A (poetry) festive(al) event

Philip Schultz will be the featured poet at this year's Delaware Valley Poetry Festival

New Jersey’s got a great poetry tradition, both in terms of individuals and institutions.
If you’re talking great poets, let’s talk New Jersey poets Walt Whitman and Williams Carlos Williams and Allen Ginsberg, for starters, and let’s add such current luminaries as Robert Pinsky (born, raised and educated in N.J.), Paul Muldoon and C.K. Williams and Yusef Komunyakaa (all three teach at Princeton), National Book Award winner Gerald Stern of Lambertville, and other outstanding Jersey-based poets including B.J. Ward, Maria Gillan and the great Joe Weil (sprung fully formed from the loins of Elizabeth, N.J.)

If you’re talking about poetry, how about the spectacular Geraldine R. Dodge Festival — and a much smaller event called the Delaware Valley Festival, held yearly in two small towns, Frenchtown and Stockton, along the Delaware River.

I started the festival back in 1998 when then-U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky agreed to be the featured poet, joined by New Jersey poets (including Weil and my friend, the poet Charles H. Johnson) associated with the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. The festival’s debut was a huge success — and we were off and running, as subsequent festival featured the likes of Louise Gluck (who became our nation’s poet laureate herself a few years later), Pulitzer winner Muldoon, Stern, Diane Wakoski, Gillan, Thomas Lux, Stephen Dobyns, Pinsky again (for the 10th anniversary) and, last year, former U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer winner the great Rita Dove.

As my life has taken a new direction I’ve decided to end my involvement with the Delaware Valley Poetry Festival, handing over the reins to the capable hands of Frenchtown-based poet Skye van Saun, who will continue to work on with my talented friends and colleagues Keith Strunk and Laura Swanson of River Union Stage.

One of my last acts as coordinator of the event was to recruit this year’s featured poet, Pulitzer Prize-winner Philip Schultz.

On the bill with Schultz are New Jersey poets Cat Doty and Linda Radice. Admission is free but donations are welcome. Seating is limited and first-come, first-served. For more information, call 908-996-3685 or visit riverunionstage.org.

Why am I writing about this now? Because the 13th annual Delaware Valley Poetry Festival will take place Friday, Sept. 24, at 8 p.m., at Prallsville Mills in Stockon, N.J. If you’re anywhere near New Jersey, it’s practically a can’t-miss event if you’re a lover of poetry and literature.

And, yes, I know I misspelled “festival” as “festive(al)” in the title of this post. That’s what’s known as poetic license!

Advertisements

There’s something about Maria

I’ve written before about Maria Mazziotti Gillan, who’s one of my favorite poets — and favorite people. Maria, who has read several times at the annual Delaware Valley Poetry Festival, writes provocative, emotional, touching poems which address simple, basic issues — love, friendship, aging, illness, ethnicity — in spare, simple, powerful language that elevates, invigorates and inspires listeners and readers.

Maria runs the master’s program in creative writing at SUNY-Binghamton. She’s founding editor of the Paterson Literary Review. She’s mentored and encouraged dozens and dozens of New Jersey poets. I could go on and on, and just might, except it might be best to let you hear it for yourself.

Here’s a link to a recent video of a recent reading by Maria:

Here’s a YouTube video of Maria reading three of her poems:

And here’s a list of dates, times and locations for a series of readings Maria is giving during October in Connecticut.

10/19/09: Southern Connecticut State University, 501 Crescent Street, New Haven, Ct.,  7 pm.

10/20: Middlesex Community College, 100 Training Hill Rd. Middletown, Ct.  12:30 pm.

10/21: Central Connecticut State University, 1615 Stanley St. New Britain, Ct. 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

10/21: Manchester Community College, 161 Hillstown Rd. Manchester, Ct.  8 pm.

10/22: University of Hartford, 200 Bloomfield Ave., West Hartford, Ct. 12:15 pm.

10/28: St, Joseph’s College, 1678 Asylum Ave, West Hartford, Ct.  7:30 pm.

10/29  Wesleyan University, 229 High St, Middletown, Ct. 8 pm.

——————————————————–

If you live anywhere near the Nutmeg State, try, try, try really hard to attend on her appearances. You will leave feeling better about life than you felt before you heard Maria’s beautiful, powerful and stirring poems.

A wellspring of poetry

I admire her. I like her. I know her. And I’ve never met her. She’s Ann Hutt Browning. And she’s just published a book of poetry – her first book-length collection – titled “Deep Landscape Turning.”

