Friday, September 16, 2005

Best American Poetry Reading

Last night I attended a reading at The New School for The Best American Poetry 2005. Every year they have one of these and every year, I try to attend. Those who don't know me well should know that I am an avid fan and collector of poetry, with an emphasis on anthologies. The BAP series, as I affectionately call it, is the cornerstone of my collection, and I possess all 19 volumes, back to the inaugural 1988 edition. All in hardcover, all signed by multiple poets.

It is a passion and an obsession. So when Melanie had the great opportunity to see Alanis Morrisette and the Rolling Stones last night at Giants Stadium, I was not so jealous, knowing I would be in an air-conditioned auditorium listening to poetry.

Normally after such events I send out to a select few individuals a recap of the event and a summary of my signing exploits. I figured I'd try it here in an abridged version.

BAP '05 has a high concentration of New Yorkers, so the following people were listed as reading on the program: Paul Muldoon, Shanna Compton, Elaine Equi, Edward Field, Leonard Gontarek, George Green, Marilyn Hacker, Matthea Harvey, Stacey Harwood, Jennifer Michael Hecht, Vicki Hudspith, Sarah Manguso, D. Nurkse, James Richardson, Jerome Sala, Jason Schneiderman, Susan Wheeler, Matthew Yeager, David Lehman, Mary Karr, John Ashbery and Christine Scanlan. Twenty-two in all. Enough for any autograph-hungry anthology-collector to drool over.

Just prior to the event I watched enviously as the contributors milled about passing their copies around like high school students, getting signatures from one another. I was dismayed by the absence of John Ashbery from the crowd. He is usually seated right up front and is always amenable to signing books after the event.

Paul Muldoon as guest editor and David Lehman as series editor sat on the stage. Lehman introduced Muldoon who made some general remarks and then emceed throughout, introducing each of the poets using the blurbs from the contributor's notes. Lehman read an A.R. Ammons poem first, then Ashbery came out on stage from the side where there is a green room. He looked healthy and read his poem and a new, unpublished piece called "A Worthy Country." Notable image: "The crescent moon hung in the sky like a parrot on its perch." When finished, he exited the stage the same way he came. That was all I saw of John Ashbery that night, although I later overheard David Lehman telling someone that he had heard John was seen walking alone by himself to Lulu's, which was where everyone met after the event.

The reading proceeded with each contributor being introduced, coming up on stage, reading their poem from the book and then returning to the audience. They went in alphabetical order. After Vicki Hudspith, Muldoon read a David Justice poem published posthumously. He then announced that Mary Karr had missed her flight and proceeded with the remaining eight readers.

I was going to list all the titles of the poems but i do not have the time. By the way, the cover of the redesigned book is done by Alex Katz.

I will again spare the play-by-play for the signing part of the night, but will summarize:

Doppelganger was there. For those of you who do not know of or about Doppelganger, he will be discussed in a future post. I obtained 16 signatures of the 20 possible (I exclude Ashbery and Karr). In the hubbub, I was not able to get to Marilyn Hacker, Shanna Compton, George Green or Christine Scanlon. In additional BAP volumes, I obtained 7 additional signatures from Equi, Harvey, Lehman, Manguso, Nurske and Wheeler. Also, Lehman inscribed for me a copy of Evening Sun, as well as proofs of the same and BAP 96. Equi and Sala (husband and wife) signed their pages in issue 1 of New American Writing, and were pleased to see a copy of it. Muldoon signed his hefty book of Poems for me. Field signed his contribution in my Exquisite Corpse anthology, Preferences, and a translation of an Inuit poem he did on a Poetry in Motion postcard.

All in all, 32 autographs from 16 poets. A wonderful night of reading and signatures to boot. Not to focus too much on the signings, but a word more on the readings. Muldoon has always struck me a serious yet funny poet. His work that I'm familiar with is laced with humor. His demeanor at readings (this is the fourth or fifth time I have heard him) is always bright and humorous. That said, a significant portion of the poems I heard were in that vein. They were edgy, unusual and not overwhelmingly "academic". I prefer that same sort of demeanor in my own poetry as well. 'Twas a wonderful time indeed.

Added 12:31 PM EST:

For a different perspective of the reading, from one of the poets, check out

No comments: