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Madge McKeithen
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Gabriel Barcia-Colombo's Illuminated Verse, Lawrence Schwartzwald, photographer For many New Yorkers and for many who have only passed through, Grand Central Terminal is one of their favorite places in New York City. My late father-in-law in pre-caller-ID days, with rare exception, answered his telephone "Grand Central Station, Lower Level" -- immediately charming and disarming. Entering Grand Central Terminal from the S subway around noon on the last Saturday in April, I passed the amazing, ever-smiling counter staff at the Hot n Crusty, the usual lines of MetroNorth ticketbuyers, demographically different on the weekends from midweek's hubbub, a red-capped tour guide extolling Junior's Famous Cheesecake to an attentive circle of well-scrubbed adolescent faces, a French woman instructing her entourage, apparently not for the first time, "c'est la gare…la gare…", and a gentleman holding a Bible closed in his right hand while rotating slowly and speaking softly only to himself. Up the gentle rise from the main floor on the 42nd Street side, in Vanderbilt Hall, the words of Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes, Lucille Clifton and others were being spoken, new poems were being written, and poems were being projected onto walls as the Springfest celebration of Poetry in Motion sponsored by the MTA Arts for Transit & Urban Design in partnership with the Poetry Society of America, unfolded. On three sides of the eastern end of Vanderbilt Hall, words forming poems from the Poetry in Motion program tumbled into place in Illuminated Verse, the work of Gabriel Barcia-Colombo, sculptor, memorializer, TED Fellow and instructor in NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program. photograph by Lawrence Schwartzwald Victoria Redel had just left her post at The Poet is In booth (an inspired take on Lucy Van Pelt's The Doctor is In) and Tina Chang was taking her place behind a desk in front of a typewriter facing a line of people, which grew in her hour-long stint to more than thirty at times, each of whom had three minutes of conversation with the poet before receiving a poem written on the spot especially for them. When her hour was up Tina Chang spoke to me about her experience of the strong connections between herself and several in the line, the initial anxieties, the subsequent intimacy, openness, release, and a word she used more than once -- forgiveness. It was a full, vital energetic connection, she said, adding, "I have the sense more will come of this." Marie Howe, Poet Laureate of New York and major source of inspiration for and creator of the two-day Springfest, sat down for the next tour, and the line grew so long that fellow poet Spencer Reece drew a chair up behind a typewriter at a neighboring table to listen to and write poems for some of the overflow crowd. Marie Howe in The Poet is In Booth (photograph by Lawrence Schwartzwald) Sarah Rothberg and Yu-Ting Feng presented two interactive installations that were in constant use during the two hours I spent at Springfest. Sarah Rothberg & Yu-Ting... Continue reading
Posted Apr 27, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
Portrait of Seamus Heaney by Tai-Shan Schierenberg, oil on canvas, 2004. National Gallery of London On Monday, November 11, an overflow crowd gathered in Cooper Union's Great Hall to honor the great poet Seamus Heaney, who died last August. In opening the evening of readings from Heaney's work, Alice Quinn, Executive Director of the Poetry Society of America noted Heaney's "scrupulous generosity and grace, his infinite kindness and warmth, and his miraculous art." As the evening progressed, the stage and auditorium filled with words and music from the uillean pipes of Ivan Goff and the harp of Marta Cook. In the audience, we listened to Heaney's reminiscences of his childhood in County Derry when he was "as susceptible and impressionable as the drinking water that stood in a bucket in our scullery: every time a passing train made the earth shake, the surface of that water used to ripple delicately, concentrically, and in utter silence. But it was not only the earth that shook for us: the air around and above us was alive and signalling too." (1995 Nobel Lecture, "Crediting Poetry") As his poems were read aloud by distinguished poets who continue to write, teach, and publish, and were listened to and appreciated by an audience including many more poets and scholars, lifelong readers and new converts, Seamus Heaney's wide legacy was evident. In giving sound and voice to his work and life, poetry was credited; it flourished and proved itself, as he had proclaimed eighteen years earlier of Yeats. Since his Nobel prize and the deeply resonant lecture he gave on that occasion, another half-generation of poets have been nourished by what he continued to turn over and turn up, to make and to make known. Seated, from left, Colm Toibin, Matthea Harvey, Jonathan Galassi, Frank Bidart, Sven Birkerts, second row, from left, Jane Hirshfield, Eamon Grennan, Paul Muldoon, Anne Waldman, Tracy K. Smith, Atsuro Riley, Paul Simon, Lucie Brock-Broido, Greg Delanty, Eavan Boland, Jean Valentine. third row, from left, Edward Hirsch, Kevin Young, Yusef Komunyakaa, Tom Sleigh. photograph (c) Star Black for the Poetry Society of America Among the lines from poems of Seamus Heaney read aloud Monday night were these (links at each poet's name are provided to suggest in part the reach of Seamus Heaney's influence and inspiration): Rain comes down through the alders, Its low conducive voices Mutter about let-downs and erosions And yet each drop recalls The diamond absolutes. -- from "Exposure" read by Frank Bidart. ~ My father is a barefoot boy with news, Running at eye-level with weeds and stokes On the afternoon of his own father's death. …. I feel his legs and quick heels far away And strange as my own -- when he will piggyback me At a great height, light-headed and thin-boned, Like a witless elder rescued from the fire. -- from "Man and Boy" read by Sven Birkerts ~ They loved music and swam in for a singer who might stand at the end of summer... Continue reading
Posted Nov 15, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