Here’s a brief biography:

Ann Hutt Browning has two master’s degrees, one in psychology and one in architecture, four grown children, five grandchildren, and one husband of 50 years. Born in England, raised in southern California, she attended Radcliffe College and has lived in Missouri, Kentucky, France, Macedonia, Chicago, Virginia and now Massachusetts. She and her husband, Preston, a retired English professor, operate Wellspring House in Ashfield, Massachusetts, a retreat center for writers and artists. Some of her poetry has appeared in The Carolina Quarterly, The Southern Humanities Review, The Dalhousie Review, The Ecozoic Reader, Dogwood, Peregrine, Out of Line, Salamander, and several on-line poetry journals.

Here are two of her poems:

AN ORDINARY LIFE

When she awoke in the morning
She threw back her all cotton sheet,
Cotton woven in a far off country
By a dark skinned girl chained to her large loom.
When she went into her kitchen
She ground beans to brew her coffee,
Beans grown, roasted in a far off country
Where the tall trees were cleared off the land
For the coffee bushes to be planted
And tended by boys not in school and men
Old before their time and where all the waste
From treating the beans is flushed and dumped
In the river, adding that detritus
To the human waste and chemical run
Off already there in the gray water
And where downstream others used the water,
That dark water, for cooking and bathing.

After her children boarded the school bus,
Wearing clothing made in the Philippines,
Mauritania, Taiwan, a hodge-podge
Of imports from other worlds, far off countries,
Where sweat shops flourished,
Filled with child workers,
She went shopping:
Guatemalan cantaloupes, Mexican tomatoes,
Chilean oranges, California lettuce,
Carolina rice, Michigan peaches,
Blueberries from Maine, all bought because
In her garden she grew hybrid tea roses,
Siberian iris, cross-bred daylilies in six colors,
Held down by pine bark, chipped in Oregon.

Then she roamed the market aisle marked
“Special,” and bought a basket, its colors
Imitative of Mexican folk art, made in China,
The price suggesting child or prison labor
Dyed the fronds of grass, wove the basket
And attached the label.

She ate a quick lunch of a hamburger,
The ground beef from a far off country
Where the virgin forest was burned off
So cattle could graze on tropical grass,
The bun made from Canadian wheat
And the ketchup, again those Mexican tomatoes.
She drove home to prop up her feet
On the foam cushioned sofa, turn on the TV,
Assembled in Nicaragua,
In a maquiladora by a woman
Who rose at five a.m. to walk three kilometers
To the bus, who then rode twenty-five miles
To the factory in the tax free zone,
Who worked from eight to five
With a quarter of an hour to eat
Or use the toilet,
Who got home at eight o’clock
To bathe and feed her three children,
With eighteen cents an hour in her pocket
On good days.

The woman on the sofa
Watched two soap operas
As usual on a week day,
And ate ice cream,
American ice cream.
She liked American ice cream.
She lived an ordinary life.

___________________________________
AFTER SEPTEMBER 11, 2001

What happens now,
In the moments of our nights,
In the continuity of our days,
Shall be written in blood lines
Of darkened hearts, in the liquid
Gold plate of our broken souls,
In the long ligaments of naked limbs,
In the marrow of our fractured bones.
We stumble on with hesitant bodies;
We fall back, floundering.
How many are victims,
How many witnesses?
Can reason comprehend
The horror of explosions,
Lost lives of ordinary persons
Going about their ordinary work.
Hands touch and grip fast,
We embrace for soul’s sake.
Bond now and breathe together.
Breathe in, breathe out.
Take breath from autumn trees,
From ripe tomatoes on brown vines,
Grown old now, just as we
Are grown old
Before our time.

————————-

I encountered Ann Hutt Browning’s poetry through her husband Preston, who has worked long and hard to gain his wife’s poetry the attention it deserves — and to publish “Deep Landscape Turning.”

I heard all about Ann — and came to feel like I know her — during a week-long stay in spring of 2009 at Wellspring House a writers and artists retreat Preston and Ann started in Ashfield, Mass., in the eastern foothills of the Berkshires, in the neighborhood of Northampton and Amherst. It’s a beautiful dream-come-true, and the spirit behind it — the vision shared by the Brownings — permeates the place.  During my stay, I joined a few others in an informal readings of our works, five of us gathered around the hearth in Wellspring House’s cozy downstairs living room/library. Preston, a writer and scholar in his own right, chose not to  read some of his work, but instead to read some of Ann’s poetry – and she was there in the room with us, even though she couldn’t be there, as Preston’s beautiful reading of his wife’s writing made it clear that his effort to get “Deep Landscape Turning” into print was nothing less than a true labor of love.

