June 04, 2009

Lucky Stars

I've made peace with the fact that I never take photos--even now, with my shiny new digital camera--but I wish I'd captured a frame or two from last night, when I hosted an absolutely delightful reading at the Arts Club of Washington with poets Jessica Garratt and Lisa Russ Spaar. Beforehand I had dinner with the two poets and Kriston Capps, a friend of Jessica's from grad school days and a writer who is making important contributions to deepening arts journalism in the DC area. In the typical big/small world connections of the literary scene, we soon uncovered a network of connections ranging from "oh, your editor's wife is my professor" to "oh, you know her? I was best friends with her in middle school."

The theme of the reading was "Flirting with the Master" Emily Dickinson, and thanks in part to generous coverage in the Washington Post Book World calendar, we had big crowd that dashed in between rainstorms. My hope with these readings is to bring people in with the attraction of a canonical writer, and send them out with an appreciation of contemporary talents. Mission accomplished last night, as both Jessica and Lisa read unforgettable work threaded through with connections to the Belle of Amherst. Jessica shared an anecdote that I had not heard before, in which an incomplete childhood lesson on telling time had left Dickinson, for years, without practical comprehension of a clock or the passages of minutes into an hour. Lisa read snippets from ED's Master letters, and ignited our appreciation of her as "not the lady in white, lowering a basket of gingerbread to the neighborhood children," but as a writer of "erotic majesty."

Who doesn't need a little erotic majesty come June?

Because we had such skilled featured readers, and because last month's ACW event also offered a dose of Dickinson biography, I was able to relax a bit. I used my slivers of introduction to tell the story of memorizing my first poem at the age of nine, Dickinson's "[My life closed twice before its close...]," by reciting it over and over to myself while pacing the floor of my grandmother's living room. I was a melancholy thing at nine. Without having planned to tell the story, I was still able to fetch the poem from memory on the spot.

Because the evening had been such a success, the reception ran a touch overlong, and the last small group of us were trapped in the Club by a resuming rain. No, that's not the right word; a resuming monsoon. We braved the elements just long enough to run next door--back to Primi Piatti, where we had had dinner--and as we stumbled in soaked, laughing, shaking out our umbrellas, I recognized the owner from long-ago days a Dupont Circle bar, Savino's. He's the proprietor of many places in the area, but that brief-lived bar had been his baby, a pet project given his first name. On a few nights after work (at my first "big city" job) he had given me an extensive tour of the cocktail menu, stocked with all his recipes. (I'll never forget him pointing gravely to the sprig of rosemary atop a pear liquor "martini" and shaking his head solemnly. "You will not like. Too strong for a lady such as yourself." He then poured me straight-up vodka with maybe a kiss of lemon.)

Maybe it was our bedraggled spirit that charmed him, or my flash of recognition. But after the first drinks had been ordered he came over with...a deck of cards. And proceeded to perform some genuinely awe-inspiring tricks. A card changed suits without ever leaving one writer's hand; another writer pulled out her card--first picked, then missing--from a gum wrapper in our host's coat pocket; one writer watched as her card was identified in blacklight scrawl.

The evening, from beginning to end, was filled with magic.


Valerie Loveland said...

I am going to Emily Dickinson's house this weekend!

Maggie May said...

I just bought Poets and Writers at Borders, read your article about online poetry and mags, was interested and full of thoughts after.
Did you read the regular interview with three agents? Or was it four? It's striking how every month the interview with agents turns into a discussion on how online publications are changing the world of books. The pushing pushing pushing toward fast bright sexy content is enormous, and I wonder what will happen. Will 'serious' literature become like poetry is now, the territory of Universities and small niche groups with no buying power? Or will the dam break and the pressure subside and leave room for publications of all kinds to monetarily support good literature, give it time to grow, like the old gold days.