The 250: Poets’ Night Out

Interrupting Infinity Exclusive Commentary. © 2012 by David St.-Lascaux

Chancellors’ Reading at the American Academy of Poets 2011 Poets’ Forum
By David St.-Lascaux

UNTIL MY SON WAS BORN in the Spring / the Fall was my favorite season
Between its cornucopia / New England’s leaves / and Fall’s stars and constellations – the cynosure Arcturus / the regal Rigel / old friend Aldebaran / Orion – I’ve always loved to go out at night in the Fall

City life in the Twenty-first in the photon-polluted East demits the ancient pleasure of star-gazing enjoyed by our pre-electric predecessors (although we have been recently informed that our evolutionary antecedents were sensate to ionic fields)
Instead / our urban awe / under faded expectations of which most aren’t even aware / is limited to human substitutes
And so to the Academy of American Poets’s Poets’ Forum on Contemporary Poetry at the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts at NYU to see fourteen of its Chancellors Reading “from their latest work”

Chancellors reading were Victor Hernández Cruz / Mark Doty / Rita Dove / Marilyn Hacker / Lyn Hejinian / Juan Felipe Herrera / Naomi Shihab Nye / Sharon Olds / Ron Padgett / Carl Phillips / Marie Ponsot / Kay Ryan / Gerald Stern and Anne Waldman
Although the Academy’s sumptuary terminology might suggest it / the Chancellors weren’t bedecked in velvet regalia / although two wore no-doubt trademark headgear / however / their readings were / with rare exception / academic in tone
A number followed the rule of three-and-five / three poems in five minutes / so as not to overtax absorption
Most read with the polished projection / clarity and measure that define effective performance of poetry
Several delightfully read with the dramatic coloratura and humanity that distinguish the connecting from the droning dull
The program didn’t include text / nor the proscenium supertitles / although the need for visualized content in all poetry readings is blindingly obvious

Victor Hernández Cruz’s most recent collection of poems / we learn / is In the Shadow of Al-Andalus / Islamic Iberia / about one of whose regents / John II / we learn from Wikipedia / ironically

had no taste except for ornament and no serious interest except in amusements such as verse-making…

Both seasonal allusions and poetic / dreamt-of darkness were evoked
Mark Doty / In “Deep Night” / read engagingly about the first night of Summer / “the evening of the first fireflies”
Rita Dove / a gifted speaker / about metaphorical / nocturnal crickets and defining boundary walls
Marilyn Hacker praised the Occupy Wall Street protesters / and remembered / to my celestial delight / how “Deneb descends the stone temple”
Similephile Lyn Hejinian / from her Book of a Thousand Eyes / spoke about “the May month,” and closed with finding “that lost serenity / while I awake from it ”
Juan Felipe Herrera observed that “Every day we get more music… another law… sidewalks are cleaned… yesterday homeless and without papers…”
Naomi Shihab Nye “tried to get Americans to [listen]… but they were too involved to imagine…”
Sharon Olds feministically / humorously / litely condemned the catalytic combination of blow and job / riffing George Carlin’s earlier “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television”
Ron Padgett opened with a wisecrack two-liner and proceeded to contemplate our carnivoristic disregard for animals (“would such a person as I make a good animal?”) / closing with an ekphrastic / poet-on-painting / time-and-space-travel musement on the long-dead subject of a portrait on view in Copenhagen by the long-dead Dane C.A. Jensen / in the end wishing that we “could see it, too”
• Carl Phillips read something depressing / sotto voce
Marie Ponsot / the unfortunately semi-audible nonagenerian / alluded to John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice / and “the music of the spheres” / “we’re all at the edge” / she reminded / “we overlap” / closing with her brilliant / heartfelt “Testing Gardening” / reintroducing the seasonal element

… For these few spring weeks you’re a sprawl
of flowers, you green the summer toward its rest
In fruited autumn.

(You can read the rest online at Google Books)

Rockstar Kay Ryan deadpan demonstrated why she is the Rockstar Poet / meting out five Ryanine poemettes / including “On the Nature of Understanding” (“you thought you had a deal”) / the snarky throwaway “Ship in a Bottle” / and a cubist one in which the non-conformist is wry- and subtly shown to be subversive to society (“a kettle can’t be bigger than the table… no one can get along the other way”)
Gerald Stern materially reminisced about his forebearers’ Russian diaspora (“as for the samovar / they threw it in the river”) / later juxtaposing an alluded-to / unmessianic donkey ride with male materia (an antique “Fiat 500”) / closing with a touching remembrance about the first days of a lifelong love (“the morning we started counting”)
Anne Waldman manically raged ad infinitum / orating truth to power
One hopes that she and others will go downtown to read / the streets are where they’re needed

Brooklyn poet Tina Chang recently said that she always comes away from a reading with something / if only to want to learn more about a poet’s work
For this auditor / it was Hacker who inspired / finding an earlier work not read / discovered after coming home
Hacker’s rebuttal to François Villon’s ubi sunt “Ballade des dames du temps jadis” (“The Ballad of Dead Ladies”) / “Ballad of Ladies Lost and Found” / one learns / recalls transcendentalist Margaret Fuller / who said of Mrs Edgeworth / her paradigm in Women in the Nineteenth Century /

Of poetry, she knows nothing, and her religion consists in honor and loyalty to obligations once assumed… Her whole tendency is practical

Although Ms Fuller may have disavowed poetry / Ms Hacker’s “Ballad” deploys the medium to challenge / perhaps / the sublimity of gaseous stars / and mitigate our mere / terrestrial humanity / from which

Tomorrow night the harvest moon will wane
that’s floodlighting the silhouetted wood
Make your own footnotes, it will do you good
Emeritæ have nothing to explain
She wasn’t very old, or really plain –
my age exactly, volumes incomplete
“The life, the life, will it never be so sweet?”

She wrote it once, I quote it once again
midlife at midnight when the moon is full
and I can almost hear the warning bell
offshore, sounding through starlight like a stain
on waves that heaved over what she began

Maybe I was wrong about the alpha stars / maybe / as the singer says in closing out a tabla-and-sitar version of “Sweet Child o’ Mine” on YouTube / “We are all rockstars” / in any case / it hardly matters
The times keep changing / the chancel the clergy / and the anonymous we / the people / downtown / the fireflies against the selfish Age of I / Individual / Indifferent / no longer Innocent

# # #

Leave a Reply