“Deep Landscape Turning” was just published by Ibbetson Street Press in Somerville, Mass. Here’s how to order the book. Ann’s poetry is lovely and intelligent, lyric and insightful, both personal and universal. Her book costs just $15. And how can you go wrong spending just $15 on a new book by a fine poet named Browning?

American smooth

The title of this posting, “American Smooth,” is a clue and a description.

Back in 1998, I got involved with a poetry program at my local high school and had the nerve to ask one of our nation’s greatest poets — Robert Pinsky, who had just been named U.S. Poet Laureate — to take part by conducting student workshops in the afternoon and giving a public reading in the evening.  Robert kindly accepted my invitation, hundreds of people showed up for his reading on that April night, and the Delaware Valley Poetry Festival was born.

Since then, thanks in large part to Robert Pinsky’s helping hand in that inaugural year, the Delaware Valley Poetry Festival has turned into one of New Jersey’s most remarkable and most unusual cultural events, bringing world-class poets — including Louise Gluck, Paul Muldoon, Gerald Stern, Diane Wakoski and many other talented poets of both national and regional accomplishment — to a relatively isolated, still somewhat rural region of western New Jersey.

That tradition of excellence will continue this fall. Here’s a press release I just sent out to poets, poetry fans and media outlets:

One of America’s most highly-acclaimed poets, former U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Rita Dove, will read from her works at the 12th annual Delaware Valley Poetry Festival, which will be held Saturday, Oct. 17, 2009, at 8 p.m. in the newly renovated former sawmill at the historic Prallsville Mills along the Delaware River in Stockton, N.J.

Admission is free but donations are welcome. Seating is limited and admission will be first-come, first-served.

Dove will add her name to an impressive list of distinguished poets who have read at the Delaware Valley Poetry Festival, including former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, Pulitzer Prize winners Paul Muldoon and Louise Gluck (also a former U.S. poet laureate), National Book Award winner Gerald Stern, and award-winning poets Thomas Lux, Maria Mazziotti Gillan, Stephen Dobyns and Diane Wakoski. The series has also hosted a number of outstanding poets from New Jersey and the region, including Charles H. Johnson, BJ Ward, Joe Weil and dozens of others.

Rita_Dove2006

Rita Dove was born in Akron, Ohio, in 1952. She served as Poet Laureate of the United States from 1993 to 1995. Among her many honors are the 1987 Pulitzer Prize in poetry, the 1996 Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities and the 2006 Common Wealth Award. President Bill Clinton bestowed upon her the 1996 National Humanities Medal.

Her books of poetry include American Smooth (W. W. Norton, 2004); On the Bus with Rosa Parks (1999), which was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; Mother Love (1995); Selected Poems (1993); Grace Notes (1989); Thomas and Beulah (1986), which won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; Museum (1983); and The Yellow House on the Corner (1980).

In addition to poetry, Dove has published a book of short stories, Fifth Sunday (1985), the novel Through the Ivory Gate (1992), essays in The Poet’s World and the verse drama The Darker Face of the Earth (1994). She also edited The Best American Poetry 2000.

Dove is Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia, where she has been teaching since 1989. She was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2006.

Her latest poetry collection, Sonata Mulattica, was published by W.W. Norton in the spring of 2009

The Delaware Valley Poetry Festival is presented in partnership by River Union Stage of Frenchtown and the event’s founder and coordinator, Nicholas DiGiovanni of Alexandria Township, a journalist and novelist. Funding is provided by the Hunterdon County Cultural and Heritage Commission and the New Jersey State Council for the Arts. The event has been held annually since 1998, debuting with a reading by then-U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, who returned to help celebrate the 10th year of the reading series.


“American Smooth” — the title of one of Rita Dove’s poetry collections and a good description of her poems, both when they’re on the printed page and when they’re read aloud.

Here’s a video clip of Rita Dove reading from her latest book, Sonata Mulattica:

Enjoy the video. Buy a copy of  Rita’s new book. And try to make it to Stockton, N.J., a beautiful town along the Delaware River north of Philadelphia, for a chance to see, hear and get a book signed by one of America’s finest poets, whose work combines great intelligence and depth with even greater heart and spirit.

