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.”
Haiku is not taken as seriously in America as it is in the Asian countries, but a number of our finest authors and poets have tried their hands at it, including Richard Wright, Richard Wilbur and Rhina Espaillat. Ann McCrae does it as well as anyone. She talks about her art in this entertaining and instructive video.
I’m happy for my friend Juan Matos! What a superb choice as poet laureate of Worcester, or of Anyplace-At-All! He’s not only an excellent poet —Rhina Espaillat, who should know, considers him one of the very best poets writing Spanish in the United States— but a dear, sweet man, with great reserves of dignity in him. To hear him read make me think of the famous Caedmon recordings of the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.
In this article printed in Worcester Magazine, he and Amina Mohammed talk about their reactions to being selected as Worcester’s poet laureate and youth poet laureate, respectively. I found what each of them had to say profoundly moving. Congratulations and every blessing to them both!
Wendy Ford, whom I am proud to call my student, has poured her heart and soul and hundreds of hours of painstaking composition into a narrative sequence based on the experience of her great-grandparents, early settlers of Wichita, Kansas.
You won’t go wrong if you judge this book by its terrific cover. Using the time-honored techniques of traditional verse, Ford has written a timeless love-story. Where most tales of romance come to a happy ending, this one is only beginning. Girl meets boy, they fall in love and live happily ever after —but what a life they live together! The man who’ll come to be known as Judge “Tiger Bill” Campbell and his “pioneer bride” Kate ride west, fleeing her irate father, to settle in Kansas—where not much is “settled.” Drought and swarms of locusts destroy their crops; a cyclone tears an infant from them. Wildfires threaten their very existence. As judge, Tiger Bill must stand up to lawless gangs who threaten his life. Nothing, however, diminishes this couple’s love for one another; it spills over into love for their neighbors, as they feed the hungry and defend the outsider. A love story, indeed!
Purchase A Frontier Romance from the publisher, Kelsay Books
Rhina and I are thrilled to announce that Kelsay Books has published Brief Accident of Light !
Brief Accident of Light is a collection of twenty poems, ten by Rhina P. Espaillat and ten by Alfred Nicol. The poems were written for an arts collaboration initiated by Newburyport Chamber Music Festival Director David Yang. Mr. Yang, a distinguished violist and composer, made a list of emblematic locations in and around the city of Newburyport, and assigned to each location a specific time of day or night. He first commissioned composer Robert Bradshaw to write a new piece for string quartet drawing its inpiration from those locations. Mr. Yang then invited Espaillat and Nicol to visit each spot at the specified time and to give voice to their experiences in a series of poems. Because the poets chose to make their visits together, most of the poems gathered here are paired —a reader will hear two voices emanating from each place, as when two birds perch in the same tree.
The two poets found themselves a little taken aback by the way these poems seemed to write themselves. One can only surmise that the spirits of City Hall and Oak Hill Cemetery really had something they needed to express, and were only waiting for an opportunity! A poet can get carried away when that kind of thing happens. You’ll see that there are four unpaired poems in this collection—“Waking Up,” “Fly-By: The Newburyport Art Association,” “The Closing Year,” and “Fog at Night”—each resulting from one or the other poet writing from a place not mentioned on the original list.
In keeping with the collaborative nature of this project, Kate Sullivan was invited to illustrate the collection with images of the sites mentioned in the poems. She too got caught up in the spirit of Mr. Yang’s vision, and contributed the celebratory ink-wash sketches the reader will happen upon, turning these pages.