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Allison Campbell
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Denise Duhamel, Barbara Hamby, David Kirby, and David Lehman are hilarious and beautiful. This happens to be my favorite combination for poetry and people, so last night's reading for the 2014 Moorman Symposium was like going to a town where "candy canes grow on trees," "the streets are paved in pastries," and "there are no clocks," somewhere a lot like Gnürsk (a city in Poland you can visit in David Kirby's poetry). I want everyone to experience Gnürsk. It would be a shame for anyone to miss out. But if you haven't had the pleasure of hearing these poets read, there's another way to travel -- buy their books! Until your Amazon Prime box arrives, here are a few excerpts. (Posting just parts of these poems is a little like pouring the white dust that collects inside the candy cane's clear plastic wrapping into your hand, but even these bits are sweet!) Denise Duhamel read "Victor," from her collection Blowout, a 2013 finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award. when the handyman says let's take a shower together and see what happens you almost drop the cardboard and the mound of sawdust that you wish didn't look so much like a mound and you say are you crazy and the handyman sulks well it was worth a try and you ask why did you wait so long to ask me out knowing he would have had a much better chance when he first started the tile work and you probably would have given anything just to have someone hold you Barbara Hamby read "Reading Can Kill You" from her 2014 book of new and selected poems On the Street of Divine Love. Below is a choice snippet, but read it in full at Poetry Daily. and we sat in the dark next to the blazing enamel stove and for breakfast drank tea from the samovar sweetened with jam and talked about Gogol's sentences and Mandelstam's despair, and then at night it would be love and vodka, so when Satan showed up with his entourage, we were borne along on his cloud of smoke, joining his diabolical magic show, David Kirby, who you can hear at The Cortland Review's site, read the opening poem from his collection A Wilderness of Monkeys, "Do the Monkey, Yeah," and the audience's aardvark associations will be forever changed. Aardvarking is something I am rather an expert on, at least in the sense that I aardvark as well as the next fellow--as long as the next fellow is Don Giovanni or Casanova! Just kidding In closing, David Lehman took us out and up into the stars by reading "Yours the Moon," from his New and Selected Poems. Yours the moon mine the Milky Way a scarf around my neck I love you as the night loves the moon’s dark side as the sky, distant, endless, wears her necklace of stars over her dress under my scarf that she wears against the cold Books were brought... Continue reading
Posted May 4, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
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The second day of the Moorman Symposium began with an informal Q & A with poet Angela Ball and visiting poets Billy Collins, Denise Duhamel, Barbara Hamby, David Kirby, and David Lehman. Lehman started things off by asking everyone about their favorite writing assignments. Here are summaries of their advice on how to get to good writing: Angela Ball: Give obstructions. Which may or may not include writing the poem in Cuba (an exercise in writing based off the Danish film The Five Obstructions) Denise Duhamel: Haiku hurricanes. Make it rain, good lines of poetry. (Students write lines of 5 and 7 syllables on slips of paper. Then, just as human paraphernalia is picked up, mixed up and laid back down in real deal hurricanes, the lines are collected and redistributed.) Billy Collins: Haiku memorization and destruction. (Students write a haiku, walk around campus memorizing the haiku, then return and destroy all paper evidence of the haiku. The survival or extinction of the poem is now their responsibility.) David Lehman: Translation and mistranslation. (Have students translate a poem written in a language they don't know. It helps them give up some of their self and collaborate with language.) Barbara Hamby: Poets' letters, read them. (Let students see Ovid, Keats, Dickinson, Rilke, and Rimbaud struggle with life - and the gruel of finding an artist's life). David Kirby: Soul Siblings. (At the beginning of the term, have students write down three poets who are not influences but who they would like to be at a beach house with for a weekend. These are their guides.) Billy Collins: Create and destroy a happy farmer. (*Disclaimer, this is for writing fiction.* Part 1: Write of a happy farmer - everything is coming up giant squash and healthy children. Part 2: Destroy his happy life.) David Lehman remarked that this story had been done before and was called the Book of Job, which made everyone laugh and seriously contemplate the inescapable-ness of the Bible. What story can be new? Hearing the poets talk about their influences was another highlight of the conversation. Even though David Kirby said influence is "something you see in the rear-view mirror" and Collins added "the rear-view mirror of influence wears a flag of convenience", this did not stop each from sharing a bit of what inspires them. Angela Ball spoke of the female painter Paula Modersohn-Becker's Self-Portrait with Amber Necklace and Denise Duhamel talked about contemporary French artist Sophie Calle mailing her bed from Paris to a stranger in San Francisco. When David Lehman discussed popular songs, jazz standards, and what they can teach about wit, economy and rhyme, things took a decidedly musical turn. He noted connections between Shakespeare's "Sonnet 130" and "My Funny Valentine". Reciting some lyrics to illustrate the point soon turned into singing. A Lehman and Collins duet! Audience members came in on the refrain, and it felt as though this sing-along answered all the questions we did and did not ask that afternoon. What... Continue reading
Posted May 4, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
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Before his reading, Billy Collins explains the mechanics of butterfly wings to fellow poets David Kirby, Angela Ball, and David Lehman. Denise Duhamel and Stacey Harwood talk about Girls, the show, the pros, the cons. And how miniature, chocolate-covered cake is so self-contained and perfectly balanced. Every head-shadow, and accompanying body, was enthralled when feature- poet Billy Collins took the stage and read from Aimless Love. Continue reading
Posted May 3, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
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Day 1: Moorman Symposium, Hattiesburg, MS Graduate students from the Center for Writers took visiting poets out to lunch before the Q & A. The restaurant, whose giant tomato nobody mentioned, wanted us to fill up on conversation, so they delayed the food for as long as possible, just waiting for silence. It never happened, so eventually they brought the food anyway. David Kirby got a chicken salad but could not find the chicken. "Where's the chicken?" he asked. "It's chopped up and mixed in," said the waitress. David was skeptical but determined to get to the bottom of things. Billy Collins's chicken came similarly camouflaged. The hunt was on. For dessert we had stories about Jimi Hendrix, Kirby and Collins both saw him perform (because Collins is older than Cheerios, as was mentioned frequently throughout the day). Then it was over to the panel discussion and "real" Q & A on New York School poetry, moderated by David Lehman. Here is what things looked like just before: Denise Duhamel, Barbara Hamby, David Kirby, David Lehman, Susan Elliott, Angela Ball and Billy Collins Lehman began the discussion with comments on the New York School poets' "premium on inventiveness" and inclusiveness. Then brought up a fictional ad man as proof of the New York School's vitality. After Don Draper read Meditations in an Emergency O'Hara's sales "boomed by 1,000 per cent," according to The Independent. In closing the introduction, David recited even better proof that O'Hara is still a vital presence, "Poem" [Lana Turner has collapsed!] His delivery of the poem evidenced the conversational and casual pedestrianism that makes O'Hara poems great. Take a listen - ,David Lehman reads "Poem". Maybe David and Don can have an O'Hara read-off some day? Next, Angela Ball read her poem "Spring" and described wanting to reach "towards transparency," in the poem, "a voice you can see through." This is captured (if you can say captured about transparency) so well in the final stanza: I had this feeling once before, when I was walking through rain And wet leaves in shoes that were red and navy. Much of me hadn't been tried out, and I liked that. One of O'Hara's influences, Mayakovsky, spoke up! I'll be absolutely tender, not a man, but a cloud in trousers! It looked as if everyone on the panel might float away, but the microphone and its heavy base were passed to Billy Collins. Structure rematerialized in the present with his reading of "Drinking Alone, after Li Po" No, the only way this is after you is in the way they say it’s just one thing after another, A casual description of influence, "one thing after another" and general reminder of our mortality. After all, you had your turn, and mine will soon be done, then someone else will sit here after me. What a bunch of seat warmers we all are! Perfect. The after of Collins for this afternoon was Denise Duhamel. She read O'Hara's "Having a Coke with... Continue reading
Posted May 3, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
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The Moorman Symposium starts tomorrow. To prepare for the panel discussion on New York School poetry, I thought it would be good to sit our visiting poets -- Billy Collins, Denise Duhamel, David Lehman, David Kirby and Barbara Hamby -- down with New York School poets -- John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, Frank O'Hara, and James Schuyler -- for an informal Q & A. In this mock-panel, questions found in New York School poets' work are answered with lines from contemporary poets. This conversation is so seamless you wouldn't know that decades, wars, and multiple presidents all existed between the questions and replies! *special thanks to my New York School studying peers Nicholas Benca, Jennifer Jacob, and Tracie Dawson for help "facilitating" this Q&A O'Hara: "Am I looking handsome?" Kirby: “if not handsome, beau-laid, / as the French say, or handsome-ugly, as we all are / in our way.” Schuyler: “‘What are the questions you wish to ask?’” Duhamel: “When James Taylor and Carly Simon / broke up, I was shocked. Taylor’s drug use or not, / couldn’t they work it out? [...] How could they part having written all those love songs? And how could they go on / singing those love songs after the divorce?” Ashbery: "What can we achieve, aspiring? And what, aspiring can we achieve?" Hamby: "Well, we're in hell, and like Persephone fighting dark Hades, it's a waste of time." Koch: "How many people I have drunk tea or coffee with / And thought about the boiling water hardly at all, just / waiting for it to boil / So there could be coffee or chocolate or tea. And then / what?" Lehman: “The dog walked in and peed on the carpet and the chaplain’s wife / Said, ‘Oh, Rosebud, you’re being boring.’ / Boring meant something other than boring.” O'Hara: "Dear god, I think that iron gate I put up as a weather vane is creaking. An angel must be arriving. Who do you suppose it could be?" Collins: "I am the dog you put to sleep / as you like to call the needle of oblivion / come back to tell you this one simple thing: / I never liked you - not one bit." Schuyler: "What am I supposed to be the poem doctor?" (Ron Padgett quoted by Schuyler) Padgett: "I don’t know anything about hemorrhoids / Such as if it hurts to sit when you have them / If so I must not have them / Because it doesn’t hurt me to sit/ I probably sit about 8/15 of my life" Ashbery: "Meanwhile what am I going to do?" Hamby: “Pass me the beer and the goddamned pool cue, / Romeo.” Koch: "Haven't I Lost that sweet easy knack I had last week, Last month, last year, last decade, which pleased everyone And especially pleased me?" Lehman: “...do you recall/ when I visited Cambridge/ I left you a note// with the Clare porter./ The world is charged (I wrote) with / the... Continue reading
Posted May 1, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
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This Friday and Saturday, the University of Southern Mississippi will welcome poets Billy Collins, Denise Duhamel, David Lehman, David Kirby, and Barbara Hamby for the 2014 Moorman Symposium. I am glad! My professor, Angela Ball, the university’s 2013-2015 Moorman Distinguished Professor of English, is the funny and erudite force behind this symposium that will celebrate poetry and poets from the 1950s and 1960s. Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, and James Schuyler were named “Poets of the New York School” in analogy with their friends and sometime collaborators, the New York School of Painters. Several years ago, Angela began to see flashes of their work in poems by poets from pastoral regions, like Mississippi. With that, she began a class for graduate students in the Center for Writers with a focus on The New York School of Poetry. I’ve been lucky enough to take part in Angela’s class and can testify to how much is learned (and just thoroughly enjoyed, laughed at) by taking these city poets out of the city and witnessing their influence in the South. The idea for the 2014 Moorman Symposium, which will explore the similarities between poets of the South and Poets of the New York School, was born from doing just this. Duhamel, Kirby, and Hamby are award-winning poets living in the South and writing New York School-inflected works. Lehman, a distinguished poet and a vital commentator on The New York School of Poetry, will also play a key role in the symposium. As the featured poet on Friday night, Collins will read some of his humorous and playful poetry. Schedule of symposium events: May 2nd – 2 pm, panel discussion (brilliant questions, answers & laughter) - 7 pm, a reading by Billy Collins (socks-being-knocked-off-edness & laughter) May 3rd – 2 pm informal Q&A session (more brilliant questions, more laughter) -7 pm, poetry reading featuring Denise Duhamel, David Lehman, David Kirby and Barbara Hamby (laughter version of multiple orgasms) Did I mention these events will be funny (and free and open to the public)? “We shall have everything we want and there’ll be no more dying” - O'Hara Come if you’d like everything you’ve ever wanted! Continue reading
Posted Apr 28, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
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Apr 25, 2014