Friday, September 26, 2008

The Best American Poetry 2008 Gala Reading at the New School

In years past, I have written detailed accounts of poetry readings that I have attended, thanks to some copious note-taking during the events.

This past Fall, I attended a Best American Poetry reading at The New School, on September 26, 2008. The event was to commemorate the publication of the 2008 edition, guest edited by Charles Wright.

Alas (and I do mean “alas”), composing a cohesive recap got away from me. Although I did post several of the videos that follow on YouTube [which are sadly in cyberlimbo, as the account has been "permanently disabled" due to some unspecified "copyright infringement" issue], I did not complete the following synopsis until January 2009. Unfortunately, the passing months surely diluted my memory of the event. Unlike many of my previous dispatches, this one is lacking in the mad scramble post-reading for poet signatures, which is always one of the things I love doing.

So, do bear with me as I wander back to September, when the financial crisis was still fresh news, and do my best to piece together the reading from my notes. It should be noted that a fresher, less-memory-gapped recap can be found here.

David Lehman, the Series Editor, welcomed us and gave his consummate introduction. He read Kathryn Starbuck’sThe Shoe” and his poem “On Humility”.

John Ashbery read his contribution to the volume, “Pavane pour Helen Twelvetrees,” and “A Worldly Country”.

Charles Bernstein followed with a hilarious take on the financial crisis entitled “Poetry Bailout Will Restore Confidence of Readers” [click to read].

My favorite part:

“Let there be no mistake: the fundamentals of our poetry are sound. The problem is not poetry but poems. The crisis has been precipitated by the escalation of poetry debt—poems that circulate in the market at an economic loss due to their difficulty, incompetence, or irrelevance.”

He then read from his book Girly Man, “The Ballad of the Girlie Man”.

Next up was Ciaran Berry reading the BAP-included poem Electrocuting an Elephant, which recalled a photograph from Coney Island, circa 1903. He also read another poem of his called “The Parsley Necklace” and followed with another poem from the volume, “Light” by C.K. Williams.

Next was Laura Cronk who read a poem entitled “Having Been Turned Down.” She also read “Entering,” her poem from the BAP volume. And she concluded with reading W.S. Merwin’s contribution, “A Letter to Su Tong P'o. Special bonus: hear Merwin reading his own poem on NPR here (right click/save to download).

Richard Howard followed with his reading of the poem in the anthology “The Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus by Castor and Pollux”.

D. Nurske followed with his poem “The Gate of Abraham,” and Michael Palmer’s poem “The Classical Study (4)”.

Meghan O’Rourke, sporting nifty cowboy boots, started with Dean Young’sNo Forgiveness Ode.” She followed with her anthology poem, “The Window at Arles,” and another, which I believe was called “In Search of a Mission”.

Lee Upton wrapped things up by reading three of her own poems, including “Dyserotica,” “Omniscient Love,” and “Undid in the Land of Undone”. “Diserotica” ended with the wonderful lines “I know you don’t love me/but why do you have to brag about it?” The last poem was captured here:

She ended with reading Franz Wright’sPassing Scenes (While Reading Basho)”

The reading ended, and I did my usual thing, scurrying about, collecting poet signatures in my multitude of anthologies. I didn’t catch everyone, but I was able to get autographs from most of the poets in attendance. As always, it was much appreciated, and I had a wonderful time. Once again, I would refer to the review by Kate Angus (referenced at the top of the post) as a complement to this recap.

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