“It’s our karma…”

I wrote recently about the poet and editor William Packard, and the acts of kindness he extended to me when I was a young man, just out of college, trying to pay the rent by writing and reading poetry — which led to episodes such as the one, which I described in my previous essay, that involved Packard buying a sandwich and silently sliding half of it across the table to me — the ravenous look in my eye as I glanced at Packard’s sandwich must have been the giveaway — either that or the saliva dripping from the corners of my twitching mouth.

William Packard was an exceptional man and an exceptional writer.

I recently encountered this very interesting video of a brief interview with Packard, recorded in the late 1980s, at a book fair, in which he makes some prescient comments about books, writers and writing.

Here’s the video:

And here, for the record, is William Packard’s obituary from The New York Times:

William Packard, 69, Author and

Editor

William Packard, a poet, novelist, playwright, editor and founder of The New York Quarterly, a national poetry magazine, died on Nov. 3 at his home in Manhattan. He was 69.

He died of heart disease, said Raymond Hammond, executive editor of the quarterly.

Mr. Packard founded The New York Quarterly in 1969. It published both poems and interviews, and contributors included prominent poets like W. H. Auden, John Ashbery, Paul Blackburn, Richard Eberhart, Stanley Kunitz, Anne Sexton and W. S. Merwin, among many others.

The magazine suspended publication in 1996 when Mr. Packard had a stroke, but he was sufficiently recovered earlier this year to help bring out the fall issue, which has just been published. The magazine will continue, Mr. Hammond said.

Mr. Packard also taught creative writing at New York University, the New School, Cooper Union and elsewhere and wrote in a variety of forms.

Mr. Packard’s six volumes of poetry include ”To Peel an Apple” (1963) and ”Voices: I Hear Voices” (1972).

His adaptation of Racine’s ”Phèdre” won the Outer Critics Circle Award when it was produced Off Broadway in 1966.

He also wrote textbooks on writing and published three collections of one-act plays.

Born on Sept. 2, 1933, and raised in New York City, Mr. Packard graduated from Stanford University.

He has no immediate survivors.

On the road

The soundtrack wasn’t the late-night bop sounds of Symphony Sid and I wasn’t driving with one hand while my other hand typed my spontaneous beatific scroll. I was listening to Bob Dylan’s newest album on my stereo and I had one hand on the wheel and my Mapquest directions in the other — but I was indeed on the road, first stop Lowell, Mass., hometown of Jack Kerouac and my destination for a meeting with the folks who have organized that town’s Massachusetts Poetry Festival, which was held last October for the very first time and is already an impressive event.

Allen Ginsberg's famous photo of young Jack Kerouac
Allen Ginsberg's famous photo of young Jack Kerouac

I arrived early, and so had a chance to explore downtown Lowell, which reminded me very much of my own old home town of Yonkers, N.Y., where even now I can walk around those familiar streets and conjure up visions of the city’s once-bustling business district in the old carpet mill buildings and the old sugar refinery and even the old Herald Statesman newspaper office now converted into a library branch because the newspaper was homogenized and sanitized and standardized and blended until it disappeared. Lowell  felt like that, right down to the impressive old Lowell Sun newspaper office, with its big rooftop signs — two of them — spelling out the name of the paper, S-U-N.

Here's a view of downtown Lowell, including the Lowell Sun building
Here's a view of downtown Lowell, including the Lowell Sun building

I then met with the poetry festival organizers, with whom I’d been put in touch by Robert Pinsky, the former U.S. poet laureate who teaches in the graduate program at Boston University and was the featured poet at the inaugural festival held last October in Lowell.

Robert Pinsky
Robert Pinsky

(Pinsky was the featured poet at the first annual Delaware Valley Poetry Festival in 1998 — which I founded and still run in conjunction with River Union Stage of Frenchtown, N.J. — and was good enough to come back to read again in 2007 for the 10th anniversary of our readings in New Jersey, which have also featured such literary lights as Louise Gluck, Pulitzer Prize winner and another former U.S. poet laureate; Pulitzer winner Paul Muldoon; National Book Award winner Gerald Stern; and other great poets includling Thomas Lux, Diane Wakoski, Maria Mazzioti Gillan, Joe Weil, BJ Ward, Charles H. Johnson, Stephen Dobyns and many others. The 2009 Delaware Valley Poetry Festival, scheduled for October, will feature yet another great poet — Rita Dove.)

