Poetry Project

I’ll be reading with Will Alexander at the Poetry Project in New York City this coming Wednesday, December 10, at 8PM. I first met and heard Will read over twenty years ago, at the Writing from the New Coast conference at University of Buffalo in 1993. It will be very nice to see him again.

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Odette holds the Poetry Project’s annual fundraising letter

Reading at the Project feels kind of like going home for the holidays: the return to a familiar place. Familiar, or family-like, comes from the Latin famulus, meaning, not all together surprisingly, “servant,” or even “slave.” (Does anyone remember that Tama Janowitz book Slaves of New York? It was very 80s). Whenever I go to the Project, I expect to run into friends and acquaintances who have been dutifully serving poetry for many years, and who also feel that the Project is a kind of home. I read there for the first time with Mark McMorris in 1997, the year after my first book came out. In 2003, Anselm Berrigan invited me to read with Robert Creeley. I recall a humid torrent of November rain splashing me on the way in, and a woman’s cell phone—playing Mozart’s Overture to Le Nozze di Figaro—going off while I read a poem about death. In 2010 I read with Miles Champion, who brought his newborn. I’m looking forward to Wednesday’s reading, to returning once again to this familiar home for lost and wayward poems.

A Gift Amiss

. . . but as he gan byholde,
Ful sodeynly his herte gan to colde

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Edward Gorey’s cover

Thus Troilus’s reaction upon seeing the brooch he had given to his beloved Cressida hidden within the folds of a cloak, which, a spoil of war, has been ripped from the Greek warrior Diomede. Cressida’s betrayal, the denial of which Troilus excels at, is confirmed by the fact that the brooch is encountered not where or when expected. Cressida has given the proof and reminder of Troilus’s love to another. She has “regifted” it, and in doing so left evidence of her crime against Troilus’s love.

For the poet, nothing makes the “herte” full suddenly “gan to colde” than encountering a warmly signed copy of one’s own book not where or when expected, in a used bookstore, or perhaps even on the shelves of someone other than the dedicatee. It can feel like a betrayal, nothing on the scale of Cressida’s, but wounding nonetheless. But is selling or discarding a signed book tantamount to a betrayal? After all, there are many reasons for getting rid of books: a move to smaller quarters, the need for money, a sudden desire to purge oneself of worldly goods, etc. Hopefully “intention to wound the author” is rarely a motivating factor. Unless, that is, [Read more…]

Backyard Carmen

Not long ago, Steve and I were invited to join a taskforce charged with growing the audience for the Metropolitan Live in HD opera broadcasts at the Collins Center for the Arts, UMaine’s largest performing arts venue. We are, sadly, the youngest members of this taskforce by some years. In addition to being primarily drawn from the senior set, the typical audience for the Met Live in HD amounts to about a hundred people, which not only looks scant in an auditorium of 1,500 seats, but has the director threatening to cancel the broadcasts altogether—a worrisome prospect to those of us who regularly attend. The largest audience was 270, for a broadcast of Carmen with Elīna Garanča in 2010.

Callas_CarmenSaturday November first the Met is broadcasting Carmen again, this time with the Georgian mezzo Anita Rachvelishvili. Steve, in hopes of interesting the students taking his course on the Lover’s Discourse, spent some time finding alluring YouTube clips from Carmen, including a wonderful Muppet’s sound-poem version of the Habenera. From his report, few students seemed moved to interrupt nursing Halloween hangovers with initiation into this alien art form. All this Carmen talk reminded of my own history with Georges Bizet’s classic, which was my first exposure to opera, enhanced by a Maria Callas recording given to me by my mother. As I wrote in The Middle Room: [Read more…]

Invisible Ink

Looking through my letters from the early 90s in the Archive I came across a few that had been written on a computer and printed with an early printer, probably dot-matrix. Among them letters from Jeff Derkson and Dennis Denisoff. Some twenty years on it is as if these letters were written with invisible ink—they are so very faint I can barely make them out. I wonder if the digital files fared any better?

Montana bound

I’m looking forward to going to Missoula this week as part of the President’s Writers-in-Residence series at the University of Montana. I’ve heard such good things about the MFA there.

My associations with Montana are few. When I was about seven years old my family drove to Helena, Montana to visit my great aunt Hetty, widow of Dow Moxley. It was said that I resembled Hetty, which is strange now that I realize she wasn’t a blood relative. Did this journey to Helena predispose me toward Helena Bennett? My other association with Montana is that chilling scene in Twin Peaks when Leland suggests Mattie “go back to Missoula.” Did he punch a painting?

There are so many interesting poets teaching in Missoula: I know fellow Brown alum Prageeta Sharma, and Karen Volkman a bit, and I’ll be meeting Joanna Klink for the first time. And then there’s Professor Robert Baker, author of books on modernism and philosophy, and on Oppen and Char. His pedagogical influence is pervasive. Or at least that’s the way it seems. When poet Josh Corey came to the University of Maine, the subject of Prof. Baker arose. Josh had been as impressed with him as had a new colleague of mine, Sarah Harlan-Haughey. She’s a Medievalist who studied at Montana and Cornell before joining the faculty here in Maine a few years ago. It turns out she’d taken multiple courses with Baker, and gone to Cornell at his encouragement. Last spring I read at Case Western University. While there I met yet another person who had been transformed by Baker’s classroom, poet Sarah Gridley.

Could this be the same Bob Baker Steve and I met in the early 90s? [Read more…]

Like Musical Instruments

Cortez smallLike Musical Instruments, John Sarsgard’s book of photographic portraits of “83 Contemporary American Poets,” with poems edited by Larry Fagin, came into the house this week. I’m included. Flipping through, there’s a certain sadness. Several of these contemporaries have moved on, among them, Michael Gizzi, Anselm Hollo, and Jayne Cortez.

Cortez is one of my heroines of travel. She always came to Maine with just a tiny backpack, a package of instant oatmeal, and a generous spirit. She said that traveling in Africa had taught her to be contained and frugal. I fear it’s a lesson I’ll never learn.

Tender Buttons Press

Tender Buttons celebration recording

This coming Friday, October 17 at 7pm, the Poetry Project will host an event celebrating Tender Buttons Press marked with a 25th Anniversary Edition of Bernadette Mayer’s Sonnets and a new book by Katy Bohinc, titled Dear Alain. I couldn’t make it to Manhattan, but will be there in voice. Heurtebise helped me make a recording of some poems from Imagination Verses, which cellist Serena Jost will set to music. Here’s the recording, sans cellist.