Friday, December 05, 2003

From the Archives, P.S.A. Chapbook Reading, December 5, 2003

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!

The following is the text of an e-mail to two friends about the Poetry Society of America's inaugural reading for its first Chapbook Contest winners, in which the winners read with the judges who selected their work.

Subject: PSA reading
Date: Fri, 05 Dec 2003

Good day gents:

Last night I attended:

Poetry Society of America Chapbook Reading
The Poetry Society of America presents a poetry reading of this year's prize-winning chapbooks with the winners, Paul Killebrew, Dawn Lundy Martin, Tess Taylor, Kerri Webster (bios of the four winners here), and the judges, John Ashbery, Eavan Boland, Carl Philips, and C.D. Wright.

It was a groovy reading.

First Ashbery read from Chinese Whispers, the introduced Killebrew who was good, read from his chap [entitled Forget Rita], then a poem called "John Fuckin' Ashbery" that went over well. Then Eavan Boland read. She stunk. Irish Potato Famine. Big deal. Way too serious.

[Note from the future: I'm guessing I was a bit too harsh on Ms. Boland at the time. However, these were my thoughts shortly after the event. I didn't want to self-censor myself here, although my lack of any constructive criticism is telling, for sure.]

Then Tess Taylor. She was mediocre and rather overdramatic.

[Again, perhaps my demeanor was tainted by these poets' successes vis-a-vis my relative lack of accomplishment.]

Then Carl Phillips, best of the established poets.

[Another interjection, the poetry establishment, I'm sure, would object to Phillips being regarded as better than John Ashbery, who is poetic royalty. Even I, in retrospect, raise my eyebrows at this statement.]

He was funny, ending with a hilarious homoerotic poem about cowboys. His poet Kerri Webster was very good with a series of poems loosely based on Joseph Cornell's work. Finally C.D. Wright, who was forgettable and her choice Dawn Lundy Martin, a short-haired African-American young woman whose sexual imagery was too violent and stark for my liking.

[Another interjection from the future. I'm a bit disappointed in my recollection of the reading. As you will see when I post the 2004 and 2005 recaps later on --sadly, I missed the 2006 event--I was still a bit short-sighted when it came to appreciating a good evaluation of these readings. My apologies to any of the poets who may be off-put by my retroactive dismissal of their work. This year, it seemed, I was more about the signing afterwards, than the reading itself.]

The reception was chaos. I pounced on Ashbery who signed Wakefulness, Girls on the Run and And the Stars Were Shining. Then I got Boland to sign her contributions in the Pinsky-edited America's Favorite Poems and my anthology First Loves: Poets Introduce the Essential Poems That Captivated and Inspired Them. Then I nabbed Carl Phillips, who was very flirty with me as we talked about the National Book Award reading I saw him at a few years back. He signed his contribution [the poem "A Mathematics of Breathing"] in The Best of the Best American Poetry, and his pages [the poem "Alba: Innocence"] in the volume of Ploughshares guest edited by Yusef Komunyakaa and [the poem "Of That City, the Heart"] in The Paris Review (#148, Fall 1998). I thanked him for signing them and told my J.D.McClatchy story about his empathizing with my mania for obssessive collecting. Phillips recalled a story McClatchy tells about how, as a young poet, J.D. asked W.H. Auden to sign a book and Auden had J.D. turn his back and used his back as a table to lean the book against.

I then went out to the foyer for a glass of wine. There I got C.D. Wright to sign her entries in Pinsky's The Handbook of Heartbreak: 101 Poems of Lost Love and Sorrow, my NEA Writing America booklet (now signed by poets from 12 of the 50 states, one of my favorite items) and above Ferlinghetti in my United States of Poetry book. Wright was kind of cold and dismissive.

Then I spotted David Lehman and had him sign my Best American Poetry 2002. I had my printout (23 pages) listing all the items I had with me and every poet appearing in them. It came in handy, but alas, Vijay Seshadri and Marie Ponsot had already signed what I had with them as contributors. I did also get Alice Quinn, The New Yorker poetry editor to sign her forward in First Loves. We chatted about the project. How the editor [Carmela Ciuraru] had asked several poets to write the intro, but they all wanted to contribute instead (it's a book with poets introducing poems that inspired them as young writers), so Alice ended up writing the forward. She recommended, if I liked this book, which I do, to check out something Richard Howard did with the poems of Elizabeth Bishop. But I can't seem to find it on the net (the title eludes me and I can't track it down). More later. [I later grabbed a copy online, it is called Preferences: 51 American Poets Choose Poems From Their Own Work and From the Past (1974).]

Anyway, I caught John Ashbery again and had him sign my friend Brian's Strand anthology [The Contemporary American Poets] (merry holidays!) and then went back to good old Carl and had him sign 3 more Best American Poetry volumes, flirting shamelessly. Yes, boys, I've resorted to whoring myself for signatures.

In addition, I purchased the 4 chapbooks ($20 for the set, nice little "first book" items) by the new poets, all of which I got inscribed.