So I met with the Lowell event’s organizers: Michael Ansara, who arranged the lunch, joined by LZ Dunn, who works for the city of Lowell as well as its cultural agency, and Paul Marion of UMass/Lowell.  We had a great exchange of ideas and thoughts on ways the Lowell event might be turned into an even greater event than it already is, including the idea of finding ways to connection with the thriving poetry scene in another old industrial city with deep literary roots — Paterson, N.J., associated with a couple of pretty good poets named William Carlos Williams and Allen Ginsberg.

I also had a fascinating but all-too-brief talk with Paul Marion, who it turns out has been the mover and shaker behind many of the efforts to properly honor Kerouac in his home town — and was involved in the cataloguing of Kerouac’s correspondence — including letters Kerouac exchanged with the late, great poet Robert Lax, who was my friend and mentor. I knew about Lax’s friendship with Kerouac, who was fascinated by his Zen/Christian minimalist approach to life and art; in fact, I know that Lax was reading some of Kerouac’s novels in the months just before he died; but I was startled to learn during the conversation that Marion was familiar with Robert Lax and was excited to meet someone — me — who had known Lax.

Here’s a photo taken of Lax by Paul Spaeth, curator of the Thomas Merton/Robert Lax Archives at St. Bonaventure University, when Lax visited the school in 1990 during a brief sojourn back to the U.S. from his home on the island of Patmos, Greece:

Robert Lax
Robert Lax

The one downside to the meeting in Lowell: Turns out the 2009 event in Lowell will be held on the same weekend as Rita Dove’s scheduled appearance Oct. 17 at the Delaware Valley Poetry Festival in New Jersey, so I won’t be able to make it back up to Lowell for this year’s event — here’s hoping I can make it in 2010.

And, because even Kerouac’s “On the Road” scroll manuscript had a begininng and had to finally end, so too this post must end. What better way than with a sampling from Jack Kerouac’s Belief and Technique for Modern Prose. He listed thirty “essentials.” Here are my favorites:
1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for your own joy
9. The unspeakable visions of the individual
13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog
16. The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
17. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
18. Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea
20. Believe in the holy contour of life

Verse-case scenarios

Friend and fellow traveler (and fellow Writers House literary agency client) Steve Hart posts this tout of the Delaware Valley Poetry Festival (the link to his Web site’s over there in the right-hand column, listed under FRIENDS): Mark your calendars for the eleventh annual Delaware Valley Poetry Festival, which this year is spread over two days late in October. The setting is lovely and the poets — all chosen by a couple of the marquee names from previous festivals — are bound to be worth hearing.

Last year’s featured poet, for the 10th annual Delaware Valley Poetry Festival, was the great Robert Pinsky, the two-term U.S. poet laureate, who was the featured poet at the very first event in 1998. Steve Hart wrote this excellent essay in the aftermath of Pinsky’s reading last year:

How I impersonated Robert Pinsky

October 6, 2007

You couldn’t ask for a better or more generous ambassador of poetry than Robert Pinsky. I got to stand up close and watch him in action yesterday, during a reading and signing session at a bookstore cum museum called The Book Garden just up the street from the Delaware River, and I can tell you he’s the one to study if you want to see how a master does the job.

Speaking to a group of about eight people before going on to the evening’s 10th anniversary edition of the Delaware Valley Poetry Festival, Pinsky was low-key, often very funny and disarmingly gentle in the way he handled questions.

Robert Pinsky
Robert Pinsky

One woman brought up Robert Frost telling someone to “just read what’s there” instead of searching for hidden meanings in his poems, and Pinsky gave back a bit of gossip (the theatrical nature of Frost’s rustic sage routine, and how it played into the suspicion of intellect that Pinsky considers one of America’s most unattractive traits) before going into an explanation that showed Frost was at least partly right — there are always depths to plumb in a work of art, but the academic tendency to strip-mine for them shouldn’t block one’s appreciation for the lovely surface.

He also told a funny story about a writers gathering at which a woman mistook him for Russell Banks and asked him to inscribe her copy of Continental Drift. Pinsky, ever the sport, wrote “I’ll never forget the wild times we had on the beach at Maui” and signed it “Russell.” Later on, the woman evidently encountered Banks and realized her mistake. Banks, also a sport, added his own inscription about Maui, and signed it “Robert.”

