In part, this was due to a perfectly healthy urge to disengage a bit from the bizzier bits of the po-world and just do what I do, but here I am, nursing a slight hangover, writing about poetry stuff again. I suppose the weather got warmer, and I headed out of the apartment a bit more. But more to the point, the events around town were less dreadful–indeed, it’s been a good time for poetry events.
Aside from the Carmine St. reading (located, despite its name, on Avenue A), I hadn’t really been going too much in the way of public poetry stuff in recent months. One can drown in that crap here, spending day after day going to reading after reading of God knows what… even if one knows the sponsoring organization, magazine, or whatever.
But New York City has actually been living up to its reputation of late. In the first instance, David Yezzi’s Dirty Dan dramatic monologues played to a packed house at the Bowery Poetry Club on St. Patrick’s Day. A series of poems with distinct speakers delivered as if in a bar by a series of actors including Yezzi himself, they were reflections on loss and death that managed to be moving rather than maudlin. I wasn’t wild about the musical interludes, but then prolonged exposure has probably made me allergic to the “indie guy with a guitar” thing. There are probably at least five of them in my building, after all.
Then on the next day, I had my first public reading in a very long time in Brooklyn, organized by poetry impresario Michele Madigan Somerville with a broadly Irish theme. I read some stuff I wrote over there–references to the Corrib River, Phoenix Park, Dublin 4, and the like probably made my reading Hibernian enough despite my German surname, etc., ad nauseam. I generally liked the readers. While I’m not quite sure what the octagon in Michael Sweeney’s poem was supposed to represent, it didn’t keep me from enjoying it, and Barbara O’Dair’s story about her father’s run-in with the law at a local swimming pool was witty, well-drawn, and well-paced, with a killer reveal at the end. Michele herself manages to capture Irish Americana in her poems in a way that isn’t that stilted or cloyingly sentimental.
And then on Sunday, we had Kate Benedict and Anna Evans over at Bar on A for the Carmine St. reading. Attendance was decent by New York standards, and Bar on A, as is its wont, let us drink at happy hour prices.
And then last night, I went to a reading by authors from Red Hen Press–poets Caleb Barber and Ernest Hilbert and novelist David King. Red Hen reminds me in many ways of my own publisher, Seven Towers, in that they organize readings, have a highly eclectic list, and have the funny notion that if you do a bit of fucking promo, you’ll sell more books.
One of the real weaknesses of American poetry is that it tends toward sameness–in part, one can perhaps blame the MFAs, as well as, perhaps, the sheer number of poets out there in the U.S. (What’s the most important thing going on in American poetry at the moment? I haven’t a fucking clue. Nor do you.) But the end result is that we tend to cluster in circle-jerky clots of people whose work is rather similar, really. I certainly resented getting shipped off to the New Formalist ghetto within weeks of returning here in 2008.
The Red Hen lot, to their credit, have a more varied catalog, with many of their authors coming from well outside the usual MFA route to books. Certainly, between Caleb Barber’s almost anecdotal poetry set, as a rule, in small-town Washington State and Hilbert’s far more urbane style, the audience heard a variety uncommon in most poetry readings–and this before King did his bit from a novel based loosely on the Cupid and Psyche story. The end result was an unusually diverse reading (in the bast sense), as well as a consistently high-quality one.
For all of the inevitable griping, this is a good place to be a poet, in spite of everything.