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.