The evening began with a very cleverly staged performance of Pinsky’s “To Television” (from the collection Jersey Rain) conceived by David Kucher of the River Union Stage and his remarkably poised and talented son. Pinsky read old poems and new ones from his upcoming collection Gulf Music. He also talked up the Favorite Poem Project and its three associated books, the latest of which includes a DVD of favorite poems being read. The festival is the dreamchild of writer and editor Nicholas DiGiovanni, and even though I was present when he organized the inaugural festival (also with Pinsky as the headliner), this was the first time I’d been able to attend one. My loss — I’ll bend heaven and earth to get to them all from now on.

My brush with a felony rap came at the Book Garden, where one of the customers saw me standing by the cashier in my shades and black shirt and assumed I was Robert Pinsky. She even went to so far as to say that I looked nothing like my jacket photo.

“That’s the plastic surgery,” I told her.

“I think you’re joking, but I’m not sure,” she said.

“Well, after that Mafia threat, I had to do something,” I said.

She then held up a copy of Gulf Music. “My goodness, this is expensive,” she said. “Why are the prices on poetry books so different?”

“We’re paid by the line,” I said. “Prose books, the pricing is by the word.”

“Now I know you’re kidding,” she said, and I fessed up.

After dinner, I trailed some friend as they drove out to the Unitarian Universalist church in Kingwood Township, where the festival was being held. Earlier that day, I had developed a fixation on Jeff Buckley’s version of “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen, and I was playing it over and over during the drive through the dark-blue twilight hills of Hunterdon County. Suddenly the Jeep braked, and as I followed suit, I saw the silver shapes of deer flashing through the Jeep’s headlights and vanishing into the dark farm field to our right.

Talk about the perfect visual accompaniment to that song. There was so much poetry in the air that day, I guess even nature wanted to get in on it.

And for making it possible to experience all of it, all I can say to Robert Pinsky, Nick DiGiovanni and everyone else connected with the festival is — thank you.

————————————————————————–

Also checking in with his impressions of last year’s Delaware Valley Poetry Festival was my colleague Gene Racz:

Feeling run down and worn thin, I was hoping to refresh myself last Friday with a little art … presented first-hand by a true artist.

My wife understood, but my 9-year-old twin boys were confused as to why I was so uptight about getting down to the Old Stone Church in Baptistown to hear former poet laureate Robert Pinsky speak.

Reading their body language, I could almost hear the thoughts of my boys in the backseat. Reading their
minds, my father’s intuition came up with the following: Why is daddy running so hard at the start of the
weekend? What the heck is a poet Laurie-at anyway? Why did daddy yank us cold out of a heated backyard
soccer game? Why can’t we stop for a soda? Why is daddy now lost somewhere near Frenchtown? For the sake of art beloved children, for the sake of art.

Turns out, Pinsky was fabulous. The 60-something Long Branch native and Rutgers grad read some of his poems, took questions and spoke candidly about his poetry. He served up a flood of insights into his lifelong love affair with words and spoke of his appreciation for silence and demonstrated how breaks and pauses help create the music of good verse. Confident yet vulnerable, masterful without airs, Pinsky exuded a warmth and deep sincerity that made the poetry reading feel more like an uplifting sermon. I half expected him, in minister-like fashion, to stand outside the church door and shake the hand of each member of the audience as we filed out.  He didn’t. The poetry was the benediction.

Henry Miller once wrote that, “”Art teaches nothing, except the significance of life.” At 43, I still don’t really have a clue as to what that significance is. All I know is that I’m still struggling to slow down a little and appreciate the beauty that’s right in front of me. The commonplace surrounding us can grow stale and cold.
Pinsky said he likes to look up words in the dictionary that he already knows … or thinks he already knows. He revels in discovering meanings he was unaware of – meanings that have been hiding, all the while, in plain sight.  As Miller wrote: “”The artist does not tinker with the universe; he recreates it out of his own experience and understanding of life.”

Poetry is one way to deepen our awareness and understanding of life. Pinsky spoke of poetry as being a
most personal art form. That’s because the medium of poetry is not a TV screen, a CD or a canvas. The
true medium of poetry is ultimately us, the readers, who filter the poet’s words through our own minds and
hearts.  Pinsky’s words have power, and his poems invite us to get more intimate with the world which is
always right at hand.

Poet and essayist Katha Pollitt put it well when she wrote that Pinsky’s poems give a sense of “”getting at the depths of human experience, in which everything is repeated but also always new.”

Pinsky argues that poetry has a strong presence in American culture. The finest moment of the evening came when one of my boys looked up at me as were filing out of the church and said, “”Hey dad, that wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.”

You don’t get to be poet laureate for nothing.

 

%d bloggers like this: