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Dante in the Cathedral
Every Maundy Thursday for the past twenty years, poets and poetry lovers have gathered in the cavernous shadowy nave of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in upper Manhattan to read from Dante’s Inferno.
For most of the last 5 or 6 years, I’ve been honored to be part of this eerie event, a marathon that starts at 9 pm and runs till around midnight, when those who have stuck it out file through the cold to an intimate party upstairs in the Cathedral’s gothic Rectory.
This year, the event was marked by several readings in Italian, crowned by the spine-tingling booming delivery of Canto 33 by Anthony Viscusi. Afterwards, over a catered Tibetan feast, we toasted Daniel Hoffman, whose brainchild the event was two decades ago, when he was Poet-in-Residence at the Cathedral.
The current Poet-in-Residence, my dear friend Marilyn Nelson, said she was wondering what could be done to celebrate the 20th anniversary next year. My mind filled with images of Dante’s journey from the night’s reading: hands cut off, cosmic demon farts, sinners trapped in flames or boiling lead. What about mixing in something from the Purgatorio or the Paradiso, I wondered aloud. A few people around us nodded, and I noticed the familiar mischevious sparkle of an inspiration in Marilyn’s eyes. “Maybe…” she mused. “Yes, maybe there’s been enough pure hell.”
Whatever she decides to do, it’s bound to be a great event. I hope some fellow Harriet bloggers, and Harriet readers, can make it next year. . .