Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Best American Poetry 2006, part 2

Last week I talked briefly about the Best American Poetry (BAP) series and how it is the basis for my book collecting mania which, although it has waned in recent years, still resides in the back of my mind throughout the year. That original post is here.

This section will concern itself with the annual reading at The New School here in Manhattan, which I attended on Thursday, September 21, 2006. The reading was held at Tischman Auditorium down on 12th Street, and featured, along with the editors, twelve poets in all. I will link the poets and their poems below, when possible.

David Lehman, the Series Editor, began with opening remarks, talking about the series, the good people at Scribner, which has been the publisher for 18 years, the format for the evening’s proceedings, and the success of Billy Collins, the Guest Editor. Lehman's opening remarks can be seen here on YouTube.

Billy Collins then took the stage and discussed the process of selecting the 75 poems in the volume, from out of the thousands of magazines and journals that were in contention. Collins is a people’s poet and his strength (and weakness, to his crticis) is his accessibility. He said he leaned toward selecting poems that had a certain “daffiness, lunacy, [and a] light grip on concensus that passes as social reality.”

He then launched the evening with a quote by the novelist Tom Robbins. Actually, he paraphrased, because the words I scribbled in my notes didn’t match up with the actual quote, identifiable by the common element of it’s final payoff (in true Robbins-esque fashion) and worth repeating here:

“Poetry is nothing more than an intensification or illumination of common objects and everyday events until they shine with their singular nature, until we can experience their power, until we can follow in their steps in the dance, until we can discern what parts they play in the Great Order of Love. How is this done? By fucking around with syntax.”

Collins intro can be seen here on YouTube.

Laura Cronk was the first reader. She read her contribution “Sestina for the Newly Married” and a second poem called “Bawdy.” No links available, but you can check out another of her poems here.

Next up was George Green, whose poem was entitled “The Death of Winckelman,” the first stanza and a half of which can be read here. He also read another poem called “The People in Hopper’s Paintings.” He clarified that the poem was about Edward Hopper’s paintings, not Dennis Hopper, although he noted that the actor wrote poetry as well. I liked this one better than the first.

Next we had Rachel Hadas, whose “Bird, Weasel, Fountain” was in this year’s BAP. She then read her poem “The Compact,” which appeared in her book Laws:

The Compact

The short steep ride in the red bus uphill
from the Girls’ School to the Boys’ School left
time to whip our compacts out and powder
cheeks, noses. What for? For the boys? Well, yes,
we might have answered if we had been asked.
No one asked. Good thing. We didn’t know.
Those uphill rides were forty years ago.

If every gesture halves a hidden whole,
if every moment twins a hidden half,
then my thumb clicking that pink plastic catch
(sweet whiff of powder; flash of tiny mirror)
opens not only the compact but also
the first half of a parenthesis
stretching its arms out, longing to be closed.

Hadas was followed by Joy Katz (left) and her poem “Just a second ago.” Her additional poem was entitled “Quorum.”

Next was Jennifer L. Knox (right), who was one of the favorites of the evening. Her poem “The Laws of Probability in Levittown,” was hilarious. I am reprinting it in full here because it was my favorite of the evening:

The Laws of Probability in Levittown

I've been smoking so much pot lately,
I figure out what my poems are going to do
before I write them, which means when I finally
sit down in front of the typewriter...well...you know...

I moved back in with my parents,
and I'm getting really good at watching TV.
Soon as I saw the housewife last night on "Inevitable Justice,"
I knew her husband was the killer and I told her so and I was right.

Remember whenever Jamie Lee Curtis would come on
TV and we'd yell, Hermaphrodite! all happy? I maintain
her father, Tony, is an American treasure, and have prepared a mental
list of examples why, so should we happen to meet again, my shit's backed up.

There were too many
therapists in the city--97% of all therapists
are certifiable ding-dongs by nature which is fine
if you live in Platteville, Nebraska, where there's only

like three therapists in the entire town
(the odds are in your favor) but if 10,000
therapists are lurching around the streets, chances are
1,000 will be 100% batshit nuts.

I had a choice between watching
Robert Frost talking about his backyard
on Large American Voices and Farrah Fawcett on True Hollyweird.
I chose Farrah, because I knew what was going to happen and I was right.

Here's something I've been trying
to work in: 10 rations = 1 decoration.
What do you think? 10 monologues = 5 dialogues,
10 millipedes = 1 centipede, .000001 fish = 1 microfiche...

I've got a million of those.
I wrote them down, back when I was
writing things down. But I've been thinking I should
tip the Dominoes kid more than a buck on 14. Should I?

Her book A Gringo Like Me can be ordered via this link here. Her second poem, called “Hot Ass Poem,” can be read here on another blog. I encourage a peek. It’s quite funny.

Next we had Betsy Retallack reading her poem “Roadside Special”. Unfortunately Ms. Retallack had to follow Ms. Knox, and she even acknowledged that doing so was a tough chore. Her second poem was called “There’s Nothing You Can Do About”.

Vijay Seshadri followed with his poem “Memoir,” which originally appeared in The New Yorker. Read it here. He then read “Guide for the Perplexed”

Next was Sue Ellen Thompson, a late edition to the guest list, who read per BAP poem “Body English,” followed by “The Blue Blanket,” which can be read here. Both poems deal with the loss of the poet’s mother and the complex emotions that arise out of such a momentous event.

Tony Towle was next, breaking form by reading a selected poem first, called “Serial Epigraphs,” then following with his poem “Misprision” from the anthology. You can visit his website here.

Last was Paul Violi, who read the funny “Counterman”, readble here. Check it out. Quite good. Then, his poem “Submission.”

The contributors done, Lehman retook the stage and read his poem “French Movie”. Collins then followed with “Baby Listening,” an unpublished piece that was quite good, although we were a bit distracted by the lights in the auditorium flickering, then briefly going out, before turning back on. Collins took it in stride and joked saying he couldn’t get off the stage if he couldn’t see the poem to finish it.

All in all, a good reading. Ms. Knox and Mr. Violi were my favorites, although there were none that were not enjoyable.

(To be continued….)

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