Wednesday, October 17, 2001

From the Archives: Hayden Carruth, 80th Birthday Tribute, October 17, 2001

This is part of my "From the Archives" series, which consists of texts from e-mails I sent to friends describing my experiences at poetry events. I may have taken some small editorial liberties with these texts, and I have included related pictures and hyperlinks, but these are all BBB (Before BillyBlog). Remember, for me readings are enjoyable for two separate reasons: the love of poetry, and the mania for collecting. I am who I am. Enjoy!

Date: Thu, 18 Oct 2001 12:20:49 -0400

Well, as a reading went, it was successful. As a signing, not so.

I am now a member of the Poetry Society of America, by the way. Woo hoo! The reading started late, about 15 minutes so, and everyone came out but Mr. Carruth, who then emerged very slowly, shuffling with a cane. He did not look good. It was an interesting exercise to compare him to Richard Wilbur. [I had seen Wilbur read earlier in the month at the Guggenheim.] They are both 80 years old, but Wilbur acted 10 years younger and Carruth acted 20 years older. It did not bode well for signing.

The reading commenced with some words from Alice Quinn. Then David Budbill read. He was very funny and animated. Then Marilyn Hacker. She was good, but nothing to write Toronto about. Then Sam Hamill read. Sam is HC's publisher at Copper Canyon Press (they'll sell you signed Carruth broadsides, by the way, for $45). [Not anymore. But you can still buy Copper Canyon broadsides here]. Sam was rather dull. Then Galway Kinnell read and he rocked. He talked about the only time he and Hayden had ever had a tiff, when Hayden visited a few years back and "he was chainsawing like crazy in my apartment. HA! Did I say chainsawing? I meant chain-smoking! Although, in Hayden's case, chainsawing wouldn't be out of the question,." At this point, the audience was laughing and Mr. C, who was pretty much immobile, shook with laughter. It was the first sign of emotion, nay, the first sign of life, he showed since taking the stage.

Then, Joe-Anne McLaughlin-Carruth read. She's Hayden's wife and was extremely eccentric. She had what can best described as a "squeaky" voice and she read a poem she had written about Hayden's two previous wives. It was just so off the wall, I don't think anyone got it. Bizarre! She had fire red long hair and wore this weird outfit with long opaque sleeves. Then Grace Paley, who didn't come, didn't read. The Adrienne Rich told anecdotes and read. She was swell. Then Jean Valentine read from Hayden's letters, namely letters he had written to Jane Kenyon when she was dying. They were truly marvelous. The high point for me at least.

Then Hayden got up and shuffled slowly to the podium. There was a long ovation. He responded by taking the two microphones and bumping their heads together in applause, then remarked on how they looked like alien antennae. He then rambled a bit, somewhat coherently, about how old age had made him forgetful and said, "Can you imagine, coming to a reading at a place like this and forgetting to bring a book?" He then turned around to beseech his friends for help. He got a book from Galway, The Norfolk Poems of Hayden Carruth. "A rather pretentious title," remarked Mr. C. He then a read a poem about Adolf Eichmann that was very very good. Then he apologized for his voice, which sounded like a chain smoker's voice, because his throat had been damaged by a heart attack he had a few years ago. He then proceeded to read a second poem, then stopped, I think, midway and apologized that he could not go on because of his voice. That was that.

People applauded, and stood. I said to [my friend] Pam [who had accompanied me to the reading] that Hayden would probably not be signing, especially as I noticed that as he read, his hands shook terribly.

Then it was showtime and there was chaos. I can tell you this, Adrienne Rich disappeared without a trace. Not bad for a woman who has difficulty walking. People went up on stage and Janet [my other friend who had joined me] prodded me to go up there. It didn't look initially like he was signing, then it did. But I made a call that I would later regret. I figured if he's up there, he's not going anywhere fast, I'll save him for last. Despite the presence of a lovely helper, it was a challenge. I had 21 books for 7 people, and I tried to divide the labor effectively. I approached David Budbill first, and he signed The Best American Poetry [BAP] '89. As he finished, who should be on stage with him (I was below the stage on the floor), but El Doppelganger, smelling much better than Sunday (or not smelling at all, I should say), and he introduced himself to Budbill as "Frank". I prefer Doppelganger. And yes, he wore a baseball cap. I then got Galway Kinnell to sign BAP 01. Meanwhile, Pam was waiting to get Ms. Hacker. Doppelganger was hot on my heels with Galway as well. I kept going back and forth between my bags and the stage so as not to confuse myself. Pam got Marilyn H to sign (not inscribe and date) the Ploughshares. Then I got her to sign BAP 95 and 98, and the Academy of American Poets 50 yr anthology. We then figured on getting on stage for Mr. C. We waited and waited. Jean Valentine walked by. Doppelganger was four or five people ahead of me. HC signed some things, but I saw no other dealers there. Then he posed for photos and then Sam Hamill said "Sorry, we have a dinner to attend. No more autographs." Doppelganger looked disappointed, but packed up his stuff. I figured as much. Then I saw Sharon Olds with Gerald Stern and Grace Schulman (I felt so knowledgeable). I got a slight consolation prize as Sharon signed her page in BAP 01. "This is a nice pen!" she exclaimed. I would have had shots at Stern, but my master list killed the printer paper at R, so I didn't have it to tell me Stern was in Jorie Graham's Ecco anthology, which I had with me. A cursed book, it seems, as I missed Galway on that score too. I also missed that Olds was in BAP 99. Meanwhile, Pam was getting Jean Valentine's signatures in my BAP 89 and 96, and in [my friend] Brian's Poets for Life. We somehow missed Hacker in that book too. Sorry Brian.

As we left, HC was in the lobby with Sam Hamill, who was being very protective. I heard him say sternly that Hayden was not signing any more because he was tired. I would have taken a shot, but I was intimidated by the fact that Sharon Olds, Marilyn Hacker and Gerald Stern were standing by and I didn't want to look like a scoundrel. Brian, on the other hand, I explained to Pam, would have not cared and succeeded in either getting everything signed, or having Sam Hamill chase him from the building angrily.

All in all: here's the score sheet. Out of 6/21/28 (6 poets, 21 books, 28 signatures possible), we hit on 4+1/8/9+1. The +1 is Olds, as a bonus. But Rich and Carruth were goose eggs and accounted for 15 of these signatures and 9 of the books that went untouched.

But, what's important here is the poetry, and the fact that I may have witnessed Mr. Carruth's last appearance, most definitely in NYC. It would not surprise me if the next time I hear his name in conjunction with a reading, it will be for a tribute at the 92nd Street Y.

As a postscript, Mr. Carruth is a lot sturdier than I thought. God bless him for that. He celebrated his eighty-sixth birthday this past August 3.

Here follows a review of the event from the Poets & Writers website:


postmark 10.19.01

An audience of over two hundred people attended a birthday tribute to the poet Hayden Carruth on October 17 in Manhattan. The event, which was sponsored by the Poetry Society of America, Poets House, the NYU Creative Writing Program, the Academy of American Poets, the YMCA National Writer's Voice, and Copper Canyon Press, was held at the Great Hall of Cooper Union on the corner of Twelfth Avenue and Seventh Street. Carruth, who turned 80 in August, recently published Doctor Jazz: Poems 1996-2000 (Copper Canyon, 2001).

Marilyn Hacker, Galway Kinnell, Joe-Anne McLaughlin, Adrienne Rich, Jean Valentine, and other friends and peers of Carruth read his poetry, which is collected in nearly 30 books published during the last half-century, and shared memories of their personal relationships with the poet.

"The only way to pave a road is to pour asphalt," the poet David Budbill remembered Carruth saying, in reference to the work ethic of a writer. Poet and founding editor of Copper Canyon Press, Sam Hamill, captured the range and quantity of Carruth's poetry by noting that it moved "from the epigrammatic to the epic."

Jean Valentine read from letters that Carruth had written to Jane Kenyon in 1994, a year before her death from leukemia, in which he describes the joy of watching a rogue mushroom grow in his house-a pleasure, he noted, surpassing that provided by many an abstract painting.

After reading a selection of his poems, Adrienne Rich spoke of her connection to Carruth: "I don't know how I would have written poetry without a sense of Hayden as a reader."

From the stage radiated an undeniable warmth, and the real celebration was not so much about any particular Hayden Carruth poem, but rather about the intertwining of individual lives as the result of a sense of community nurtured by poetry.

In fact, no poems were read from his newest collection, and when Carruth finally stepped to the podium he thanked his friends for "reading these poems of mine, most of which I didn't remember." Then, realizing he had forgotten his own books and had nothing from which to read, he turned to Galway Kinnell and borrowed a copy from him. The simple act captured perfectly the way these writers had sustained one another for many years.

Of course, in New York, events are still shadowed by the tragedy of September 11, a point acknowledged by Galway Kinnell who said, "For me, in these sad and difficult weeks, this is a bright moment."

-Andy Carter

And finally, read a post here from earlier this year about the poster I had brought to the reading to be signed, and how I did get it signed, but not at the reading.

Tuesday, April 17, 2001

From the Archives: Larry Rivers at Lord & Taylor (April 17, 2001)

This is part of my "From the Archives" series, which consists of texts from e-mails I sent to friends describing my experiences at arts & literary events. I may have taken some small editorial liberties with these texts, and I have included related pictures and hyperlinks, but these are all BBB (Before BillyBlog). Remember, for me these events are enjoyable for two separate reasons: the love of art/poetry, and the mania for collecting. I am who I am. Enjoy!

