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notes from a poetry festival

By Jeffrey McDaniel

Victor Hernandez Cruz and Thomas Lux kick things off with a wonderful, spirited reading. It’s inspiring to see two poets in their late 50’s/early 60’s still writing with imagination and fire.
Cruz is an old school Nuyorican (with Miguel Pinero and company in the late 60’s) who should be more in the loop somehow—for instance, getting good gig$ at the 92nd Street Y and being included in PSA events.
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Richard Siken’s reading: there is a wonderful tension between the smart, airy comedic asides between his poems and the emotional place he takes his listeners when he’s reading the poems themselves. It’s like we’re swimming through something thick with him, and he periodically pops us up for air.
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Most uncomfortable moment: one guest poet continually referencing a recent nervous breakdown from the podium, and then saying it would all be ok because her mother was in the audience.
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As poets, we are acutely aware of the baggage that words carry. In the stock market of words, we are always looking for the overlooked word, the word with potential. We must be cognizant of a words inflated value.
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Obnoxious thought: Poets who accept paid gigs should have to apply for a “reading out-loud” license, where one would have to demonstrate a certain level of proficiency and professionalism before being allowed to step to a podium. Poets who do not pass will be required to split their reading fee with a “reading out loud” specialist, professionally certified in enunciation and projection. Note: poets would still be free to read however they want at unpaid readings.
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Potential faux pas #3: at dinner, I can’t resist asking Phil Levine if he really punched John Berryman back in grad school (like it states in Paul Mariani’s biography). He says that it’s true, but that Berryman hit him first. Then he adds that Berryman was the best teacher he ever had—way better than Lowell, who he had the semester before. (All I can think about that is wow.)
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At these things, I often feel like a walking faux pas, putting one foot after another, right into my mouth.
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Rebecca Wolff does a “craft talk” where she talks about how her editor at Norton and her literary agent think that her new poems aren’t “accessible” enough, then she passes out one of her own poems and invites the audience to discuss what is difficult about it.
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It’s official: erasure really is the new hula hoop. As a technique, it is interesting to read an existing text and play with it creatively, to create something new by subtracting from something old. It is a fun project (kind of like poetry as playing with crayons), but when everyone and their cousin seems to be doing it, it starts to feel like a fad, poetry for the masses in a strange, elite way. Should there be a moratorium on any more erasure for the next six months, so we can figure how much erasure has happened in the last few years? We have all read the Humument. Can we agree to move on to some other new-old form of construction?
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Paul Muldoon really does have a rock band called Rackett.


Posted in Uncategorized on Thursday, May 3rd, 2007 by Jeffrey McDaniel.