For each of the last ten years, the Poetry Society of America’s Chapbook Fellowship Reading has produced four of the most beautiful books printed that year. Between the covers of the chapbooks -- designed by Gabriele Wilson and featuring patterns selected from Susan Meller and Joost Elffers’s 2002 Textile Designs:Two Hundred Years of European and American Patterns -- are the words of four New American Poets chosen each year by four poets invited to judge. This year, Vijay Seshadri, Dara Wier, and Matthew Rohrer joined Alice Quinn and the staff of the Poetry Society -- Brett Fletcher Lauer, Elsbeth Pancrazi, and Charif Shanahan – to bring together another surprising and invigorating collection of poets and poems and an evening’s fascinating reading. The first poet-judge to speak at the May 3rd event, Vijay Seshadri, highlighted the important role that the Poetry Society's Chapbook Fellowship program plays in supporting poets early in their work, before their first books come out, in rescuing each poet from their "desolation and isolation," adding,"not that desolation and isolation do not return later...and again and again." As each poet - judge and chapbook winner alike -- rose to read, the CUNY graduate center auditorium brightened with the flourishing enterprise that is poetry written and read today. Through chapbooks so beautiful as to tempt even the most resolute e-reader to begin surreptitiously collecting, the works of four talented new voices were showcased in a reading that included an audio debut by Siri. Only Justin Boening or the speaker of his "To Be A God" can say whether she was invited. In the introduction to Travel & Leisure, Vijay Seshadri writes of ’Eric Bliman’s “deadpan, offhand, but nevertheless intensely focused layer-by-layer metaphor-making…an individuation that makes this poet difficult to place in a cultural moment…[and work that] seemed neither old nor new but perennial.” In Pompeii’s hot mud, hollow pietàs were trapped. Poured plaster revealed their human forms. Here, a coal car’s wheels polish the track. -- from “Prometheus in Pittsburgh” Alice Quinn introduced Cherry Pickman, selected by Lucia Perillo, for her Theory of Tides, in the introduction to which she emphasizes “how the poems move, through gradual accretion and sideways association…" and what they deliver: "Sometimes a semi-joke in how the sentence had changed meaning at the line break. Sometimes a deepening of an assertion or a denial of what I’d taken for a given. These poems are exacting, and demand precision in their language.” …There is something metal or magnet that keeps us at our slow progress. We are charged with the static of skeletons, the trickle down of vertebrae, of the soft feather pressed fast into rock. -- from “The Passage” Of the poems in Justin Boening’s “Self-Portrait As Missing Person”, Dara Wier, who selected his work, writes, “What draws my attention is their intricate attempts to pry into some kind of understanding by any means available, realistically possible or not.” When you need me to hurt, I’ll dim in the linden leaves, I’ll hide in the... Continue reading
Posted May 5, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
photo: copyright Lawrence Schwartzwald Everywhere people are longing for a deeper life. Let’s hope some acrobat will come by And give us a hint how to get into heaven. Jan Karetnick, Marilyn Nelson, Lizza Rodriguez Robert Bly, awarded the 2013 Frost Medal, read from his work to an enthusiastic overflow crowd at the Poetry Society of America’s 103rd Annual Awards Ceremony hosted by Alice Quinn on April 5th. These closing lines, read toward the end of the evening, from Bly’s “Longing for the Acrobat” echoed Gabrielle Calvocoressi’s citation honoring the first reader, Lizza Rodriguez, the high school student winner of the Louise Louis/Emily F. Bourne Student Award. Rodriguez and her teacher Jen Karetnick (pictured above with the 2012 Frost Medalist Marilyn Nelson) made the trip from Miami Shores, Fl, for the awards ceremony. Calvocoressi citing lines from Rodriguez’s award-winning poem, I was dilly dialing when the phone rang then I ran out like red roses wrote of her “perfect balance of formal rigor and imaginative acrobatics.” From Lizza Rodriguez’s reading to the last lines of “Wanting Sumptuous Heavens,” as Robert Bly, poet, teacher, preacher, reformer, editor, translator, theorist and champion of the work of many of his contemporaries took us through the sounds – grumbles, summer, thumbs, come, grumbling, comfortable, sumptuous -- the evening was lively with words and talent and noisy with enthusiastic applause. Hardly a moment’s dip or lull. Ted Mathys Ted Mathys’s poem “Vikings Did Not Have Horns on their Helmets” was the winner of the Cecil Hemley Memorial Award for a lyric poem that expresses a philosophical or epistemological concern. Today the exception to the rule that every rule has an exception violated itself into a bright metastasis of unfastening while I rested my head against aftermath… In her citation honoring Ted Mathys, Alice Notely wrote, in part, “A said thing is only a said thing – though it may be true –but you can just as easily say the opposite.” Negations and reverses of the most pleasing sort, playful but not only, a poem to share with others, it ends (or perhaps doesn’t), with Lightning can strike the same place twice. Lightning can strike the same place twice. Elyse Fenton took the red-eye from her home in Portland, Oregon, to read from her manuscript Sweet Insurgent Friday night. …but after impact he opened the door & walked away. Hello tenacious earth. Sometimes you have to practice crying uncle for years to make it stick Elyse Fenton Of Elyse Fenton’s poems, which won the Alice Fay di Castagnola award for a manuscript-in-progress, Kevin Prufer wrote “they are alive to our historical moment, inspiring us to re-think our place in a constantly shifting political and ethical world.” Her manuscript-in-progress is now a manuscript out for consideration for publication. Carol Light may have come farther than any of the other winners to attend the awards ceremony, flying in from Rome where she is teaching spring semester to receive the Robert H. Winner Memorial Award for original work, mid-career,... Continue reading
Posted Apr 8, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
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Apr 7, 2013