The following is a recap of an event I attended on my lunch break, where the artist Larry Rivers was celebrating the launch of his relationship with Lord & Taylor Department stores. I went primarily to see Rivers due to his association with the New York School of Poets (Ashbery, Koch, Schuyler, O'Hara) and it sounded like it would be a cool event. And, it was during working hours, so I could run over during a lunch break. No baby sitter required. Rivers died sixteen months after this event (New York Times obituary reprinted here). The poster below, from the event, depicts "Straps and Belts Can Make a Turban, 2001". This is, I believe, the only place on the web you can see this piece, at least based on my humble estimation.

I normally post these way back at the start of BillyBlog, in chronological order, but this one's an amazing little story, and quite funny too. The e-mail was sent to my friends Brian and Hubert. Brian was my mentor who taught me much about book signings and author events.

From: "Bill Cohen"
Subject: A Little Brian in all of Us
Date: Tue, 17 Apr 2001 13:44:10 -0400


Larry Rivers actually designed part of this collection for Lord & Taylor. Pretty funky. I get there at 12:05, 25 minutes early, and there's a jazz trio set up, playing bebop, Larry's in there somewhere as maybe two dozen L&T employees and people who think they're
important observe. And a line. A line of maybe 40 people, mostly septuagenarians and older, dabbled with rich New York City housewives.

I get in line, some old couple falls in behind me, the dude cracking awful unfunny jokes forever. No dealers in sight. I have come with a Lord & Taylor bag with pants bought at Lord & Taylor and an actual L&T receipt. Oops! How did that bag of books get in there?

12:30. Showtime. A muffled announcement from the front. Unintelligible, a woman with a L&T badge and a smirky smile weaves back....."In case you couldn't hear the announcement, Mr. Rivers will meet everyone and you can get a poster, but he will NOT be signing autographs."

Nobody around me seems to care. The old guy says he'll sign my poster for me. I think, well he might not be signing autographs, but he sure will sign a few books! A forlorn looking tall man comes back with a Larry Rivers coffee table book the size of Altadena, and speaks to his wife, several feet ahead of me. My eyes bore into the back of his head.

And so it goes. Creep creep. Larry's at a table with maybe thirty people hanging our watching. I formulate plan B (plan A, of course, is that he signs all 6 items I've brought with me). I prepare myself. Big book guy puts the book down in front of him, it looks like Larry is signing, but I can't
tell. The universe doesn't come crashing down.

It's my turn a few moments later when some pushy broad (the correct term in this case) cuts in front of me and starts hugging old Larry, who, by the way, don't look so hot, sorta trembly and frail, with hearing aid, etc. He gets up and says something to the band. She's still there. "Well I gotta meet all these people," he says to her dismissively, she backs off. The spotlight falls on me.

I step forward, raising the books in front of me. "Hello Mr. Rivers..."

"I'm not signing those books!" he says, gruffly. But I detect that he is distracted, perhaps
confused, and I am, after all Mr. Innocent.

In an uncanny move, that impressed even me, my Brian-honed signing mechanisms kicked in and I did the only thing I could to guarantee survival: I pretended I
didn't understand a word he said.

Meanwhile, his body was acting independently of his words. He picked up a sharpie pen (sorry Brian) that he had with him, and I said, "I just have two books (I didn't want to push it)."

[Note: My apology to Brian stems from Brian's mandate that books not be signed with Sharpies. He maintains that the ink bleeds more than other pens, and that it also fades faster than others, as well. This has not stopped authors from using them, however.]

Perhaps the curiosity factor kicked in, perhaps he was merely confused, I sensed tension around me, I was waiting for some cheery-cheeked nymphet to swoop in and cart me off to Security for harassing their guest.

"What's this?" he said, pen in hand.

"This is the David Lehman book about the New York School." [My selfishness revealed! I do

declare this to be one of the coolest books in my collection, as it is inscribed by Kenneth Koch and John Ashbery, and signed by David Lehman, Jane Freilicher, and now, Larry Rivers "Rivers"]

"And this is...." he blank-signed the title page (not inscribed on the half-title as you [Brian] had desired) of Some American History, the June Jordan collaboration you [Brian] mentioned). I would have gone for the O'Haras too, but pushy woman had reinserted herself at the table with the poster for the event begging Larry to sign it for her. He kept saying "No autographs, no! I can't do it!" as the ink dried on my two freshly-signed books. I had to interrupt the poster girl t
o get a poster, as she was too caught up in the gentle argument unfolding at the table.

I fled, passing the big book guy who leered at me as I smiled sweetly back.

Success? Perhaps. A gentler soul would have faired much worse, but I justified it with the idea that if I'm going to stand in the lobby at Lord and Taylor during my lunch hour and listen to mediocre jazz played over a tinny sound system, I was going to get something out of it other than a poster and a fleeting memory of an aging artist seated behind a folding table.