I’m pleased to return to the beautiful coastal town of Ocean Park to teach a class titled “Forms of Repetition.” The so-called French Forms have been popular for centuries as intricate games with language that often use their sophisticated play to convey, with apparent lightness, some of the least “light” aspects of life. Some have been called obsessional forms, others perfect mechanisms for encapsulating memory, still others brave little dances in which the human spirit faces down the inevitable.
In this workshop, poets are invited to draw on something in their personal experience —whether pleasant or painful—that bears repeating, to see what can be made of it.
The conference takes place from August 9 to August 13, 2021. My one-day seminar will be held on August 12. Click here for more information.
Fourteen years ago I edited, typeset and designed the first Powow River Anthology, released by Ocean Publishing with an introduction by X. J. Kennedy. There has been a lot of water under the bridge since then! Paulette Turco, one of our newest members, took up the challenge of editing a second anthology, enlisting the aid of Rhina Espaillat, Jean Kreiling and myself, but shouldering the greater part of the workload herself. She and Alex Pepple of Able Muse Press teamed up to issue an exquisitely designed and edited showcase of the immense poetic talent that has been gathering once a month in the town of Newburyport to share poems and lively discussion of the art and craft of poetry.
I first met Syd when I took his creative writing class at Dartmouth College. He was my professor, though he did everything in his power to level that hierarchical relationship. Though he was not drinking himself, he’d bring a big jug of wine and set it down in the middle of the table where we would-be poets sat. He told us right up front, in our first class, that we’d learn more from one another than we would ever learn from him. Basically, his role would be to welcome us into a conversation with other writers and trust that our common interests would lead us… somewhere.
I don’t mean to imply that he was abdicating his responsibilities. I think he was showing us the truest thing he knew about poetry and about “Literature” in general: that it’s all one big conversation, a conversation that goes on for centuries, and when you pick up your pen and try to say something from the heart, you’re joining that conversation, trying to make your voice heard. But you’d better be saying something from the heart, or no one’s going to listen.
Thought, no matter how lofty, seems duller than lead,
Without heart to match, just as faith without works is dead.
Here is a video of Syd talking about his most recent collection of poetry, Here.
On the Opinion page of Worcester Magazine appears a poem in which two of my friends —both terrific poets—have had a hand. Juan Matos wrote “Boot on the Throat” in Spanish; Rhina Espaillat translated it into English. I only wish you could hear Juan read the original; no one delivers a poem with greater passion.
In 2010 Paul Mariani gently “outed” Commissioner of Social Security Michael Astrue, who had served in senior roles for four presidents, as the poet writing as “A. M. Juster.” That year Astrue won the Alzheimer’s Association’s Humanitarian of the Year Award to go with awards from many health care and disability organizations. A poet with a background very unlike that of most contemporary poets, Juster talks about auspicious and inauspicious trends in contemporary poetry and his own approach to the craft of writing and translating verse.
I keep a file labeled “100 Books,” which is a list of the best books I’ve read in my life. There aren’t really a hundred books on it yet. One of the books on my list exists only in manuscript: I had the extreme good fortune of reading a GBC-bound photocopy of that work. It is a translation of the poems of Jorge Luis Borges by the poets Robert Mezey and Dick Barnes, for which they never received permission to publish.
In 2017, Bob Mezey agreed to read at the Newburyport Literary Festival. In his correspondence he was fretful about his travel arrangements, about the sound system, about the amount of time he’d be given to read. And when he arrived, he appeared old and frail. My wife Gina attentively helped him get back and forth from his room at the inn to his reading. I’d arranged for Mezey to be the final reader, pairing him with Robert Shaw, saving the best for last. When it was Mezey’s turn, he asked for the microphone to be shut off, which didn’t seem like a good idea. Then he brought the audience in closer, where they gathered in a semi-circle near the podium, and he began his reading. It was something to see, something to hear: the authority returned to his voice, he read with great expression and a sense of humor. We saw laughter in his eyes, we heard more than personal sorrow in the words he spoke. He did me the great favor of reading his wonderful narrative poem, “The Golem,” which I’d requested. It was an unforgettable reading.
Robert Mezey died of pneumonia on Saturday, April 25. America has lost one of its finest poets.
Cavankerry Press publishes some of my favorite poets, including my good friend Kevin Carey, whose third collection, Set in Stone, is available for pre-order at their website. Here is the poetry equivalent of a trailer, in which you’ll hear Kevin reading his poem “The Tobin Bridge.”