessions/are/necessary”.
This reading, far more than others I have attended, netted more inscriptions than plain old signatures. I’m attributing that to the more intimate setting of KGB and the conversations I had with the writers.
As I may have indicated in past event recaps, the readings themselves are usually in and of themselves worth attending for the sheer enjoyment of the experience. The signing aspect is the bonus for me: the additional burst of adrenaline, the memento from the event that makes the multi-poet events that much more entertaining for me.
So like always, I usually end with a scorecard-- how many signed and what was inscribed. If it sounds boastful, I apologize. It’s an accomplishment to be able to get an anthology signed over and over again by the various contributors. So here goes:
The Best American Erotic Poems, 11 signatures, mostly inscriptions.
In The KGB Bar Book of Poems, a warm inscription from co-editor Star Black on the title page and a funny inscription by Marc Cohen at his photograph at the end of his contribution.
Marc Cohen signed his pages in my copies of BAP '88 '91 and '93.

Cate Marvin signed her contributions in Ploughshares (as noted above) and the anthology Poetry Daily: Poems from the World's Most Popular Poetry Website.

In all I got 19 signatures from 11 poets/writers. Not a bad night's work.

As an afterthought, I realized I neglected to mention that my friend Micah joined me in the middle of the first segment of the evening. We’ve been talking for over a year about going to a KGB reading together, and the stars finally aligned. I wanted to thank him for joining me, for proofreading this post, scribbling down Rachel Shukert’s memorable quote (see above), buying me a beer during intermission, babysitting my books while I ran about talking to the poets, and for all of his encouragement.

Also a hearty thanks to David Lehman for his anthologies, for his kind words to me about BillyBlog, and to all the poets who contributed to a wonderful evening of poetry (and for signing my books).

Some of the books mentioned here:

A Note on This Post: Blogger gave me nightmares with this post. I had to edit it in explorer, but I usually operate in
Mozilla, so the spacing and formatting are all messed up. There's only so much I can do. I apologize for any weirdness that inadvertantly imposed itself here. This paragraph, for example, is center-justified, and I am having a bugger of a time fixing it. So, I'm just going to let go.

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