Chevy Chase, MD and Washington D.C. / Catie Rosemurgy

The Bus pulled into Chevy Chase right outside D.C. yesterday afternoon, and ever since everyone has been enjoying a long, slow afternoon-after-Thanksgiving type feeling. We’re staying at the Zapruder family home, which is a remarkably warm and comfortable place. Matthew’s family has been gracious beyond compare, and it’s easy to see where he gets his instinctual generosity.

In fact, I have to get this down before I go on . . . Matthew Zapruder, Joshua Beckman, and Travis Nichols are working so hard and selflessly for poets and poetry that it’s impossible not to have flashes of genuinely optimistic feelings about humanity and American letters when around them.

These guys are quietly and steadily devoting themselves to each and every daily event with such good freaking will and competence that it’s easy to miss the fact that they are actually working 24/7. Never mind the planning that had to go into setting up 50 poetry readings involving hundreds of poets, it’s the daily work of making all the phone calls to get cameras and getting everyone a bed and making sure people are fed and helping the bus riders come and go when there is any free time all the while keeping a eye on the event that’s coming up that evening and figuring out how and where they can park the bus. I know it must occasionally feel chaotic to them, but you’d never know it. The conversation between them moves easily between poets and books and Chinese food and chess and baseball. I’m real glad they play for Team Poetry.

Tonight’s reading looks to be a big one with lots of great readers, and soon enough it will take over our day, but right now my mind is still on yesterday’s reading at the Naval Academy. I wish I had a (much!) better memory and could give the lines from the poems that hung so strangely in air between us and about 100 or so young uniformed midshipmen. I almost think, though, that any really good poem stands in a sharp relief when you pick it up and read it thinking of the audience for it being a group of people who have for various reasons decided to shoulder an enormous amount of responsibility at such a young age. Some or most of them will be involved in the war. A few already had been. In just a brief conversation with three midshipmen, they made it very clear that they know what going to the war might mean. It’s also clear that a group of poets probably sees things differently than they do, but who really knows? Our poems sounded new and kind of raw to me, though, when taken so far out of the context I am used to hearing them in (poet to poet mostly?) and that has got me thinking about other ways of jarring poems out of context, like choreographers who set pieces in the outdoors on rock formations.

Originally Published: October 4th, 2006