Totals for the night: 10 poets, 21 signatures.

Plus, I hit 12th Street Books before the reading and found a nice hardcover copy of e.e. cummings' 95 Poems ($7.95) and a 1st edition of Sandra Cisneros' Loose Woman ($5.00).

Not a bad night,


p.s. Doppelganger was there. Baseball hat. No leg cast.

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

From the Archives: Louise Gluck and Mark Strand at the Russian Samovar (April 29, 2003)

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!

This was originally titled "How I Pissed off the Poet Laureate"

April 29, 2003, 6:50pm Russian Samovar W. 52nd St---waiting for a reading to begin---Louise Glück & Mark Strand---nice pair o' poets ~!~ Should have something to say. Should say. Dinner, bag of Arare [Japanese rice crackers] & red bean dessert treat ....

Let's see how this goes-- I left behind tons of stuff. We shall see. We shall see.

8:50pm PacificW36 [Meaning, on the W train between Pacific Street and 36th Street] Train luck galore-- the reading was okay. Glück was good at first, but I am certain she will never read there again. She read two poems, both with multiple parts. They were good, but she lost confidence as the reading progressed. The Samovar is not a silent hall. It is upstairs at a restaurant --- a Russian restaurant with noisy patrons. So, as L.G. read, there was an occasional buzzer sound...My guess is that it was the kitchen buzzing up a dumbwaiter or something. I was in front. I could hear it. I'm guessing Louise could too. Plus there is the hum of downstairs conversation, maybe a phone ringing, & distinct, the shooka-shooka-shooka of a martini being rigorously & expertly shaken. I watched her sit down, a grim look on her face. The man next to her bent his ear, she whispered to him. He patted her arm reassuringly.

Then Strand, who gave me a candy before the reading. A friend of his arrived, seated near me, explained that someone had given her the candy & she had no desire to keep it around--Mark peeled the foil and eyed the chocolate ball suspiciously, then bit, then consumed. Later, they offered me one & the plastic container got passed around. It was tasty. I was going to put the wrapper here -> but it was too big, so next page it is.

It is Austrian! Was delicious!

Anyway, Strand was good, read some new work, one called "2002" about Strand not waiting for death. Death waiting for him.

I am not thinking of Death, but Death is thinking of me.
He leans back in his chair, rubs his hands, strokes
His beard and says, “I’m thinking of Strand, I’m thinking
That one of these days I’ll be out back, swinging my scythe
Or holding up my hourglass to the moon, and Strand will appear
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
O let it be soon. Let it be soon.

[This poem subsequently appeared in his book Man and Camel.]

He read something from Blizzard of One & then a 7-part piece he did for a classical chamber music piece --Haydn? [It was, in fact, Haydn’s Seven Last Words of Christ. You can read about this piece further in a review of Strand's book Man and Camel, in which this work appears. The review is here, in the blog One Poet's Notes]

Hmmm. L.G. looked scrunched & unhappy the whole time. I approached her post-Strand for signings. She signed/inscribed 2 of her books to me (Vita Nova & Meadowlands, then Writing America [NEA-published pb from a few years back... I've never seen another and mine is signed by Robert Pinsky, Linda Pastan, Rita Dove, Joy Harjo, Alberto Ríos, Mark Strand, J.D. McClatchy, Phillip Levine, Charles Wright, Louise Glück and John Haines, each writer representing a state.], my spare copy of CAP [The Contemporary American Poets] & her ed. of BAP [The Best American Poetry] (93). 5 signs in all. I had more, but....

But she was in a bad mood, remember? I was saying, please sign, blah blah then:

BC [duh, me] - I've been in New York for 7 years, this is the first chance I've got to hear you read.

LG - Well, I'm sorry this was your introduction to me.

BC - What do you mean?

LG - It was dreadful! The sound was bad, there was too much noise, I couldn't hear myself think!

BC - It wasn't so bad.

LG looks at me like that was an underhanded remark. I recognize this, stammer:

BC - I've been to several readings here and there have been much wor---(I catch myself)

She is regarding me with a you-better-quit-while-you're-ahead look, a there's-nothing-you-can- say-that-will-make-me-feel-better look.

BC -Thank you for signing my books.

LG - (A look that acknowledges my thanks, while letting me know she is done with me)

Strand, however, was jovial & inscribed a pb copy of his Selected Poems (top on a stack of 5) "Could you inscribe it?" I asked.

Strand replied, "Inscribe it, eh? It's worth less that way."

I coyly respond, "Oh, I don't know about that!"

Then, he blank-signed the CAP anthology on the title page, BAP 2000, First Loves, and BAP 93.

Hey, I'm out of practice, 2 poets, 11 signs. not too shabby.

And I score points for getting home, pulling in 95th St at 9:20pm!


I recreated the journal entry as it was written, without the candy wrapper, of course, which is taped to the page of the journal.

Think Louise will remember me? It is doubtful she'll ever do the Samovar again.