June 06, 2007

Recent Readings

Nick was kind enough to nominate me for a Thinking Blogger Award--thanks, Nick! He was honoring, let's be clear, my April productivity (versus my May sloth). I'll do my proper TBA post early next week. In the meantime, let me earn the award by actually writing about some poetry matters: I went to several good readings in the last month, but didn't get to comment on any of them.
A rundown....

-June 5 at Miller Cabin (in Rock Creek Park), with Deborah Ager and Tung-Hui Hu: Lovely setting, despite numerous mosquito bites; this was the inaugural reading of the Miller Cabin season. Deborah read some of the revised poems for April, which I'm really excited about, as well as some of the core poems that will go in Midnight Voices, to be published by Cherry Grove (WordTech) next year. One funny thing; the host for the evening pointed out that Deborah has a lot of stars (/night) in her poems, and once said it was impossible to ignore.

Deborah commented on her blog that Tung-Hui had an unusual and almost offhand reading style, and I agree. I think it's because his poems often contain lines that are so simple and forceful that he is wary of seeming melodramatic--for example, his poem "School of Taxidermy":

Listen, see that boy who discovers
a dead squirrel at the foot of the tree,
he thinks it is worth something,
he thinks he will skin it and they
will have a fair and sell it. And he
tells his friend and his friend is
excited, too. Then night falls and
they return to fetch the broken
corpse which is encrusted like
a jewel with moss or a cake with
crumbs, the maggots white,
swarming, churning away
the squirrel’s eyes. And he does
not know how to rid himself
of it now that he has it.

That boy is me I was that boy


As a reader Tung-Hui wants to keep things casual and not pretentious, which I empathize with, but he risks seeming to dismiss his own poem before it even ends. That said, the work itself is beautiful, smart, and bracing--I'd unhesitatingly recommend either his first book from University of Georgia, or the new one from Ausable (Mine, pictured here, which won the Eisner Prize). And the only other poet I can think of who has that same strange way of reading his work is Charles Wright...not bad company to be in.

-May 14 at Chapters, with Robert Hass: I'd never had the opportunity to see Bob Hass in person before, and he was absolutely charming as he read from a collection of his Poet's Choice columns, which ran in the Washington Post Book World some years ago. One of the best selections was on Ko Un, the Korean poet, monk, and dissident, who committed to a "Ten Thousand Lives" project, writing a poem for each person he had ever met, as a way to maintain sanity during a long imprisonment. Ko Un read at the Folger a couple of years ago and if you've never seen a copy of Traveler Maps, a limited edition book that captures some of the Ten Thousand Lives poems, I highly recommend it as a work of verbal and visual beauty.

We've had a number of Poet's Choice columnists since Hass, and though all have been very skillful, I was amazed to look back and realize how much personal detail he invested in his columns. One of my favorites is a "Christmas" essay in which he reminisced on Boxing Day in 1970s England, and enjoying the lyrics of Ira Gershwin and Cole Porter in the company of friends. Hass is also unapologetically political, then and now: his platforms on supporting education and the environment are persuasive, but I'm sure the Post must have been a little nervous to give him such a big megaphone. He puts his money where his mouth is, spending time each year on the Watershed Environmental Poetry Festival.

I just came away from this reading really *liking* the guy. Hard to believe that the author of a prodigy stroke like Field Work would also be someone fun to have a beer with at the end of a day.

-May 13 at the Iota, with Ellen Cole and...me: Oh my goodness, what can I say? Given that it was Mother's Day I didn't expect a crowd--a ridiculous number of my area poet friends have also become mothers in the past year or two--so it was a delight to have a packed house. High school folks, college folks, family, friends from past workshops--thank you, thank you. I read exclusively from the April poems and had to adjust my timing--encountering, for really the first time, a significant amount of laughter in response to the poems (laughing with, not at, thank goodness). A bit of a challenge--usually I'm much more practiced with my delivery--but such a thrill. Ellen had a great set of poems, my favorites relating to the burning down of her house about a year ago (talk about salvaging some good from a bad situation). Miles was a great host and the open mic was also very strong (featuring uppity young ladies like my sister and Alanna of Poetry Out Loud fame). This will go down as one of my favorite readings, no question.

Okay, a sunny and only mildly humid day awaits. Off I go--

1 comment:

Nick said...

Enjoyed this post and the anecdotes - even the mosquito bites didn't bother me. Keep on truckin'